Belgian left and progressive movements demand justice for Black man who died after arrest

Ibrahima Barrie was taken in by the police on Saturday night in Brussels North for allegedly violating the COVID-19 curfew. He reportedly lost consciousness at the police station and was subsequently shifted to a hospital where he died

January 15, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Justice For Ibrahim-Belgium
Protest march in Brussels demanding justice for Ibrahima Barrie. (Photo: Belgian Network for Black Lives)

Leftist political parties and progressive movements in Belgium have condemned the death of a 23-year-old Black man who suffered a heart attack while in police custody and a police attack on protesters who were demanding justice for him. Hundreds of people had gathered in Brussels on Wednesday to protest the death of 23-year old Ibrahima Barrie on January 9. The police used water cannons to disperse the crowd and over 100 people were arrested.

Barrie was arrested for allegedly violating the COVID-19 curfew. According to reports, Barrie lost consciousness at the police station in Brabantstraat and was subsequently shifted to a hospital where he died. The autopsy revealed that he had suffered a heart attack. According to his family’s lawyer, the police showed negligence and failed to provide him necessary assistance. He claimed the police left Barrie unconscious on the ground for over five minutes at the station before taking any action.

Expressing outrage at Barrie’s death, federal MP Nabil Boukili from the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) wrote in a Facebook post, “His name was Ibrahima, he was 23 years old, he had just graduated as an electrician, he had just settled into a room in Waterloo, he had his whole life ahead of him, he had a police check and.. he passed away following that check!!! What is this society where a young person can lose their life in this kind of circumstance? How many young people will [we] have to lose to take this problem seriously? I’m both sad and revolted, it can’t go on.”

Barrie’s close friend Alpha Oumar told the media, “I wanted to be present to demand that justice be done in this case. He was my childhood friend. The explanations of the police are not clear. Why did you wait 6 hours to tell the family that their son had died when they have all the means at their disposal to know the identity of the deceased? I am shocked and outraged.”

The Young Communist of Belgium (JCB) also expressed strong protest, saying, “on Saturday, again the racist police showed what they are, i.e. the repression apparatus used to enforce the bourgeois order.” The Belgian Network For Black Lives, the Left Socialist Party – Socialist Party of Struggle (PSL-LSP), and other progressive groups also expressed strong protests.

The police force in Belgium has faced criticism for such atrocities and racist behavior in the past as well. Widespread protests followed the death of 20-year-old Nigerain asylum seeker, Semira Adamu, at the hands of two Belgian police personnel in September 1998.

In August 2020, revelations on the death of a Slovak citizen, Jozef Chovanec, in police custody in 2018 sparked widespread outrage. Chovanec was detained at the Charleroi airport in February 2018. While in custody, he allegedly injured himself by banging his head on the wall of the cell till it bled. He was later pinned down and died in the hospital the next day. Controversial footage released last year showed Chovanec being subdued by six police officers in a cell. The officers were seen laughing in the video. One of the officers sat on Chovanec’s rib cage for 16 minutes while another officer performed a Nazi salute. 

In April last year, the death of a 19-year-old in a road accident while being chased by the police also sparked outrage. In August 2019, a man was knocked down and killed by a police vehicle. In another tragic incident, a two-year-old was killed in May 2018 when the police shot a truck carrying migrants.