Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana’s speech in the European Parliament on 17 June on how Belgian policemen physically harassed her was greeted with a loud ovation and shocked Europe to the reality of police violence against Black people. It became a topic of media discussions across the continent.
In a strange twist to the story, instead of the police to apologise to the Member of European Parliament (MEP), Brussels prosecutors have now issued a criminal complaint against her for defamation as well as for “acting rebelliously and insulting police officers”.
“She insulted officers and tried to prevent the control of possible suspects of a serious violent case,” a police source was quoted as having said, in a report published by Brussels Times on Monday (29 June).
Dr Herzberger-Fofana, who represents Germany on the platform of the Green party in the European Parliament, had filed a police brutality complaint, alleging that the officers “brutally pushed [her] against a wall and violently took [her] handbag” as she attempted to film a police control of two Black teenagers at the Brussels North train station, an act that is legal under the law.
“They grabbed my handbag from me, pushed me against the wall, spread my legs and one of the police officers wanted to frisk me,” she told the Parliament in a moving speech that put police violent racism against Black people in Europe at the centre of public discussion like never before.
“And they dealt with me in a very humiliating way,” the 71-year-old parliamentarian added, wiping tears from her face.
Spokesperson Audrey Dereymaeker of the Brussels North police zone, denying the complaints of violence and racism lodged by the MEP said she was “like a little kid”.
“We don’t understand the woman’s behaviour, we have not been racist or violent in our approach,” Dereymaeker said. “She is a member of the European Parliament, but she behaved like a little kid who did not get her way.”
Reacting to the police claims, Alexis Deswaef, Herzberger-Fofana’s lawyer, denied the police’s allegations of defamation.
“That report for defamation is not consistent with reality — it’s just false. We will prove in court that we are telling the truth,” he was quoted as saying.
“There is also a witness, a professor of human rights from Ghent University,” he added, referring to a university professor who recorded footage of the incident.
The incredibly insulting language of the police spokesperson again proves the disrespect with which the police treat Black people in Europe. That a police spokesperson could describe a 71-year-old woman, a former lecturer at the Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen, as behaving like a “little kid” only proves the little regard that the Belgian law enforcers have for people of African descent.
In fact, ahead of the debate in the European Parliament, Dr Herzberger-Fofana had co-authored an article with a fellow MEP, Alice Bah Kuhnke, representing Sweden, calling for concrete political action to combat the systemic racism that is prevalent in European societies.