"Racism kills! Roma want to live!" banner at protest against police brutality and systemic racism against Roma in Skopje. Photo: Vančo Džambaski, CC BY-NC

Over 1000 citizens of North Macedonia participated in the July 3 protest in front of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Skopje, demanding justice and responsibility for the  murder of young Roma man, Stanislav Tomaš from Teplice, Czech Republic. Citizen movement AVAJA that organized the protest considers this murder the latest case of police brutality due to systemic racism against Roma in Europe.

The protest started in front of primary school Kočo Racin on Mother Theresa street (AKA Vodnjanska) and proceeded to the Czech embassy.

AVAJA claims that the Czech authorities, lead by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and President Miloš Zeman, as well as the Minister of Interior Jan Hamáček not only failed to condemn police brutality, but even thanked the police for their reaction and expressed support for Teplice police officers.

Czech authorities have been trying to justify the incident as use of legitimate force, claiming that Stanislav Tomaš was under influence of addictive substances. On the other hand, AVAJA argue that the video of the arrest that spread via social networks shows that a police officer had been kneeling over Tomaš’ neck for about five minutes, and called for an ambulance after realizing he’s not moving any any more.

Roma human rights activists point out that police brutality against Roma is the most visible mode of functioning of systemic racism in Europe. It is based on unlimited force applied by police who view and treat any person of Roma origin as a criminal.

At the protest, AVAJA also reminded about the unsolved case of police brutality from September 2020 in North Macedonia, when three Roma were beaten in Bitola. So far there has been no judicial outcome for this case.

“We have fresh memories of police brutality against Roma in Bitola, which is a subject of ongoing  court case! We have fresh memories of forced evictions of Roma settlements, we have fresh memories of deaths of Roma in prisons under suspicious circumstances! We have  fresh memories of the everyday discrimination against Roma by individuals and institutions, such as the harrasment of the kid  from Kočani,” stated Salija Bekir, one of AVAJA team leaders.

Citizen movement AVAJA demanded that Czech authorities  conduct an independent investigation of police brutality in the case of murder of Stanislav Tomaš, and creation of independent commission which would examine the violations of police rules and practices contrary to police code of conduct in Roma communities.

Protests with similar demands have taken place in Czech Republic and Romania.