This is stated in a voluminous study commissioned by the municipality of The Hague. Lead researcher Hans Moors: ‘There will always be a reason to riot.’
It is sweltering hot, that Tuesday, August 11, 2020. Looking to cool down, a group of boys open the fire hydrants according to good practice in The Hague. Only: that is forbidden – and besides, the water is scarce on such sweltering days. The police have to intervene and the youngsters get exactly the cat-and-mouse game they are after. Night after night they play the game and it gets out of hand.
The boys set fires, demolished a youth base, pelted the police with eggs, stones and fireworks. An emergency order and intervention by the Mobile Unit ensure that the riots are extinguished by the end of the week. But then at least a hundred young people have already caused considerable damage and the fire has spread to other cities in the Netherlands.
Street interviews after riots
It is no coincidence that the riots start in the Schilderswijk and it is not the first time. And if no structural solutions are found, it will not be the last time, says Hans Moors of research agency EMMA. With a team of seven, he wrote an analysis on behalf of the municipality of The Hague, which was published by the municipality on Wednesday. Almost immediately after the riots they held 37 in-depth interviews and more than a hundred street interviews with residents (including young people), community workers and local police officers.
The wide range of secular and religious civil society organisations, youth workers and municipal officials is working at cross-purposes, the research team concludes. A group of older young people (16+) remains out of the picture.
Little is organized for these older young people, youth workers are unable to pull them off the street. And it is precisely these young people who are the motor behind the riots that started last summer, according to the research. The annoying corona year and the warm weather were the fuse in the powder keg of dissatisfaction.
So that most rioting youth came from outside, as mayor Van Zanen proclaimed at the time, is not correct?
Moors: ‘No, that has taken on a bit of a life of its own. We explicitly asked about this in our conversations. Even the young people we spoke to say it fifty-fifty used to be. The people who came from outside the district were mainly there during the last two days. But the core comes from the Schilderswijk.’
‘The role of social media is also less important than was assumed at the time. We do not see that social media was used to start the riots. However, after two to three days it was said: ‘It’s still nice here, are you coming too?’ So it didn’t mobilize, but rather continued that the riots continued for a while.’
During the curfew riots, the intervention of the police had an escalating effect, was that also the case here?
‘No, not exactly. I was surprised how positively residents and young people spoke about the police action. A lot has changed in the past five years. Where, according to young people, the police first asked for ID cards from behind tough sunglasses, they now get out of their car to have a chat. They also acted quite subtly during the riots, waited a long time and called in the riot police late.’
Too long? The riots were not over until the riot police intervened on Friday evening.
‘In hindsight, yes. At the time, there were two meetings with the police, the municipality and stakeholders in the neighbourhood. The latter group wanted to take matters into their own hands by passing through the neighborhood wearing vests, but the municipality was apprehensive and reluctant to do so. After those two meetings, everyone went home empty-handed. It might have been better if they had intervened at an early stage.’
In response to the report, the municipality of The Hague says it is working on a summer program with extra activities such as football tournaments. 1.2 million euros is being earmarked for fourteen youth workers, who should, among other things, focus on the group of older young people in the Schilderswijk. Because new riots are feared during the European Championship football, so-called neighborhood watch teams will patrol extra.
Will that work?
‘If you want to solve this problem, you have to look much broader as a city council,’ says Hans Moors. There is no directing role. These kinds of neighborhoods will remain complex and in this particular case the mayor had only been in office for a month. At that time he didn’t even know where the Schilderswijk was.’
‘I don’t know a neighborhood with more people with a heart for the neighbourhood, but the Schilderswijk doesn’t have a heart where it all comes together. There is already a huge spaghetti of various religious organizations, clubs, associations and also the formal parties such as the police and the municipality. You don’t want to know how many football clubs there are for ages 6 to 16.’
‘All those organizations talk to each other to a very limited extent. If you want to help the Schilderswijk a step further, it is not effective for a hundred people to want to go in a different direction. There is no unifying vision. There are well-organized mosques, but if you give them a dominant position, you get a lot of aversion elsewhere in the district. That bridge can only be built by a mayor who stands above the district.’
‘Otherwise those riots could happen again next summer. There are various factors such as unemployment and housing problems that mean that the Schilderswijk will remain a powder keg for a while. Then there will always be a reason to riot.’
The summer riots in the Schilderswijk could break out again: “It will remain a powder keg for a while”
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