We’ve been silently listening to lots of different people talking about squatters in Tweebosbuurt in the last few days. From the leftist parties supporting squatters and newspapers calling them “heroes of Tweebosbuurt” to far right activists calling them criminals and claiming that they should be jailed or kicked out of the country. We thought that most of what could be said about squatters in Tweebosbuurt has been said. But then Wim Hoonhout, head of communication of Rotterdam’s police, decided to give his opinion on twitter as well, and it says a lot about how this city works: “Anti-capitalists, anarchists and extremists from Europe choose #tweebosbuurt for their actions. Thereby threaten the safety of residents. This requires a strict approach. Police [is] committed to ensuring that safety. Violence must be proportional and subsidiary. These people seek to undermine the rule of law. Leon [a journalist supporting squatters] trivializes their behavior and condemns our action”.
This is important and needs to be analyzed carefully.
Let’s start with squatting: as you might know, squatting is illegal in the Netherlands and was considered a criminal offense. But you should also know that since the 2 December 2010, the state court has ruled that the law forbidding squatting was illegal. Since then, squatting is legally considered as a civil issue, a disagreement of interest between two private parties. It’s not a criminal offense anymore.
Cases of squatting have to be brought into civil court, and it’s a judge to decide if and when the squatters should be evicted. The decision is made by comparing the need for the owner to use the house versus the human right of housing. Housing’s rights apply to anyone, Dutch or not, paying rent or not: if a house is somebody’s home, it’s protected by law, and only a judge can decide otherwise. The judge can also sometime make a decision in favor of squatters and decide that they can stay, if the owner of the house doesn’t have a legitimate motive for eviction. As long as an eviction decision hasn’t been made, homes are protected with “housepeace”.
Housepeace is only for actual people, not companies. It’s different and unrelated to private property and requires someone living inside the house: you can have housepeace when squatting while you can not have housepeace for an empty house that you own. Housepeace protects privacy and integrity of housing. It’s the legal reason why random people (including owner, the police, or anyone else) can not come into somebody’s home without a warrant, whether it’s an administrative warrant or it’s from a judge. Without it, nobody can legally comes into anyone home without authorization of that person.
That’s how law is in the Netherlands. Whether you agree with squatting or not is not the question here: law in the Netherlands makes squatting possible, and squatters have rights. Being a squatter doesn’t make you a criminal. You might be evicted by the court at some point (just as anyone! even if you rent or own your place), and as long as you respect that decision, you’re still not a criminal.
The endpoint of this is that police doesn’t have anything to do with squatting. It’s not a criminal matter, it’s a civil case. As long as the police hasn’t be requested by the owner after an hypothetical ruling of the Court have been disrespected, squatting is not a police matter.
This rises questions. Why is all of this happening? Why are some journalists, politicians and bureaucrats calling squatters criminals? Why is there a disproportionate amount of police in the neighborhood? Why have been there illegal evictions? Why does the burgmester keep saying that everything went according to procedure? Why did police bring a freaking helicopter to evict squatters? Why is the head of communication says that we threaten safety of residents despite multiple testimonies of inhabitants of Tweebosbuurt in the news saying they’re happy with squatters and reporting no feeling of threat or insecurity?
Let’s drop some facts: There is no record of criminal acts in Teebosbuurt committed by squatters. Despite dozens of arrests, nobody got charged of any offense. Police call squatters anti-capitalists and anarchists but it’s not a crime, it’s an opinion. And even then, it’s an assumption of an opinion. They imagine squatters as a united radical organized action group, but that’s far from the truth. Squatters in Tweebosbuurt don’t even all know each others. They have no common political ground and have various backgrounds and reasons to be there. Police says squatters are extremists and choosen Tweebosbuurt to perform actions, but tell us: what actions did you hear about? Did someone burn Vestia’s office? Has people been assaulted in the street by squatters? Don’t you think that with all the media coverage that Tweebosbuurt is under, if illegal actions were conducted they would have been in the top of the news?
We thinks it’s time to talk less about what squatters do and don’t do, and more about the other protagonists of this story. The situation is quite clear: the police action is only justified by assumptions about squatter’s political ideas and fake claims about illegal actions that would threaten other inhabitants. The Tweet we’re answering to is already an answer to a press article that says this:
“The evacuation of Tweebosbuurt in Rotterdam also deserves a critical consideration. According to the squatters, the authorities thereby violated the rules. Primary response: as if breaking in is so neat? No of course not. But that does not give the [police] the right to break the law. The law, rules and procedures must protect the citizen against the emotional reflexes of those in authority. No one – and certainly not an authority – may act as their own judge. Whether it is […] a squatter or whoever, it cannot matter in a constitutional state like the Netherlands. Everyone deserves the same, objective treatment and legal process. Regardless of the sentiments and mood of uncle cop and whether someone’s head is turned on or not.”
That’s what happened in Tweebosbuurt. In 42 De La Reystraat, after Vestia’s employee tried to break the door (and housepeace) of the inhabitants, police granted themselves a search warrant to investigate on the suspicion of breaking of housepeace by the squatters (they claimed that they couldn’t know if the building was actually empty before it’s been squatted and they needed to come in to investigate if a crime has been committed by settling inside). That’s already absurd, as they literally witnessed Vestia committing a crime and didn’t’ react, but decided to investigate on the squatters instead. They did eventually come in, arrested everyone “for the time of the investigation”, and then concluded that there was no crime committed and released everyone. Legally, the place was not evicted. So according to the law, inhabitants of 42 De La Reystraat were totally allowed to come back in their own house, as the investigation concluded they didn’t break the housepeace of somebody else. Unfortunately, Vestia used the time the building was empty to seal it illegally, breaking squatters’ housepeace again. That’s also illegal, and that was also committed in front of the police, with their passive support. So, indeed, police didn’t illegally evict the place, but they played a key role in letting and helping Vestia to do it. And mostly, when inhabitants came back, police came back agin and evicted the place. Again. Without even showing a warrant to the inhabitants this time, so now nobody even knows what is now the legal status of 42 De La Reystraat. And they did it with a helicopter!
This is very symptomatic of what we’re trying to talk about: police actions in Tweebosbuurt are not motivated by the enforcement of the law. Those actions are not only partial, they are political and they’re actually helping Vestia to commit criminal activities. The reason why those decisions are made is because police makes decisions as their own judge. They bypass the law and justice to take direct actions against squatting and squatters. That’s only one example of what they do. Harassing inhabitants, beating up people and other exaction they commuted are also a consequences of decisions made against squatting. Police and Vestia works together to organize a political repression against us, because they see squatters as a threat to them. Police in Tweebosbuurt is nor protecting law and order nor protecting inhabitants of the neighborhood, they’re fighting for Vestia’s private interests and through that for their own political opinions, because they are against squatting themselves. Why do you think they keep describing squatters as criminals knowing perfectly that squatting is not a crime and there’s no record of criminal actions? They try to convince public opinion that their actions are legally justified. But they’re not. They act and shape society as an independent political force, making decisions for themselves.
Nobody but the police decided to help Vesita illegally evict a house twice in a week, nobody but the police decided to harass people in the streets on the neighborhood by declaring it a “sensitive zone”, nobody but the police decided to close their eyes to Vestia’s criminal activities. They’re trying to make squatters’ life a nightmare not because law says so, there’s no law for what they do, but because they want to, because they’re afraid of what squatters could do, they’re afraid that squatters might change society and take political actions in a way they disagree with ; and they’re taking actions against that now because they can afford it. Give guns, power and freedom to break the law to a bunch of far-right people and trust them to not abuse their power to enforce their own opinion, how is that suppose to work? Nobody cares about squatters, nobody cares (or even knows) about their rights, and they know that most of them cannot afford to defend themselves in front of a court or to fill a complaint because it’s simply too expensive.
That’s how Dutch society deals with squatters (and with poor people in general), it leaves them into the hands of the police and looks somewhere else. Police has so much power to decide how they conduct their actions and there’s literally no affordable way to defend against them. It leads to that kind of ridiculous situations: and helicopter and 30 police trucks to illegaly evict eight peaceful people from their own house without any legal motive, just because police disagreed with their ideas. They don’t even have to justify themselves when they make this kind of circus : all they have to do is to wait for the Burgmester to claim police is enforcing the law and everything is going according to the procedure. Then Police can even claim on Tweeter that the use of force was proportional and subsidiary because you know, they were anti-capitalists. And if you dare criticizing them, they would answer you make the squatters’ actions trivial. This is important: in the Netherlands, police is confident enough to openly confess on Tweeter that they abuse their power to strictly repress people based on their political opinions without legal motives only because they decided it’s dangerous opinions. If you don’t think that is a symptom that your society is silently rotting and drifting towards fascism, you need to think again.