Greece: Riots and Police Brutality Commemorate Teenager's Death

Riots broke out in Athens and Thessaloniki on December 5-6, during memorial gatherings for a 15-year old named Alexandros Grigoropoulos who was shot dead by police on December 6 last year. Immediately after his death in 2008, Athens was consumed by riots and public protests that lasted for several days.

This year, mostly peaceful protest rallies devolved into incidents of police brutality and misconduct – as shown by citizen media – forcing the Greek government to respond with new promises of police reform for the second time in only two months.

Prior to the rallies, blogger and podcaster mikroanalogo haphazardly and movingly catalogued the memories from protests of 2008:

Οι μνήμες μου έρχονται μία μία σαν ριπές, εκεί που δεν το περιμένω. Μια εικόνα, ένα πάτημα του κλείστρου της φωτογραφικής μηχανής, ένα σύνθημα, ένα χτύπημα, μια φωνή… η μυρωδιά του χημικού και του καμμένου πλαστικού στον αέρα, το τσούξημο στα μάτια και στο δέρμα, η αγωνία και η αγανάκτιση, η αδρεναλίνη, ο φόβος, η ντροπή αλλά και η υπερηφάνια, η κούραση, το ξενύχτι και το άκουσμα μαρτυριών, οι εκκλήσεις των συλληφθέντων, το ξύλο, το αίμα, τα μαυρισμένα αγάλματα και οι κατεστραμένες περιουσίες, οι αντιδράσεις των “σοφών” και η συμπαράσταση των γονιών [..]  ο ξερός ήχος του γκλομπ πάνω στα κόκκαλα [..] το δίκιο που σε πνίγει περισσότερο και από τα δακρυγόνα [..] τα νεαρά πρόσωπα πίσω από τις αντισφυξιογόνες μάσκες και τις στολές [..] την κούραση και την αγωνία της διασταύρωσης και συγκέντρωσης πληροφοριών, την δημοσιογραφία των πολιτών

The memories arrive one by one, in burst mode, when I least expect them. An image, a press of the camera shutter, a slogan, a blow, a voice… the smell of teargas and burned plastic in the air, the burning on eyes and skin, the anxiety and rage, the adrenalin, the fear, the shame but also the pride, the weariness, the wake and the testimonies on the radio, the calls of the detainees, the beatings, the blood, the blackened statues and the destroyed properties, the reactions of the “wise” and the support of the parents [..] the dry sound of a club on bones [..] the righteousness that chokes you more than the teargas [..] the young faces behind the gasmasks and uniforms [..] the weariness and the anxiety to verify and collect information, the citizen journalism

Blogger and web designer Cyberela observed that justice has still not been done, commenting on the Supreme Court's decision to postpone the trial another year, and away from Athens, for reasons of public safety:

Να σημειώσουμε πως η φοβερότερη τρομοκρατική οργάνωση στα χρονικά της ελληνικής ιστορίας η 17Ν δικάστηκε στην Αθήνα. Δηλαδή ο Αλέξης είναι πιο “επικίνδυνος” από την 17Ν; Το παιδί είναι νεκρό κύριοι.

Let it be noted that the most dreaded terrorist organization in the annals of Greek history was tried in Athens. Is Alexis then more dangerous than “November 17″? The kid is dead, gentlemen.

One year later, more trouble in the streets

Fears and expectations were raised early on about widespread rioting by mainstream media. Journalist and blogger Andreas Panagopoulos decreed:

το πέρσι δεν είναι ίδιο με το φέτος. [..]  οι εξεγέρσεις δεν γίνονται με προγραμματισμένα ραντεβού. Σαν να πηγαίνεις στον οδοντίατρο.

This year isn't the same as last year […] uprisings can't be scheduled like dentist appointments

As protest rallies to commemorate Grigoropoulos and denounce police violence went on, mostly young citizen photojournalists ventured out to cover them, some using Twitter and Twitpic to provide minute-by-minute reports. A great number uploaded photo sets to the Demotix photo agency,  which eventually created a dedicated newshub for it's reporters covering the unrest.

For 3 days, photography student Stathis posted hastily written, terse realtime reports and photos on Twitter from the rallies and riots in Athens: – μπροστα απο τη βιβλιοθηκη. διαδηλωτες λενε συνθηματα. μπλε μπροστα τους. – in front of the library. protesters are shouting slogans. blues in front of them.

Photo by Stathisgr, republished with permission

Meanwhile, 16-year old Apostolos did the same in Thessaloniki in English:

@apas: “In thessaloniki cops started too early attack. Anarchists responded quick” [sic]

Thessaloniki 2009 #griots 6/12/2009 by apas

Photo by apas

Online testimonies of police brutality

Veteran citizen photojournalist and English teacher Craig Wherlock was injured in the leg during a kettling action by police squads in Thessaloniki. His was one of the first of many testimonies of police brutality:

In the general mayhem the marchers, who are nearly always organised in blocks according to political affiliation, soon scattered and mixed and that is how I ended up with about two hundred others just below the ex-ministry of Macedonia and Thrace surrounded by riot squads who fired tear gas rounds into the group and beat anyone who tried to move away from the area.

Even after it was clear that they had control of the area, officers continued to club and kick those on the ground and refused medical help to the injured.

Besides reporting on local rallies, Craig also confronted the minister of Citizen Protection on Twitter (@teacherdude):

@chrisochoidis When was it police policy to fire canisters of tear gas into a packed mass of people from 10m away? 4 injured like that.

… and translated news of police brutality and misconduct recorded on citizen media:

Greek police caught on camera framing innocent by-stander during last Sunday's demo #griots

Ιn one of the most damning incidents of police misconduct brought to light by citizen media, the chief of police in Chania, Crete admitted that “hoodies” filmed on amateur video standing side by side with police were, in fact, disguised police officers:

Ministerial promises on Twitter

The minister of Citizen Protection, overwhelmed by citizen complaints and demands, responded on Twitterwith promises of reform:

Θα καταργήσουμε τα χημικά. Όλοι θα φέρουν διακριτικά. Θα τα ξαναδούμε όλα απ’ την αρχή: κλούβες, ΜΑΤ, κάθε αστυνομική επιχειρησιακή τακτική

We'll abolish the use of chemicals [teargas etc.]. Everyone will bear identifying insignia. We'll review everything from scratch: police vans, riot squads, every police operational tactic

… and issued repeated reassurances that all incidents of police misconduct will be investigated:

…Δουλεύουμε σκληρά. H Ρώμη δεν χτίστηκε σε μια μέρα. Σε κανένα μέτωπο.

…We're working hard. Rome wasn't built in a day. On any front.

However, local citizen journalist Tom Tziros noted parallels on the similarities of police tactics during this year's protests and the 2003 Thessaloniki European Union Summit riots, and commented on the minister's previous record:

στις 21 Ιουνίου εκείνης της χρονιάς αστυνομικοί συλλαμβάνουν τον βρετανό υπήκοο Σάιμον Τσάπμαν και τον κατηγορούν ότι είχε μολότωφ και σακίδιο με βόμβες μολότωφ και σφυριά. Για καλή του τύχη, βίντεο της ΕΤ3 απέδειξε πέραν πάσης αμφιβολίας ότι το σακίδιο δεν ήταν δικό του. Ένα χρόνο μετά αθωώθηκε αλλά δεν τιμωρήθηκε κανένας αστυνομικός.
Στην ίδια πόλη [προχθές], αστυνομικοί συλλάβανε έναν άνθρωπο που κατέβηκε με τις πυτζάμες του να πετάξει τα σκουπίδια και προσπαθήσανε να του”φυτέψουνε” και αυτουνού σακίδιο. Ευτυχώς βίντεο διαδηλωτή τον αθώωσε. Πάλι δεν τιμωρήθηκε κανένας αστυνομικός. Το κοινό στοιχείο, εκτός της πόλης, των δυο ιστοριών; Μα απλά και μόνο ο υπουργός, τότε [..] και τώρα.

… on June 21 of that year, police arrest British national Simon Chapman, accusing him of carrying a backpack filled with firebombs and hammers. Luckily for him, a video by [national TV station] ET3 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the backpack wasn't his. He was acquitted a year later, but no police officers were punished.
In the same city [two days ago], police arrested a man in pajamas, taking out the garbage, and also tried to “plant” a backpack on him. Again, no police officers were punished. The common element in the two stories, besides the city? Simply, the minister in charge, then and now.

Veteran blogger Mihalis Panagiotakis, wryly commented on the minister's new communication strategy, and his controversial statement defending mass preemptive detentions:

επειδή σύμφωνα με τις νέες εξαγγελίες του κ. Υπουργού όλοι είμαστε υπό προσαγωγή [..], θα μπορούμε να στέλνουμε μαζικά sms tweets από τα κρατητήρια στον Υπουργό κάθε φορά που θα μας έχουν μπουζουριάσει αδίκως. Κάτι σαν αντίστροφο flashmobbing. Σκοπεύω, μάλιστα, να προτείνω στον κ. Χρυσοχοΐδη να δημιουργήσει και αποθετήριο MMS σε ιστοχώρο του Υπουργείου του, όπου θα μπορούν τα θύματα των δυνάμεων καταστολής να αναρτούν αυτόματα τα αποδεικτικά στοιχεία της αυθαιρεσίας των οργάνων της τάξης. Αυτό θα ήταν μια πραγματικά χρήσιμη προσφορά προς τον Έλληνα πολίτη.

… since, according to the Minister's new proclamations, we're all under detention […], we'll be able to send him mass SMS tweets from the holding cells every time we'll be unfairly busted. Kinda like a reverse flashmobbing. Moreover, I intend to propose that Mr. Chrisochoidis creates an MMS repository for suppression victims to automatically upload evidence of police misconduct. That would truly be a useful service to Greek citizens.

Aptly summing up the general frustration with the unending cycle violence, film director Constantin Pilavios – a resident of the troubled Exarchia district of Athens, who last year sent out the first reported tweet about the murder of Grigoropoulos tweeted (and was re-tweeted repeatedly):

Πέτρες, φωτιές, μπάτσοι δακρυγόνα… Φαύλος κύκλος. Η επανάσταση πρέπει να γίνει πρώτα μέσα μας και μετά στους δρόμους #griots

Rocks, fires, cops, teargas… A vicious circle. The revolution must first happen within us before it hits the streets #griots


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