By Elena SÁNCHEZ NICOLÁS
Roma community members have called on EU leaders to speak out against the brutal death of Romani man Stanislav Tomáš in the Czech Republic last month, given its parallels with to the killing of George Floyd in the US.
Video footage of his arrest, which went viral on social media, shows a police officer kneeling on Stanislav’s chest and neck for around five minutes.
The Roma man later died in an ambulance called to the scene.
His death has sparked widespread criticism against discrimination faced by Roma in the Czech Republic and elsewhere, triggering protests all over Europe, which will continue this week.
Members of the Roma community wrote to EU leaders, including European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, demanding “a clear stance against antigypsyism and violence” and asking them to “publicly condemn all acts of police brutality against Roma citizens”.
They regretted that while the murder of George Floyd sparked a wave of outcry from EU officials, “in the case of its own citizens dying in similar circumstances, the EU has remained silent”.
“Though the violent police intervention was reported widely, there has been a deafening silence from EU leaders who have not said a word against the brutal act,” warned Zeljko Jovanovic, director of Roma Initiatives Office, one of the organisations involved in the peaceful protests.
“A free society is one without police brutality in which all citizens can feel safe and protected. Regretfully, we Roma do not feel safe in our own communities as long as we are endangered by law enforcement due to the colour of our skin, and the deeply-rooted prejudices, stereotypes and racism we face every day,” he added.
The NGOs are also calling on the EU institutions to exercise “firm action against police brutality… to make sure no other citizens die at the hands of the police”.
Advocacy group Amnesty International argued that the neck-restraint technique used by Czech police was “reckless, unnecessary, and disproportionate, and, therefore,, unlawful”.
Czech officials, including prime minister Andrej Babiš, have defended the police’s handling of a case.
In a statement, the police said that the preliminary autopsy reports “ruled out a connection with the operation that preceded the arrest of the suspect,” claiming that a drug overdose was the main cause of death.
As human rights activists started using the hashtag “#RomaLivesMatter” on social media, police forces tweeted that “there is no ‘Czech Floyd'”.
Meanwhile, the Strasburg-based Council of Europe has called for an “urgent, thorough, and independent investigation” into Stanislav’s death.
Romani are Europe’s largest ethnic minority – with around 6 million living in the EU.