A UN lawyer wrote a harrowing Facebook post detailing her arrest and alleged manhandling at the hands of the police in The Hague for crossing a red light.
Chaka Laguerre, a law graduate on a 10-month clerkship at the United Nation's International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Dutch capital, was arrested by police officers on 24 January, after a the police stopped her for the traffic violation and asked her to present her ID.
The woman did not have her passports on her, and she claims her offers of alternative forms of identification were aggressively brushed off.
According to her claims, the situation escalated and Laguerre was slammed against the police car, manhandled, beaten on her legs, stepped on, handcuffed, dragged into the car and pinned in its seat. When the trainee lawyer arrived station, she was put in a cell, refused a phone call and told she had kicked and spit on the police officers.
"I began to cry because I couldn't believe that human beings could be so evil but mostly because I knew that no matter how much I told the truth, and pleaded, they would believe the false account of the police officers over mine," Laguerre recalled.
Dutch law requires people above the age of 14 to carry a form of ID on them at all times. If no ID is presented, the police have the right to detain the person and bring them to a police station until their identity is confirmed. The police have rejected the allegations of police brutality published as "unfounded".
Laguerre was finally released after paying a fine but spent more than an hour in police custody. "I ended up in the hospital swollen, bruised, and injured. I am a lawyer working at the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations – but that did not save my black body from racially-motivated police brutality," she wrote.
The memory of victims of brutality believed to be motivated by racial prejudice like Sandra Bland, who died in a police cell after being arrested for a traffic violation, was vivid in Laguerre's memory while she was in custody.
She wrote: "You never truly understand the degree of physical, psychological, mental, and emotional damage that such an experience does to a human being. It has changed my life in the most devastating way and I know that I will never be the same. I no longer feel safe in my own existence. I walk around with a perpetual sense of fear for my life and insecurity over my body. I exist being scared of being black, which is not existing at all."
The police issued a statement on 26 January in reaction to the Facebook post, which was shared and read by thousands of people. The post appears to have been deleted since it started gaining media attention and attracting hundreds of comments.
In the statement, the police claimed the woman had tried to run away and resisted arrest and that there was CCTV camera to prove this. The police said the footage cannot be made public due to privacy, but that Dutch journalists had reviewed the images. The police rejected Laguerre's accusation as unfounded and said they will submit a complaint to the president of the court where she works.
A spokesperson for the police told IBTimes UK in a written statement that the officers spoke English to the woman and explained why they had stopped her and taken her to the police station. The spokesperson explained the officers do not receive specific training in dealing with different kinds of suspect or circumstances. "That would imply that different suspects receive a different treatment. My colleagues are understandably trained to deal with resistance from suspects," the spokesperson said.
Episodes of police brutality in the city of peace and justice
Police in The Hague, dubbed "the city of peace and justice" due to the presence of the UN tribunals in the Peace Palace, has faced in recent years a growing number of complaints of brutality, particularly against people from ethnic and minority backgrounds.
A police officer who shot a 17-year-old at a train station in The Hague in 2012 was acquitted of manslaughter charges. Police thought the teenager was carrying a weapon, but he was actually unarmed.
According to former police officers, the force used excessive violence in handling some of the suspects, often teenagers. Three former police officers told local news channel Omroep West in 2013 about the culture of "discrimination, harassment and abuse" in a police station in the Schilderswijk area, known for its high crime statistics.
As many as 200 hundred people were arrested in riots against the police in the Schilderswijk neighbourhood in 2015, after 42-year-old Mitch Henriquez died as a consequence of police brutality. The man had been arrested by the police at a music festival in The Hague and was beaten and pepper-sprayed.
Of the five officers involved in his arrest, two were conditionally dismissed pending a criminal investigation for manslaughter. In January, Henriquez family sued all five officials for leaving their relative in a helpless state.