'Roma lives matter': candles, flowers appear on Teplice street where man died

Activists say the death of a Romani man resembles the George Floyd case in the U.S.; protests are planned for Saturday.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 22.06.2021 17:11 (updated on 23.06.2021)

Candles have appeared on a street in Teplice, North Bohemia, where a Romani man died in an ambulance on June 19 after police restrained him by kneeling on his neck. The incident has been compared by Romani activists to the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Jan Hamáček has defended the actions of the police.

“Those breaching the law under the influence of narcotics must reckon with police intervention. Thanks to police efforts, the Czech Republic is among the top 10 safest countries of the world," Hamáček tweeted.

The Czech Police denied any similarity to the George Floyd case. They said the action against a "multiple recidivist," who demolished cars and ignored police instructions, was carried out in accordance with the law . "[Police actions] had no connection with the death of the deceased. This was confirmed by a court autopsy," the police tweeted.

A black ribbon with the phrase “Romani Lives Matter” ("Na romských životech záleží"), attached to some flowers, has been left with the candles. A protest will be held in Teplice this Saturday at 2 pm, according to Romani advocate website Romea.cz.

Banner saying Roma Lives Matter. (Photo: František Bikár, Romea.cz)
Banner saying Roma Lives Matter. (Photo: František Bikár, Romea.cz)

A court-ordered autopsy said there was no connection between the actions of the police and the death of the man, who according to the official report was under the influence of narcotics. A doctor said that a drug overdose was probably the cause of death.

People who claim to have known the victim dispute the autopsy findings. Under Czech privacy law, the man cannot be identified by name. The hospital where he was taken also could not comment due to privacy laws.

A six-minute amateur video of the incident was posted online by Romea TV on June 21, and it has had over 90,000 views. Michal Miko, director of the organization Romanonet, said the video shows “the height of brutality.”

Police were reportedly responding to reports of two people having a confrontation on the street. “When the police patrol arrived at the scene, one man fled while the other was subdued by the officers and handcuffed,” police spokeswoman Veronika Hyšplerová told the tabloid Blesk.

“We, the Roma, are very sensitive to these affairs,” local Roma David Mezej said, according to the Czech News Agency (ČTK). “This hits us and we are shocked. Everyone could see on the video footage that the man was harmed and we saw no reason for the man to die.”

He said it was apparent from the video recording that the man in question was shouting as he was suffocating.

“We could also see the end. When the police saw that the man showed no signs of life, that he was immobile, he started checking him, taking his knee off the neck,” Mezej said, adding that he believed the police action was the cause of the death.

Police said in a press release on Monday that officers had intervened over the brawl of two men in Teplice. They also released a video recording showing the two men staggering in the street and fighting before police arrived. When a police patrol drove to the scene, one of the men was injured, laying on the ground. Then he became aggressive and bit one of the intervening policemen, according to the police account.

The police claim to have used legal coercive means before calling for an ambulance. “In it, he subsequently collapsed and despite resuscitation, his life functions were not renewed,” police spokesman Daniel Vítek said on Monday.

Emil Voráč, the director of the Roma organization Khamoro, said people from across the Czech Republic and Slovakia were coming to the scene to leave flowers and candles.

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