Rotterdam police to arrest 'potential criminals' based on their clothing

When the police force in Rotterdam announced that they would be testing a new enforcement method, in which officers could seize expensive clothing if it was unclear how it was paid for, the country’s law enforcement showed its true colours.

Lara Bullens
Lara Bullens NewsMavens, Western Europe
Rotterdam police to arrest 'potential criminals' based on their clothing - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

The Netherlands has always prided itself on its tolerance. But a country whose unofficial national motto is “doe even normaal” (meaning “be normal”), may have overestimated how tolerant it actually is.

‘Being normal’ presupposes that there are social codes people must adhere to in order to fit in Dutch culture; there is a limit to tolerance.

It’s the latest instance of increased ethnic profiling that has taken hold of the country in recent years. Police in the Netherlands have been criticized for being tainted by racial prejudice. Members of the national police force have complained about a lack of diversity. Countless cases of racial profiling have been recorded. In 2016, Dutch goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer was pulled over in his car by a policeman who claimed the tinted windows were suspicious. The video, in which Vermeer points out that, as a black man, he is confronted with prejudice on a daily basis,  went viral.

These new policing strategies are a clear-cut case of ethnic profiling.

According to a study carried out by the Politie en Wetenschap (Police and science) research program in 2016, only 70% of police checks result from directly witnessing a crime being committed. That means that the remaining 30% is based on suspicious or unusual behaviour, so why suddenly add clothing to the mix? Is wearing a Canada Goose jacket suddenly a crime? The measure is likely to heat up existing tensions  between ethnic minorities and the police.

Seizing expensive clothing based on the hunch that it hasn’t been ‘justly’ paid for is a form of symbolic violence, exercised by a predominantly white class that associates a certain aesthetic (bling-bling and fur coats) with criminality. High-end clothing can be a status symbol, a way to express oneself. As soon as law enforcement targets something as small as clothing, police are indirectly forcing groups to assimilate; to dress and behave a certain way.

Frank Paauw, the police chief in Rotterdam, confirms this prejudice when he stated that:

“We are talking about young men who consider themselves to be untouchable… We are going to undress them on the street.”

The only justification for testing this new measure comes from a desire to implement more “proactive” policing, according to Dutch media.

At the end of the day, Rotterdam’s police force is sending out a message that can only be interpreted in one way: they are propagating the culture of prejudice that has seeped into Dutch society and nestled there in recent years. If this trial becomes accepted as a new law enforcement strategy, the police will have deliberately pushed fear-mongering onto Dutch citizens. The result? Even more distance between the state and the streets.

race, netherlands

Details from the story:

  • Police officers in Rotterdam might be able to start seizing any expensive clothing from “potential criminals” if it isn’t clear how they have been paid for
  • They are going to start trials in Rotterdam-West and will later decide what can be confiscated legally
  • Police officers will be trained to recognise expensive clothing and target criminal youth gangs
  • The justification is that they want to use a more “proactive approach”
  • Anti-ethnic profiling group Control Alt Delete have questioned the legality of this measure
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