by Adrienne Brayman
Echoing the protests that we’ve witnessed the past few weeks spreading around the US and indeed the world, on Sunday, June 7, there was a Black Lives Matter protest in Brussels. Allowing it to go ahead was a bit controversial, as gatherings such as these are still not allowed in Belgium due to the coronavirus. Although Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès did not want to allow the protest, the final decision was made by the mayor of central Brussels, who allowed it to go ahead in an attempt to “balance the right to freedom of expression, maintaining order, and sanitary measures.” The resulting protest was a static one that was to last an hour and a half. My fiancé and I attended but did not stay for the whole time. Although the organizers made a point of periodically telling people to social distance, it simply wasn’t possible, with 10,000 people gathered in front of the Palais de Justice (the main courthouse).
Belgium unfortunately has its own problems with racism and police brutality, and while the Black Lives Matters chants and slogans that you see in the US were in abundance, the protest was very much focused on the Belgian context. In a mix of French and Dutch, speakers provided first-hand experiences of racism and deaths in police custody in Belgium. It made for a protest that, while supporting the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US, Belgians could relate to directly.
Several hours after the protest ended, there was some looting in Brussels (not in the immediate vicinity of the protest). While this has been reported on as being directly linked to the protest, it is something that often happens after such demonstrations here. I’m not familiar enough with the situation to say more, other than to acknowledge that it happened, but like with the violence in the US, we must not allow such actions by a few to undermine the message at the heart of the protest.