No apology for blaming North Africans
26 April 2006, BRUSSELS — Despite a storm of criticism, the Brussels public prosecution is refusing to apologise for describing the killers of Joe Van Holsbeeck as North African youths.
26 April 2006
BRUSSELS — Despite a storm of criticism, the Brussels public prosecution is refusing to apologise for describing the killers of Joe Van Holsbeeck as North African youths.
This is despite the fact the suspects have since been identified as Polish nationals, one of whom was arrested on Monday. The main suspect is believed to have fled to Poland.
A spokesman for the prosecution, Jos Colpin, has since told Expatica "we regret but do not apologise" for the fact that it publicly said North Africans were the suspects.
"But we made that statement based on witness accounts. Nearly all of those spoke about North Africans or culprits of North African origin. We therefore do not apologise," Coplin said.
However, the judicial director of the federal police, Glenn Audenaert, did apologise on Tuesday.
"We think it is very regrettable that shortly after the murder the North African community was immediately accused, certainly now that it appears the culprits were not from that community," Audenaert said.
"I must point out though that the federal police never said that the suspects were definitely North Africans".
Besides the prosecution, Belgian media also described the suspects as North Africans, which according to Flemish daily newspaper 'De Standaard', "painfully demonstrated how we have prejudice, even without us knowing it".
Witnesses to the killing, Joe Van Holsbeeck's friend who was with him at the time of his stabbing and repeated media reports described the suspects as North Africans. The video footage of the suspects also appeared to indicate youths of darker skin.
Left-wing Spirit Brussels MP Fouad Ahidar then urged for a silent march and said "many North African youth are consciously bullying and robbing Belgian youths".
Amid the controversy imams urged Muslims to turn the killers into police and issued anti-violence sermons.
The Muslim Executive now regrets the fact that the media said the suspects were North African, stressing that a rash conclusion led to speculation about the religion of the killers. It said stigmatisation of the Muslim community had only increased as a result.
The statement broke the Muslim Executive's silence over the killing. In doing so, the executive congratulated police on the arrest of the co-suspect and expressed its sympathy for Van Holsbeeck's family.
Meanwhile, a psychologist with the Catholic University of Leuven, Vera Hoorens, has been quoted saying that prejudice can influence witness statements and what people believe they see, sometimes even confusing the race of a victim or attacker.
She said this phenomenon can be heightened if an authority, such as the public prosecutor, says that the portrayed suspects are North African.
A spokesman for the Centre for Equal Opportunities, Jozef De Witte, also warned against prejudice, advising against making conclusions without all the facts being known. He said crime is crime, whether it is committed by Polish, Belgian or North African culprits.
[Copyright Expatica News 2006]
Subject: Belgian news