The War on Rishi: Why the Dutch state is waging war on a dead teenager

by Bryan van Hulst & Abulkasim Al Jaberi on December 26, 2013

On November 24 last year, seventeen-year-old Dutch citizen Rishi Chandrikasing was shot dead by the police at a train station in the Hague. When police was told an armed man had threatened someone at the station, three officers pursued Rishi with their guns pulled. Moments later, he was fatally shot in the neck. In his pockets only keys and a phone were found. In his pockets only keys and a phone were found. Earlier this week, his killer was acquitted of all charges and walked.

Initially, the shooter was charged with manslaughter. After pressure from Rishi’s family and their lawyer, the public prosecution added murder to the charge. Two weeks ago however, the prosecution pleaded for acquitting the police officer of all charges because, they believed, he had all the reason to assume that Rishi was “armed and dangerous.” The judges followed suit and even said that the additional murder charge was “undesirable and unnecessarily injurious.” This comes after the accused officer declared he believed to have seen Rishi reach for his pocket, forcing the choice between either “him or me” as he “feared for his life.” Footage from surveillance cameras however fails to show Rishi reaching for his pocket. He can be seen running away with his back to the police as the shot is fired. He had ignored an order to stop, the police says.

The police officer was in motion while shooting, which is a breach of police protocol. Nonetheless, the public prosecutor — while considering manslaughter proven — concluded that the shooter had to act in a high risk situation and is therefore absolved from blame. The judge agreed, saying that the policeman had no other possibility but to fire. It is unclear whether Rishi could have survived had the police officers immediately reanimated him, rather than waiting well over a minute. This fact has gone largely unmentioned, and played no role in his acquittal.

Public outcry over the murder and subsequent court case has been largely absent, if only limited to Rishi’s social circle. Possibly because media coverage on the case continues to be framed primarily along the lines of statements released by state institutions; either police or public prosecutor. From the moment Rishi was killed up to the present, media outlets have further made sure to demonize him by repeatedly pointing at the teenager’s criminal record and alleged traces of cannabis and alcohol found in his blood. The public is also reminded that, after all, he ignored a direct order from a police officer. This is in contrast to the humanization of the police officer who continues to be portrayed as the victim of an unfortunate incident that turned his life upside down. He was only fulfilling his duty of serving and protecting the public, so the narrative goes, and instead of praise receives personal threats and murder charges.

The scope of the public debate on the other hand remains limited to technicalities surrounding the case such as police protocols as well as reducing the issue to a matter of being a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ citizen (what was he doing out at that hour? had his parents raised him well, he would have been alive today). The case is thereby individualized and framed as an isolated event, not raising any questions on the broader context that produces this form of state violence or the systematic nature of this murder.

It is not a coincidence that Rishi was the subject of lethal police violence. As a male of colour, he was already assumed to be criminal and dangerous. This is confirmed by a recent Amnesty International report. It concludes that the police in the Netherlands, as an institution, systematically discriminates against people of colour in their everyday operations, such as ID checks, preventive searches, data collection for intelligence purposes, traffic and tax check-ups, border control, and even house raids on the grounds of detaining undocumented people. The police, when confronted with these findings, responded by an outright dismissal saying they are simply “unfounded and false.” 

Such denial contradicts statements recently made by former police officers. The police, they said, are racist, use unnecessary brute violence, and cover up for each other. One such manifestation is the death of 22-year-old Ihsan Gürz in 2011. Upon being arrested for an alleged verbal conflict with a restaurant owner, the Dutch-Turkish man was tortured, stripped naked and carried into a police cell unconsciously. Ihsan died hours later. The police and the prosecutor ignored the torture signs on his body, claiming instead that the cause of death was a cocaine overdose. An autopsy undertaken in Turkey, however, could not verify this because his heart was missing.

The shady case of Ihsan’s death at the hands of the police provides a parallel to the highly likely acquittal of Rishi’s killer. Both are a testament to how different Dutch institutions (police, prosecution, medical establishment, judiciary, experts and media) consolidate a culture of impunity that preserves a space (grey area) for the police to use excessive violence in general and against people of colour in particular. An awareness of this ‘untouchability’ can only encourage the individual police officer in exercising brutality.

This is perhaps unsurprising, possibly even necessary, given the rise of neoliberalism as a doctrine that promotes the state as guarantor of law and order in service of the free market rather than provider of basic social welfare. As a result, social concerns such as deepening socio-economic inequality are addressed as security concerns. In other words, people of colour, the undocumented, immigrants, youth, the homeless and the working class — those most vulnerable to neoliberal policy and increasingly aggressive austerity measures — are treated as dangers to the public order and require containment through the police, courts, and prison system. This repression is ‘democratically’ legitimized by lawmakers and politicians who espouse a zero tolerance policy to deal with ‘that street scum’.

Rishi, representing such a threat, needed to be punished, disciplined, demonized and ultimately killed. Even after his death, a war continues to be waged against him. The public silence over his murder leaves us with a daunting question; who will be next, and when?

Bryan van Hulst and Abulkasim Al Jaberi are freelance journalists based in the Netherlands who have previously published in Egypt Independent, Jadaliyya and Waging Nonviolence. 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Solidair-met-Rishi December 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Thank you so much for this article, Abulkasim and Bryan.

What I find so outrageous is the fact that this police officer shot Rishi while he was running AWAY with his back turned. How cowardly can someone be? Did Rishi threaten the PO with a gun? No. So, why this BS that the PO “feared for his life”? Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he. He probably received legal counsel, provided by the police union?

The reaction of the judge and the police union are even more shocking. They support this trigger-happy PO, as if the life of this seventeen year old doesn’t count. This reaction is INHUMAN and shows us that we are not safe anymore at the hands of police officers that have now the full support of government and the police union. Imagine, what our future will look like if these PO’s are allowed to carry tasers.

Unfortunately, The Netherlands are not the only country where police brutality is a fact of life. The US are also very good at it.
SOTT is a news site that often reports on police brutality, http://www.sott.net/.

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Liam Cornett October 12, 2016 at 1:08 pm

I like this page I got shot by police an sent to jail in Amsterdam I was drink driving he did not shoot me in leg he shot me at my back an it come out my chest missing my heart by a centimer away

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Liam Cornett October 12, 2016 at 1:11 pm

I got shot by police almost died I was drink driving but didn’t deserve wot I got 2013 December it happend just missed my heart an I was made to sit 30month jail I’ll never be the same again can we fight these police theire out off controll

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Josh July 30, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Fuck off lam u fucking rat

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