Lamine Bangoura was a 27 years old Belgian Black man of Guinean descent, a professional soccer player, living in Roelers, Flanders. On May 7, 2018, he was killed at his home, surrounded by a group of eight police officers.
Last month, global public opinion breathed a sigh of relief, hearing that George Floyd’s murderer, officer Derek Chauvin, have been found guilty on all three charges. By contrast, on March 16, Belgian courts of justice decided not to prosecute the police officers involved in the death of Mr. Bangoura, dismissing any possibility of elucidating the case during a public audience.
As it is often the case with police killings of men of color, what strikes the most is the insignificant character of the reasons for this execution. The policemen came at Mr. Bangoura’s place with the mission of expelling him from the house due to rent arrears amounting to 1,500 euros ($1,800). Confronted to the tenant’s reluctance to be forced out of the home, the officers first applied a chokehold in order to incapacitate him and make him fall to the ground. Then, they resorted to a knee-to-neck restraint while he was handcuffed. The very technique that killed George Floyd had made another victim.
A video shot by an assistant bailiff shows Mr. Bangoura’s last moments: we hear groans, gasps of agony as we see him surrounded, overwhelmed and crushed by police officers. Half-heartedly, they ended up calling paramedics to his rescue. But he had already taken his last breath when they arrived on the scene.
The version of the events provided by the police officers is vague and contradictory. They obviously invoke self-defense, but nothing corroborates such an interpretation. The idea that a Black man is so dangerous and maleficent that even lying on the ground with tied hands and ankles, he could represent a vital threat to trained police agents seems credible to Belgian prosecutors. A different but equally aberrant interpretation is that Mr. Bangoura strangled himself, that his body self-destroyed.
Brutalized while living, victims of police killings are despised while dead. Belgian police decided to treat Mr. Bangoura’s body as its property, prohibiting his repatriation to Africa. As of today, the corpse is still stored in a morgue at the authorities’ demand and every single day it stays there adds a few dozen of euros to a staggering bill the family is ordered to pay to recover the right to bury their loved one. The state is treating Mr. Bangoura like a towed vehicle accumulating impound fees and uses it to blackmail a working-class family.
Mr. Bangoura lost his life in circumstances very similar to Mr. Floyd. But his torment sparked way less outrage and got way fewer domestic media coverage. Belgium–as well as other European civil societies–loves to consider police brutality and anti-Black violence as an American issue and turns a blind eye to its own deplorable history of atavistic negrophobia and penchant for racial dehumanization.
They want to ignore that throughout the whole world, the history of Belgian Congo has become the symbol of how far colonial unbridled ferocity can go. Insatiable thirst for profit, unchaining of murderous and sadistic pulsion were at the core of Léopold II’s genocidal, mutilator, and torturous regime. We are asked to believe that those obscene demons magically faded away with the celebration of Congolese independence. Cases such as Mr. Bangoura’s are proof that it is not so. Colonial anti-Blackness still supports Belgian narcissism and self-understanding.
That’s why, throughout the country, municipalities are still celebrating carnivals whose highlight consists in white actors parading in blackface, mimicking savage, crazy, exuberant and frightening Africans to entertain both residents and tourists. Under the disguise of an innocent game, party or theatrical performance, the inhuman caricatures inherited from the colonial past are retained and celebrated. Through them, the Belgian youth is socialized to consider Blacks as lesser beings.
Hostility toward Black people is systematic and institutional. Belgians from Burundian, Congolese, and Rwandese descent are statistically more educated that the average citizen. Nevertheless, their unemployment rate is four times the national average and more than a half of the Black workers hold a job below their qualifications.
Unlike George Floyd’s, Lamine Bangoura’s family has been allowed no financial compensation. Quite the opposite: the retention of the young man’s body threatens to plague them by debt. As of January 2021, the amount due was over 30,000 euros ($36,000). Nevertheless, if the profound change we aspire to is not for today, the sentencing of Derek Chauvin showed us how a popular political commitment can ignite justice and relief for the relatives of the victim. But let’s not kid ourselves: the immensity of the transnational protest over Mr. Floyd’s death contrasts with the smallness of the outcomes. Justice has been served, but our habituation to inequity is so profound that millions of Blacks all around the world jumped in surprise when the verdict was announced. This is how fragile and precarious our situation is.
Time has come to break the silence. Black Belgians and other Belgians of color need to know that they are not alone facing the inequities they are confronted to everyday. Diasporic, pan-African, and anticolonial consciousness is alive and real. As long there will be victims of state-sanctioned lynching; as long as Black people will be caricatured and vilified for the sake of white amusement; as long as they will be facing systematic discrimination, we will speak truth to power. For Lamine Bangoura, for his family, justice must prevail.
Norman Ajari, Villanova University
Tommy J. Curry, University of Edinburgh
George Ciccariello-Maher, Vassar College
Mohamed Amine Brahimi, Columbia University
Kelly Gillespie, University of the Western Cape
Michael Sawyer, University of Pittsburg