Death of Romany man knelt on by Czech police compared to that of George Floyd

Video footage challenges official claims that the cause of death was unrelated to man’s arrest

Video footage of a police officer kneeling on the neck of a Romany man who later died in an ambulance is being shared among Czechs on social media, leading many to compare his treatment to that of George Floyd.

The video, shot on 19 June, shows three police officers in Teplice, a town in the north of the Czech Republic, detaining a Romany man on the floor. As one officer holds the man’s feet, another appears to kneel on his neck, and a third tries to handcuff him. Voices of several Roma bystanders are heard in the video.

“They’re smothering him,” a woman’s voice can be heard saying. “That’s their job,” a man’s voice says, defending the police intervention. “Stay down, don’t get up,” another Romany man advises.

Jozef Miker, an activist and leader of the Czech Roma community, spoke to the Guardian after returning from the site of the incident, where he spoke to those who had gathered to light candles and remember the deceased.

“People told me that his name was Stanislav, and he was about 40 years old. He lived on the street but worked in a nearby supermarket as a security guard. When he saw that another man was demolishing a vehicle, Stanislav tried to intervene. When the police came, they took Stanislav to the ground thinking it was him,” Miker said.

“We created a memorial, so people know what happened; this should not go unnoticed. Many people are at work and have no idea. We will come here every day until we find out the truth.”

Footage of the incident has led many Czechs to compare the man’s death with that of George Floyd. “Police brutality ending in the death of Roma Gypsy young man in Teplice, Czech Republic. May the George Floyd of the Roma rest in peace,” wrote one person. Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis in May 2020 after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for several minutes during his arrest, despite Floyd’s protests that he could not breath. Footage of his death sparked global protests against racial injustice.

Discrimination against Roma people in Europe has been well documented by human rights agencies, but the European commission against racism and intolerance (Ecri) has criticised the Czech Republic authorities for not collecting comprehensive data on Roma equality in their own country.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), Czech Roma, alongside Roma in Italy, face the largest share of employment discrimination, with more than 60% of those surveyed saying they experienced discrimination because of their ethnic background. Roma in the Czech Republic are four to five times more likely to describe themselves as unemployed than non-Roma.

A 2015 report by Amnesty International highlighted the “horrifying … systematic prejudice” Roma children face in Czech schools due to a process of segregation that can contribute to their further discrimination in society.

The regional police spokesman, Daniel Vítek, said that the police received a complaint on Saturday shortly before 3pm regarding two men fighting and damaging cars on Dubská street in Teplice.

“After the police arrived, we found an injured man without his shirt. When the police came close, he was aggressive; he scratched and bit them … The police had to use coercive measures before calling the ambulance, where he died despite resuscitation efforts … The doctor present at the scene said the cause of death was most likely due to intoxication.”

Gwendolyn Albert, a member of the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs, told the Guardian that the Roma community is outraged. She sees clear comparisons to Floyd’s case, saying: “The official police account of the event emphasises the drug use of a man who later died. Without bystanders filming the incident, the public would be unaware of what actually happened.”

On Monday, the police updated their statement, saying that a preliminary postmortem biopsy eliminated any connection to the police intervention.

The police also tweeted a video showing two shirtless figures running around the street shouting and punching a car. The video was titled “No ‘Czech Floyd’” and received mixed responses on Twitter. Some defended the police, saying “I agree with the police, walking around this neighbourhood is terrifying.” But others criticised the intervention. “Sounds like Czech police are trying to justify the use of force and techniques, which have sadly resulted in needless death. It is obvious from both videos that what this person needed is help,” said one.

Miker, disagrees with the police statement, saying: “While the police are saying that he was ill and on drugs, the locals I spoke to told me he was clean, only taking medication for his back pain. It is not hard to imagine what happens when someone kneels on the neck of an ill person.”

Contributor

Anna Koslerova

The GuardianTramp

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