My mind always travels back to Athens and December 2008, whenever I hear of another death, of another young boy, in the hands of police somewhere in the world. I wish it was that one incident that one time, and I didn’t have to look up the name and the nationality of who wsa killed this time. Unfortunately, that’s hardly the case.
This time it’s Turkey that is up in arms because of such an incident, after the 15 year old Berkin Evan who spend nine months in a comma after being hit on the head during a demonstration last year, died. The name is different, and the place is different. But at the same time, everything feels so familiar.
As in Istanbul and other Turkish cities today, Greek youth took to the streets then, after the murder of 16 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a police officer. Three weeks of unrest followed, a pan-national mourning period that meant more than we could dare imagine at the time.
Those days were the political awakening of a generation, an awakening that would later form the backbone of the protests against austerity. Overnight, my friends and comrades, were transformed in the eyes of the aging Greek society. We were no longer Greece’s hope, no longer the most educated and privileged of any generation that came before us, no longer the generation that would carry Greece to the 21st century. We were now hooded terrorists, as news anchors one after the other rushed to label us.
December ‘08 was a question, a question in the face of growing youth unemployment, a future that didn’t look like it really wanted to include us and growing police violence directed against students. Five years down the line, we’re witnessing the answer. As Greek students are faced with thousands of riot police in the streets of Athens, kettled and tear-gassed, it looks as if nothing has changed in those five years. Turkey is facing the same music.
In the UK, the students of UCL became witnesses of much the same treatment. Like the ones before them, the ones out in the streets of London in ‘10, they realised that the police is not there to protect them, but as a symbolic gesture from an establishment that only likes its youngsters when they are quiet and do as they are told, even if that means signing away their own future and wellbeing.
The MET, saw it fit to send hundreds of officers to face off with a bunch of students, who had peacefully occupied Senate Hall. Is it any wonder that excessive violence was employed by the police, as was apparently documented? Student blood on the pavements outside ULU, is exactly what the police was after that night. When you shove a baton in a 20 year old kid’s face, that’s what you’re after, no excuses.
The legal system in now used to prosecute these kids, everywhere in Europe. Simply wearing a hood can get you charged under counter-terrorism laws in Greece. The freedom to assemble, even the basic freedom of movement, can be taken away from you in Britain. In Spain, you might be fined severely (up to 500.000 euros) if you hold an impromptu demonstration in front of the parliament. It would be tragic, if it wasn’t an absolute joke.
What does the same legal system do when its enforcers take a step too far and become killers? If the dead body is that of a black kid in the US, nothing at all. If it’s of an immigrant electrocuted on the train tracks after being chased by the police, nothing at all. If it’s the body of a fifteen year old Greek kid, shot straight in the head? Well, you might even get a medal. The killer of Michalis Kaltezas, police officer Athanasios Melistas, who in 1985 executed the student in Exarcheia, is a free man and now a decorated officer.
Don’t be think that this is somehow the exception. These things happen more often than we’d like to believe. There is a future in the making, a bleaker future, paid with the blood of the young. It manifests in income disparity, crackdown on student-led protests and the impunity surrounding the violence inflicted, even when it escalates to murder.
What we saw in Greece back in 2008, and what we’re seeing in Turkey today after the 15 year old Berkin Elvan died, is not a call for the overthrow of any government or financial system. It’s a simple question in the lips of every young person who is seeing his life being taken away from them in so many different ways and levels. The question is: “Why do you hate us?”.
UPDATE — Turkish police attacks the funeral march of the boy they murdered.