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Editorial - Let justice run its course

What happened to Mitch Henriquez in The Hague is obviously regrettable. The Aruban who was visiting family in the Netherlands died due to lack of oxygen, most likely as a result of his forceful detention by police at a music festival.

The 42-year-old man allegedly said he had a weapon – which turned out not to be the case – and resisted arrest. Toxicological tests showed he had neither used drugs nor consumed alcohol in an excessive manner.

What added to the anger was that authorities at first claimed Henriquez had become ill on the way to jail, but when videos showed he was already unresponsive before they put him in the police van the initial statement had to be retracted. This understandably led to suspicion of an intended cover-up.

At the same time, there is no indication whatsoever that the victim was targeted because of his ethnic background, although the officers probably could tell he was not a European Dutchman. The neighbourhood of Schilderswijk where the protest against his death that got out of hand took place is also known for its large number of immigrants.

The fact that it happened less than a week before Emancipation Day and the annual Slavery Remembrance Ceremony perhaps helped strengthen the thought that this must have had something to do with race. Moreover, considering all the recent controversies in the US involving white law enforcement personnel and black citizens, comparisons were made quickly.

Important is that five suspects have been identified and placed on non-active duty pending what was billed as an "independent" probe by national detectives now underway. Nevertheless, human rights organisation Amnesty International is calling for an external investigative committee to carry out a total evaluation of the police action, with an express mandate to find out whether discrimination and "negative stereotype ideas about Antillean men" played a role.

However, until the outcomes of these efforts are known, the tragic incident of Saturday night at Zuiderpark should be treated in principle as a possible case of police brutality rather than a so-called hate crime. That doesn't make what happened to Mitch any better or easier to accept for family, friends, compatriots and others, but jumping to conclusions at this stage also would be incorrect and in the end everyone needs to let justice run its course.

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