A comrade in the Netherlands has sent a first-hand report from last night’s extraordinary anti-police riots in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which included Dutch police firing their guns into the crowd.
Some out-of-touch “leftists” have tried to dismiss these riots because they coincided with and/or overtook a protest called by the right wing against new government restrictions. However, something like last night’s youth uprising against police cannot be so simply reduced— as our writer makes clear.
I don’t know where to start writing about this. On the one hand I’m overtaken by emotion, still processing the things I witnessed last night. On the other hand I’m trying to make sense of what has happened from the perspective of someone who believes in social revolution. I don’t think the latter will be something that I can fit into this short, emotionally laden piece of text, but some things need to be said about this right now. What happened last night was so much more than the supposed “fascist riot” many are dismissing it as.
Last night a protest against the (renewed) Coronavirus measures was called. This protest was clearly initiated by people that should, for the most part, be called fascist. These protests draw a crowd much more diverse than just fascists, however, and the discontent is broadening, especially now that the state is imposing more and stricter repression to control the spread of the virus.
In all this time I had not seen a single sign related to the protest, not heard a single slogan, not seen a single banner. This was about a collective and widespread hate for the police. You could taste, smell and feel it on every single corner of that street that night.
A lot of the potential for this movement is fueled by the Dutch government’s totally random and irresponsible approach to the whole pandemic crisis. Frustration with the pandemic measures is increasing and diverse. It includes people who believe the pandemic is serious and should be dealt with as well as those who believe the lies of the anti-vax movement and fall for their easy answers. You’d be hard-pressed to find people supportive of the government’s approach to the pandemic: a policy based on letting the virus spread as long as the hospitals can handle the intake of people at intensive-care wards, as opposed to preventing its spread and focusing on vaccination and providing sufficient testing facilities.
Infection cases are soaring to a record high after the government decided to randomly drop all pandemic measures last September. Even the bare minimums like wearing a face mask and keeping social distance were abandoned from one day to the next.
Protests against the government response have been happening since the start of the pandemic and have definitely been dominated by fascists; let there be no mistake about that. But it would be a mistake to discredit the wider, growing social tendency of frustration with the neoliberal government as the same thing. Anyone who isn’t pissed about what is happening is not paying attention. The fascists are abusing these frustrations, and that should not be a surprise to anyone, but discrediting all participants as “fascist” is a cheap approach that prevents serious analysis. Yesterday’s happenings were much more than a pandemic protest. It was a widespread revolt against the police that was joined by masses of youth coming out, youth who had little to do with the protests but had every reason to seize the moment and fight back. To claim that last night happenings were “a fascist riot” is simply a lie.
“Revolts can only be understood by those who have the same needs as the rebels, that is to say by those who feel they are part of the revolt.” – Filippo Argenti
At the beginning of this year when new government measures got introduced, riots kicked off in the south of the city. Parallel to the antivax protests, youth started rioting as a response to the measures.
Last night I heard there were riots happening again and decided I should take a look, but had no clue what I was in for. As I arrived on the scene there were no police to be seen. A police van stood in the middle of the road, abandoned and smashed up. As I walked on I saw a police car in flames around the corner. Masses of people had gathered and were in the streets. Most of them seemed to have little or nothing to do with the initial protest; the crowds were mostly composed of youth hanging around in the city centre. Here and there small groups of hooligans were active, clearly more organized than most of the people there. What I did not know was that the police had already been firing shots.
I was confused by the seemingly calm situation; it turns out the police had retreated just before I arrived. I decided to walk around a bit to see what was happening down the road. I couldn’t tell if most people were actually there spectating or participating in anything but roughly a thousand people were in the streets in this area. Further down the street burning barricades were erected, mostly using the superfluous and abundant electric rental scooters.
A group of riot cops appeared from a side street and started forming a line in front of the burning cop car. As they attempted closing the line they were attacked by large parts of the crowd with stones, fireworks, traffic signs and so on. The police instantly pulled out their guns again and began shooting on the spot. Despite the heavy attacks from one direction, the police actually shot in another direction at someone who, from what I could see, was actually not attacking them at all. This person fell to the ground as he was hit by a bullet and was eventually dragged away by the riot cops once many people backed off, realizing what had just happened. Within minutes after my arrival dozens of shots had been fired, some in the air, some into the crowds.
After that the still heavily outnumbered police started using their riot vans as weapons, driving at high speeds, chasing down whomever they could get in front of their van. This resulted in an hour of chases in which the police drove their vans into the crowds. The people fought against them with whatever they could find. The groups became more diffuse but the overall crowd seemed to grow as well.
Skirmishes with the cops were taking place not only in the long boulevard where everything started, but also in the side streets. Everywhere I went youngsters were standing around, seemingly doing nothing, but as the cops passed by the youth would attack them again and again. In all this time I had not seen a single sign related to the protest, not heard a single slogan, not seen a single banner. This was about a collective and widespread hate for the police. Something you could taste, smell and feel on every single corner of that street that night.
Nothing much changed for an hour or so as the police attempted to regroup and gather backup. Once they finally had gathered themselves, they attacked with water cannons and hundreds of riot cops, and things turned into a night-long chase spreading through the city centre. I decided to call it a day, still not having quite registered everything that had just unfolded in front of me.
I have seen protests, riots and street fights more intense than what happened last night. I’ve seen cops using their cars as weapons before. I’ve seen cops pulling out their guns before… But all of this was in other countries where the cops will first react with teargas, water cannons, rubber bullets and so on.
I have always thought that if such riots occurred in the Netherlands police would start shooting quickly. However, I still would have never predicted this level of eagerness to use deadly violence. I would have never predicted the scale in which it was used last night, often indiscriminately. Later that night the Mayor unironically stated that “Permission was asked to use tear gas. It was granted, but not needed.” And as much as I’m overwhelmed by what happened, I also feel naive that I’m surprised by it.
Also I have never before witnessed such a widespread revolt against the police here. The police in Rotterdam have build a legacy of violent and racist behaviour and are openly and publicly backed in this by our Mayor and a big part of the local Council. As we’ve had to endure an increasingly corrupt and shameless government, more and more people are coming to the realization that the state does not care for them. They are realizing that the police and all the state’s other institutions only fight for the most privileged. They aren’t there for us, they never were and never will be.
To further analyze what had happened we should be looking at the London riots of 2011, Paris riots of 2005 and all the other anti-police uprisings that have happened in this part of the world over the past decade. These riots are spontaneous, chaotic and destructive and often embody some of the most toxic tendencies that modern life has created. There is a tendency from anarchists to romanticise “the riot” and forget about its ugliness. It is ugly, always, but it caries something within it we should embrace, and if we do not actively work as anarchists within it then we cannot claim to fight alongside the less privileged.
I remember us asking ourselves questions about our positions regarding these previous riots. These questions are hard to answer. They don’t have just a single answer to begin with. But, most importantly, these questions force us to reflect on our own position as anarchists as opposed to making up excuses about how the situation does not concern us… because it does.
There are a million things still missing from this report but I feel the subject has an urgency that does not allow for a long period of reflection before publishing this small text. It is intended to counter the false narrative of this being a “fascist riot” and to make us think about how we relate to revolts in general. The amount of self-proclaimed leftists cheering on the police violence from last night is repulsive and utterly hypocritical. While they were out cheering on police violence on the internet I saw youth, mostly migrant youth who are harassed by the racist police every day, being beaten and shot at. Here there should be no discussion whose side we are on.