Racism in the ranks: Dutch crime film sparks conversation

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A documentary about discrimination within the ranks of the Dutch police force has sparked a national conversation in the Netherlands about racism, with many officers and others hoping it will finally bring about change.

“The Blue Family”, or “De Blauwe Familie” in Dutch, looks at a culture of intimidation and fear in the national police force. It premiered on Dutch television on Monday, coinciding with the second anniversary this week of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police.

“There is no going back,” Peris Conrad, one of the officers featured in the film, told The Associated Press.

Born in the former Dutch colony of Suriname, Conrad dreamed of being a police officer as a child. He moved to the Netherlands when he was 4 years old and, after a stint in the army, he became a security guard.

While at that job, he had an encounter with policemen who were looking for information on crime in the Surinamese community. Officers encouraged him to join the force himself, which he did, eventually spending 26 years in the service.

But Conrad, who is black, recalled how in his first year at the police academy, his colleagues posted a picture of him with his cell bars drawn. The caption read: “Our monkey in a cage.”

Police leaders were given an early screening of the film and promised action.

“The personal stories make it painfully clear how big the impact (of racism) is and how long it will last,” Police Chief Henk van Essen said in a statement. “We all have something to do; not just executives, but all 65,000 colleagues. Because security outside begins with security inside.

“There is no place for racism and discrimination in our police,” Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz told the Dutch talk show “RTL Boulevard”.

The Dutch parliament voted overwhelmingly this week to place police leaders under stricter supervision, citing the suicides in recent years of three officers who had complained of discrimination.

Last year, a Dutch newspaper published messages from police group chats showing officers making racial slurs and joking about killing non-white people. “One less Turk,” one officer wrote, in response to the murder of a 16-year-old girl who was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend in her high school bike shed.

As in other countries, the problems in the Netherlands have a long history. A 1998 Home Office report said discrimination was driving out police officers with a “migration” background, defined as having at least one foreign-born parent.

While 24% of the Dutch population meet that definition, only 14% of the police force meet it. The National Police Corps employs about 65,000 people and about 40,000 work as officers.

Margot Snijders has spent 30 years on the national force, including several years working on diversity and inclusion efforts. After years of frustration, she stepped back from that role.

“People don’t trust us and they don’t want to work for us,” Snijders, who also appears on “The Blue Family,” told The Associated Press.

The death of George Floyd in the US two years ago sparked protests against racial injustice in the Netherlands and around the world. Controle Alt Delete, an advocacy organization that pushes for better policing, wanted to highlight the problems within the Dutch police force.

The group brought in filmmakers Maria Mok and Meral Uslu to direct and produce the documentary, which was backed by Dutch public broadcaster KRO-NCRV.

Problems of racism, as well as discrimination against women and members of the LGBTQ community, are pervasive and systemic within the police ranks, said Jan Struijs, president of the country’s largest police union.

Struijs also participated in the film. “I hope this is a historic turning point,” he told the AP.

The first article of the country’s constitution, which is displayed on posters in all police stations, prohibits discrimination against any group. The Dutch are considered one of the most open and tolerant people in the world.

There has been no significant criticism of “The Blue Family”, those involved in the documentary welcomed the response.

“I’ve been saying the same things for years, only now they’re getting a positive reaction,” Snijders said.

The Dutch police union is calling for better mental health advice for officers and more accountability for those who make racist jokes.

Conrad sees the need for widespread change, both in politics and leadership.

In the meantime, he has forbidden his 20-year-old son to join the force.

“I don’t want him to experience this,” she said.

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