A Tragedy in Three Acts by Mr No Name
This article was written by a musician and artist about the experience he had as a resident in Amsterdam when new identity laws were introduced…
I remember being present at an informal and rather intimate talk given by Timothy Leary in a small nightclub in Amsterdam called The Mazzo. The theme of his discourse was the coming onslaught of the digital age, computer technology and the internet. As usual he had a lot to say… about that, and indeed about numerous topics. In passing he said how happy he was to be in Amsterdam ‘the most liberal city in the world’. That was in the 1980s.
In January 2005 the city of Amsterdam passed a law which gave new and extensive powers to the police of the kind which they had not previously enjoyed. This was the power to stop members of the public on the street or in any public place and ask them to show identification papers. This they could do with impunity so long as there was suspicion that the said member of public had perpetrated a crime (or was thinking to do so!).
Obviously the officer had to use his discretion and judgement about when and how to employ his new-found power. You won’t be surprised to know that this was regularly abused. If you were Morrocan, or Turkish, or just not from the mainstream culture then you could expect random ID checks on the most flimsy trumped up grounds. It was license to control minority groups and non-conformists. Those of you who remember the notorious Sus Laws in Britain from the 70s and 80s will have a good idea of how this worked on the street.
My Tale of Woe
- Sex: Male
- Race: Caucasian
- Skin Colour: White
- Nationality: European Union
- Age: 53
- Occupation: Musician
- Criminal Record: None
- Name: …………….
It was a Friday evening in May 2005. I had just completed a concert with my small orchestra which had taken place in a beautiful monument in the centre of Amsterdam called De Waag. For the last two or three hours I had been packing down and transporting all the equipment and instruments as well as driving the other orchestra members to their various homes and houses. It was around midnight as I made the final drive to Amsterdam north where I would park my car and pick up my bike to cycle to my home in the centre of town. Amsterdam North was partly residential but also with a large industrial terrain and was one of the last areas of the city where one could park for free, making it a popular location for parking of course.
I had left my bicycle locked to a lamp post in a deserted area next to a warehouse. Actually it wasn’t my bicycle, mine had developed a flat earlier that day, so at the last minute I had borrowed a bike from my housemate P. She said I could have it for the day but she would need it back in the morning. This apparently trivial point would later have some bearing on how events unfolded. So I parked up about ten metres away from the locked bike. It was dark, quiet and deserted. Well, not quite deserted. As I locked my car and walked towards the bike I heard a vehicle approaching at some speed from down the road. I didn’t pay it any attention and began to unlock the chain from P’s bike. The car arrived at a manic speed and screeched to a halt, diagonally in front of me, making it difficult for me to move away. In a second I saw that it was an unmarked police car and inside were two of Amsterdam’s finest. One male officer in civilian clothes and one female officer in uniform. They jumped out of their vehicle and seemed to be in quite an agitated state. “What are you doing?” the male officer barked at me. I was calm. “I’m unlocking my bike. These are my bike keys. There’s my car. I’ve just parked up and locked it. Here’s my car keys. The engines still warm. Now I’m going to cycle home.” This completely true and reasonable statement didn’t seem to satisfy them. They were edgy and a bit paranoid. “Well where’s your I.D.?” I was in the habit of not carrying identification papers on me, there was a general, if unspoken, understanding that many citizens of Amsterdam would not support the new I.D. laws. I said “According to the new law you are only allowed to ask me for my I.D. if I am suspected of committing a felony of some kind. Here’s my bike keys, here’s my car keys, there’s no crime scene here. So you don’t have grounds for asking me for identification and so I won’t be showing it to you.” I maintained a polite manner while explaining the law to them, but I knew that things could easily take a turn for the worse. And they did.
The female officer, obviously the junior of the two, was stage whispering her opinions in the ear of her colleague…”He’s obviously up to no good”, “Arrest him”, and “I think he’s foreign”. The male officer seemed torn between wanting to arrest me and not really wanting all the paperwork that it would involve for basically a non-existent crime. But his true nature triumphed and he whipped out his handcuffs and I found myself being thrown into the back of their car. Under arrest.
They took me to the nearest local police station, Amsterdam North. Let me tell you about this area of the city. North relates to Amsterdam maybe in a similar way that New Jersey relates to New York. There is a thin slice of river (the Ij) that separates the North from the main body of the city and although its physically close even to the city centre, culturally its like another universe. Amsterdam is thought of as liberal, urban, diverse, multi-cultural, arty. But North…we’re talking conservative, redneck, working class, ‘down to earth’. The police bureau in North doesn’t deal with the same kind of exotic crimes like the main body of the city. It’s an outpost. In this station it’s always a slow night, even on Fridays and Saturdays. At about 1.a.m. on this particlular slow Friday night I would be their entertainment.
At this late hour of the early morning there were only a handful of officers in the Amsterdam North Police Bureau. Three or four younger male officers mostly low rank, and one older chief-of-station. He seemed a world apart from his junior colleagues, not only in rank but in his entire essence. While they were young energetic street-wise ambitious cops he was old school, even old fashioned, certainly in his mentality. He was a high-level hick in police hicksville. Even in his 50s you could see that he had grown up in the countryside and that this outpost of nowheresville was the nearest he would ever get to the real urban police action. He exercised an intolerant authority even over his own junior officers. He was out of touch, crude, bigoted and you could feel that even his own men resented him for this. To myself I mentally gave him the name ‘Hillbilly 1’. They set about interrogating me. It seemed to be outside of their world view that someone would refuse to give their name unless they were a criminal. I was slapped about a bit. Not enough to leave a mark. Hillbilly 1 took over the enquiry. “Come on now boy!” he roared “You think you can play us for fools. We’ve got all night and by the morning, believe me, we will have your full I.D. and a confession to whatever crime you were committing out there ” and he grabbed me by the throat. He was a powerful man, with huge forearms, probably all those years working on the farm, I thought to myself as I gasped for breath. But I said nothing. It seemed to me that some of the younger men didn’t like this bullying quality, as if it had gone beyond just the level of fun they were having on a slow Friday night. And most of them knew that I’d done nothing. After a bit more threatening behaviour I was thrown into a day-cell. As the name suggests this is a holding room where suspects are held during the daytime. It doesn’t have the facilities or design for overnight holding, and it’s actually not allowed to keep prisoners in them overnight. It was a glass fronted box, 4 metres by 2 metres. There was a small wooden bench against the wall, about a metre long. Just long enough to sit on but not to lie down on. And thats it. It’s situated in the station so that the criminal can be seen from whichever part of the bureau the on-duty cop happens to be in. I was dog-tired. I was resigned to have to spend a night there and get thrown out in the morning. I tried to squash myself up on the bench in a kind of foetal position but couldn’t get comfortable. Then I lay down on the cement floor but that was even worse.
Whenever I was about to drop off to sleep, Hillbilly 1 would creep up and suddenly hammer on the glass to wake me up with a jolt. On one occasion, just as I was in that twilight pre-sleep falling moment, he entered the cell, threw a cup full of water over me and shouted “What’s your name boy?!!” As if in shock I would sit bolt upright and say ‘My name is John Jackson sir!. Date of Birth:January 7th 1968 sir! ‘ And so this went on all night. At a certain point I engineered my own entertainment out of it. I suddenly appeared to ‘break down’ and shouted ‘ok ok I can’t take it any more! I’ll tell you my name.” My tormentor glowed with satisfaction as he frogmarched me out to the desk in order to write down my correct details with his own hand. The junior officers were also getting interested now. “I’m from Yugoslavia. My family name is S’Hole.” I pronounced it very carefully and specifically separating the two parts ‘S’ and Hole. “And what’s your first name?” asked HillBilly 1 as he wrote. “My name is Imana” I said in a resigned voice, (I pronounced it eye- mana). He wrote it down and said it out loud. “Imana S’hole”. Fortunately he even repeated it three or four times as if the name had the magic power of a mantra. It did have some kind of magic because if you say this name unconsciously, without thinking, it turns into ‘I’m an asshole’. As Hillbilly 1 innocently mouthed the words, his colleagues in the bureau immediately got the jist of it. Some of them began to laugh. Hillbilly himself, at first not understanding, suddenly realised the hidden meaning of the name. He turned angrily on his junior officers who immediately stifled their laughs. I think they were genuinely afraid of him. I was thrown back into the day-cell. After a few minutes he came into the cell. He grabbed hold of me and manouevered me into the only small corner of the cell which was not visible to the rest of the on-duty officers. He seemed very calm. Maybe inside he was raging. I couldn’t tell. Anyway he hit me in the face. Only with the flat of his large farmers hand, but very hard. And he lifted his leg high and kicked me once, also very hard indeed, on the side of my hip (a strange target I thought). “You know what that’s for” he said. Me…I was beyond caring really. Anyway they left me alone for the remaining couple of hours of the night. At first light they took me through the office to the main doors. Some of the younger cops were noticeably more friendly towards me. I assumed I was going to be kicked out on the street. Not so. I was told I was being taken to the Head Bureau on MarnixStraat where they had proper holding cells and that they would deal with me in a way which would make me regret that I had ever refused to give my name when asked by an officer of the law.
There are about two dozen Police bureaus in Amsterdam. Of these, only three have the facilities to hold suspects overnight, including the Head Bureau. The city has a reputation as a wild hotbed of sex, drugs and crime. The reality is that it doesn’t merit such a reputation. Even so, there is enough underworld activity that the local cops are reluctant to keep people locked up for long periods of time unless it’s considered necessary for public safety or political reasons. They don’t want to block up the flow of lowlifes and petty criminals through their system by having their holding-cells full. Especially at the weekend.
Early Saturday morning, I found myself handcuffed in the back of a police VW Golf and being driven into the heavily secured compound of the main CopShop. Hillbilly 1 had brought me personally. He got out of the car and marched me a bit over-vigorously towards the booking office. He seemed to be a bit intimidated by being in the company of the city’s real crimefighters and no doubt wanted to show them that he was in full control of this dangerous foreign criminal (me). However to his chagrin he quickly discovered that those in control of the Head Bureau simply didn’t want me. They looked at the paperwork. “There’s nothing here! What has he actually done? We don’t want him. We know his type. If we lock him up here his friends will come and make noise demos outside. We can’t be bothered with all that. Just take him away.” But the Chief of Station of Amsterdam North didn’t want to just climb down. He pondered his options. “OK we’re taking you to the foreign police. They will find out who you are”. And so I was again handcuffed in the back seat of the Golf and we drove out to the neighbourhood of Osdorp, to the Foreign Detention Centre.
Foreign Detention in Osdorp, in the west of Amsterdam, is for imprisoning those unfortunate enough to be caught in any situation without the required residence papers or visas deemed necessary for staying in the city. It is really just a processing place. Legally they can hold you only for two weeks and by that time they have to have either charged you with a crime and sent you to a proper prison, or deported you, or they have to let you go. I knew this. I knew that I wasn’t going to be charged with anything and so I would just have to sit it out for a couple of weeks while the authorities tried by hook or by crook to find out my I.D. and I wasn’t about to tell them. I was photographed, fingerprinted and locked up.
The Foreign Detention centre is laid out with several floors of individual cells, each one identical. Each cell is about 3 x 4 metres. Hermetically sealed. There are no windows. There is a small bed, a blanket, a toilet, a chair, a table. There are no sharp objects and all the furnishings have rounded corners. The table and chair is fixed to the floor and faces towards the wall. The colour scheme of the stone walls is grey and pale green. Near the ceiling on one side there is a TV screen behind protective glass. It only shows one channel, Discovery Channel, the volume is very quiet. If you sit on the bed or on the chair it is not possible to hear it, the only way to do that is to go and stand right next to the screen and crane your neck upwards. When they put you in the cell they take away all your possessions and also your belt if you wear one, and your shoelaces. This is to stop you hanging yourself. You are not allowed newspapers. You are not allowed writing materials. I was not allowed a phone call either, which is illegal of course. I would have phoned to my house and asked my housemates to get my lawyer and get me out, seeing as how I had done nothing and had been charged with nothing. There is as kind of primitive exercise yard, not very big, enclosed on all four sides by high walls and closed across the top with wire mesh. You can have half an hour a day in there, where you might meet some of the other inmates, smoke a cigarette, and so on. Even the non-smokers, like myself, pretended that they wanted cigarettes, so that there would be more of them for those who did smoke. For the other 23 and a half hours of the day I was in my cell. The food was awful as you might expect. White sliced bread with chocolate spread, sometimes the luxury of stringy spaghetti with a very thin watery red sauce which we were told was tomatoes. Time passed slowly. I spent my hours doing meditation and Tai Chi, although the smallness of the cell made even simple Tai Chi quite difficult.
During my stay there, the guards and officials made an attempt to discover my name. They did not resort to violence but tried to trick me or use psychology. I think they thought that with the passage of time that I would simply become tired of the whole affair and want to get out. One day some guards came to my cell and said “ok, you’re going free!” I said “Alright, thats fine.” They walked me along the corridors, unlocking all the interim doors and locks that stood between me and the outside world. When we arrived at the last door they handed me a plastic bag which contained my possessions at the time of arrest… phone, keys, money and so on. Then at the last moment they stopped, laughed, and said “Oh no..actually you’re not going free. We were just joking.” They turned and began walking me back towards my cell. “But if you just give us your name, you can be out of here in ten minutes” one of the officers said to me in a confidential manner. “Well now I’m even more determined not to tell you my name” I replied. And we completed our journey back to my lock-up. Several days passed.
In the meantime, my housemate P had been surprised and concerned that I had not returned the bike I had borrowed from her, and that nobody had seen me or had any idea of my whereabouts. She knew the location in Amsterdam North where I habitually parked my car. Together with a friend they drove there to see what they might find. They discovered my car, safe and locked, and ten metres away, her bike, safe and locked. In a flash she understood the only thing which could have happened was that I had been arrested. Later she told me that she just ‘saw’ the whole event in front of her eyes. She and several of my friends began to visit the police stations of Amsterdam. It didn’t take them long to discover that I had spent the night in Police Bureau North. The on-duty cops seemed to be feeling a little guilty that the foreigner who had been arrested (for nothing) still seemed to be locked up somewhere and that he had a lot of friends looking for him and making awkward enquiries, and those friends seemed to be predominantly Dutch people (this shouldn’t make a difference of course but it absolutely does). So phone calls were hastily made and I was suddenly released from Foreign Detention and put out on the street in Osdorp, in the middle of the afternoon, without any reason being given and certainly without any apology. I took a tram back to my home in the centre of Amsterdam.
After my release I contacted one of the many support groups which had formed after the introduction of the I.D. laws. I think it was called ‘I.D.Nee’ (ID No) or something like that. Naively I believed that since the law had only been brought in in January 05, and now it was May 05, that maybe mine would be the first case of it’s kind where someone is so obviously wrongfully arrested and jailed. I thought the support organisation might want to take a statement from me. They politely informed me that in the five months since the introduction of the new law, there had been about 2000 cases nationwide.
About ten years ago the local authorities in Holland changed the law and their attitude towards that enduring symbol of the Netherlands, the bicycle. Going back generations, for as long as anyone could remember, cycling was an untroubled and unadulterated pleasure. The social art of biking around the city was not over-regulated or encumbered by pedantic rules. Very few cyclists had lights on their bikes, and in the brightly lit urban centres, lights were not even necessary. Nobody remembers a time when it was a problem that cyclists could not be seen because of the darkness, there was not a catalogue of bike accidents. Similarly traffic lights had been built to govern automobiles, not bikes, and the cyclist had carte-blanche to make his or her way through the city as they saw fit, using common sense as a guide rather than legislation. But at the turn of the millenium the city councils had an emerging agenda which was to oversee and control the numbers of immigrants, foreigners and illegal aliens in their cities. This was a policy which took hold all over Europe. With their fake liberal sensibilities, the Dutch didn’t like the idea of simply stopping citizens on the street just because they looked foreign, (or black, or arab). So someone in City Hall came up with the brilliant idea of the bike control. When the autumn kicked in, and the clocks went back, and the evenings were prematurely dark, there would suddenly appear check points at various intersections. Apart from giving the police the opportunity to stop cyclists, (since most people still had no lights), and ‘in passing’ ask them for their I.D., it was also found that by fining the culprits, the local authorities could generate a substantial income. The local population were shocked by this turn of events, this new affront to civil liberties. The bike controls were massively unpopular and cyclists would warn other oncoming cyclists of controls up ahead. This was the norm. The police paid no heed to the unpopularity of the controls and actually increased their capacity to control those who dared to mount the pavement, or even to stop cyclists because they thought ‘their bike looked like it might be stolen’. There was a nation wide policy called ‘more blue on the street’. This was a cure-all for all perceived criminal activity in the urban environment. More and more police . Because the increased numbers had to be recruited newly it meant lots of very young raw inexperienced cops were thrown into an inner city where they would walk the beat in pairs, armed with the new anti-immigrant agenda, a stick, a gun and the newly commissioned pepper-spray. A lot of these new police cadets were recruited from the countryside because young men who had grown up in the cities had become too sophisticated and urban to ‘police with intent’. You can see that this, together with the new stop and search powers, was going to be a recipe for disaster.
Within a few short years the city dwellers adapted to and absorbed the new police directives. Most cyclists did begin to use lights, just to avoid the controls, not to avoid accidents. At red traffic lights groups of bikes came to a halt and would congregate together at the intersection which actually caused more of a hazard to car drivers than if they had just continued as usual. Everyone was aware that for a small cycling misdemeanour one could be stopped and fined. I also knew this.
Fast forward 18 months from my visit to the Foreign Detention I was still living in Amsterdam. On a Wednesday morning I was cycling over a bridge to go to the WaterlooPlein flea market. The market area was designated a no-cycling area, which I knew of course. I had been there hundreds of times before. As I rounded the corner into the market proper I swung my leg over the seat of the bike and ‘stepped’ the last ten metres into the crowd (by ‘stepped’ I mean with my left foot on the left pedal and my right foot on the ground behind my left foot, just allowing the momentum of the bike to slow without the need to pedal). It was a sunny morning, the market was crowded and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. From one end of the market to the other is a fair distance, maybe two hundred yards. At the far entrance coming down the steps I saw three uniformed policemen entering the market into the crowd. I continued walking through the market, looking at the stalls and chatting with the market holders, most of whom I knew. After a few minutes the three police officers had reached me. I observed that there was one senior officer, he had what we call a ‘cauliflower’ insignia on his shoulder, and he was older. The other two were young, very young. They hardly looked old enough to have even been to the police academy, but I guess they were about 18 years old. Eventually our paths literally crossed. The senior officer gave me a quick glance and carried on walking past me. As one of the young boy cops walked up to me he said “You were riding in the market place. You have to pay a fine for that.” . I replied “Sorry but you’re mistaken. I wasn’t riding. And actually you couldn’t possibly have seen that from so far away through a huge crowd”. He obviously wasn’t too pleased that I contradicted him and of course he heard from my accent that I was foreign. Then came the inevitable next question. “Let me see your I.D.”. From that point on I had a bad feeling about how it was all going to pan out, because I wasn’t going to show them my I.D. I was wondering to myself how I had managed to walk into this situation. It occurred to me that these two young police cadets were out on the beat with their senior mentor and they wanted to impress upon him just how keen they were to mop up criminals on the street. After I informed this young cop that I would not be giving my I.D. because I had not committed a crime, he quickly informed me that I was under arrest. He grabbed me by the arm. There was a bit of a scene. Some of the market workers began to shout remarks at the young cops, the usual rhetoric… ‘haven’t you got better ways to spend your time?!’, ‘you could better be out catching real criminals!’, ‘leave him alone!’.. stuff like that. In the meantime the older senior police officer had turned round and walked back to the ‘scene of the crime’. You could see that he was a bit exasperated by the uselessness of the whole operation but felt duty bound to assist his two colleagues once they had taken the decision that I was going to be brought in. When one of the cadets took his handcuffs off his belt I said that wouldn’t be necessary. I knew it was pointless to resist. I did contemplate the effect of a thrilling chase through the market place but in the likely event of being caught it would just make things more difficult for me. At this point I switched from speaking in Dutch to speaking in English. There were several reasons for this. I didn’t want the police to have any clue about my true identity. When I speak in my rather clumsy Dutch, my accent of origin is much easier to hear to a trained local ear. If I speak English to a Dutchman it’s much easier to disguise the accent, as American, Latino, Irish…whatever. Also I knew that throughout the process of my arrest I would be continually transferred from one set of police to another. If they thought I didn’t understand Dutch they would talk more openly in front of me without care and I would get more access to information about what was going on.
I was strongarmed through the market to the JodenBree St, where they had radioed for an arrest bus to pick me up. I was put in the back of the bus and transferred to the custody of another pair of officers. I took out my cellphone and began to call one of my housemates because I knew that I might be locked up for days or even weeks without any contact. One of the officers turned towards me. “No phone calls!” he said. I put my phone away. Strangely they didn’t take my phone away from me at that point or even handcuff me.
I was taken to Police Bureau IjTunnel, one of the more disreputable bureaus of the city. Inside I was told to take my clothes off. I was wearing a hoody. (Is this why they suspected me of a crime in the first place?)As I pulled my hoody over my head I appeared to struggle with it. In fact inside the hoody I had taken my phone out of my pocket and left a message for my girlfriend. I simply said the name of the Police Station and the time. I eventually managed to take off my hoody. All my personal things were confiscated including the phone. They took my belt and shoelaces. I was placed into a ‘daytime holding cell’ pretty much the same as the one I had occupied in Amsterdam North.
Nothing much happened for the first couple of hours. I refused to give my name and so this was a reason for the on-duty officers to abuse my rights in small ways. When I asked for a drink of water for example they replied “No Name? No water!”, pathetic little things like that. It was at this point that everybody referred to me as No Name or Mr NoName. It stuck with me right through the arrest process and the subsequent imprisonment. After some time I was informed that three friends of mine had arrived at the police station as a result of my cellphone call. They had come to pay my fines so that I could get out. The fines were 30 euros for the ‘cycling offense’ and 50 euros for failing to show my I.D. They were about to pay these amounts but then the authorities decided that they didn’t want the money and that they didn’t want the fines paid. They wanted to keep me in. By accepting the payment for the fines they would have to release me. So they refused the payment of the fines. ‘It’ s not about the offenses, its about the I.D. We want to know who he is” Its true that the local police in Amsterdam had become absolutely obsessive about collecting identification papers and having complete files on the entire local population, but this was going beyond the pale. So my friends were turned away. At least they knew where I was and they could contact my lawyer. Afterwards one of the senior on-duty cops came into my cell and informed me that although they hadn’t discovered my name they had traced my fingerprints back to the previous time I had been arrested in the north, when I had also withheld my name. “You’ve done this before ” he said. “No, you’ve done this before.” I answered. “Anyway we will get to the root of it” he said.
After another half hour or so a non uniformed man walked into my cell. “I’m your lawyer. So we can have a talk and you can let me know all the details of the case and we’ll try to get you out of here.” Well I knew that he wasn’t my lawyer, because I know my lawyer of course! I said “You’re not my lawyer. My lawyer is Laura J.” Then he said a strange thing..”oh yes I know him. I’m a colleague from the same lawyers office as him.” Laura J is obviously a woman’s name and in fact I knew that she was on pregnancy leave at the time. So I challenged him on this point. I also said that the lawyers firm of Marc Wijngaarden, for whom Laura worked, would be interested to hear that he had claimed to be representing that firm. He became sheepish and quickly left the cell. In fact he was what is known in Holland as a ‘piquette’ lawyer, a state council lawyer. They are employed by the police and you can be sure that anything you say to them will go straight into the police documentation as they try to build a case against you, or in my case find out my name. Generally these piquette lawyers bluff their clients into giving away all kinds of personal information to the police which strictly should be kept confidential. (Much later on I would inform the firm of Marc Wijngaarden about this fraudulent attempt by a piquette lawyer to pass himself off as coming from their office. They complained to the police who issued a statement saying that no lawyer came to see me in my cell that day.)
The day went on. I was given no food or water. The Police Bureau Ij Tunnel is one of those which does not have overnight holding cells, so I knew one way or another I would not be staying there for the night. As the day turned into the evening several of the other arrestees there were taken away, presumably to other police stations or to be let go. The fact that I was still there quite late in the evening made me quite hopeful that they might in the end just kick me out. After ten oclock at night it is not possible to transfer a prisoner to another police bureau or jail. One medium ranked officer came in and spoke to me in a very reasonable manner. I think they just wanted to be done with the situation, (and so did I !). He said look if you contact your friends who came earlier and get them to pay the fine then you can be released and the matter will be over. I agreed to this. However after a while instead of bringing me my phone to make the call, another more senior officer walked in. He had a distinctively unpleasant manner. He was the on-duty substitute officer of justice, in other words he could take unilateral decisions of a high nature. His name was Jan Karel van der Pijl, a nasty piece of work. He tried to be as intimidating as possible with me. He asked me for my name and nationality. I refused to give it. He started shouting like a madman and said that if I didn’t comply with his wishes I would be sent to the Foreign Detention where I could rot in hell and how did I feel about that? He screamed this with a kind of triumphalism in his voice and body language as if this in itself would be enough to make me break down in remorse for my terrible cycling offense and surrender to him all my personal details. I told him that I was indifferent to whatever fate he had in store for me. He stormed out. He returned about ten minutes later and said I was being sent to the Head Bureau for the night. I was a bit surprised by this since it was now long after 10 p.m. and therefore technically I was not allowed to be transferred to another jail or Bureau.
The next sequence of events was bizarre. I was handcuffed and led out of the police station and put in the back of a large M.E. bus (M.E. is Riot Police). There were no seats in it which meant that I had to perch on the floor and try to balance myself, unable to use my hands of course. By now it was getting on for midnight. Two uniformed women officers got in to the front of the bus. They drove off at a fast pace. At every corner they went especially fast so that i would lose my balance and fall over and at every junction they would speed up to the white line and brake heavily so that again I would fall about. While they did this they blasted out very loud house music in the back of the bus. They were laughing hysterically. I was nonplussed . Apart from trying not to bang my head I found the whole episode ridiculous. They drove out into the countryside, circumnavigated roundabouts at very high speed, sometimes going round and round three or four times ‘for fun’. They stopped for about 15 minutes at a rural police station out in the middle of nowhere, where they drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, while leaving me chained up in the back of the bus with the music blaring. This went on for two hours. Were they coked out of their heads? I don’t know. I couldn’t imagine where all this was going. By now it was about two oclock in the morning. Eventually we came back in to town and arrived at a place which I knew very well…Foreign Detention in Osdorp in the west of Amsterdam, where I had been locked up the previous year. I turned to them and said “This is not the Head Bureau this is Foreign Detention. !” There was one on each side of me. They answered simultaneously. One said “Yeah you’re right” the other said “No it’s not”. Ooops. You see legally they are not allowed to bring anyone to Foreign Detention in the middle of the night. But they did with me. Anyway, whatever, I was soon back in the splendid isolation of the little cell, 3 x 4 metres with the grey green walls and no windows. It wasn’t exactly the same cell of course but all the cells are identical.
In the cell to my left was a guy called Malik. His case was famous in Amsterdam. He has been on hunger-strike outside the courthouse in Parnassusweg. The police had decided to pick him up at a certain point and he had ended up in Foreign Detention even though he had full right of residence in Belgium. He was originally Moroccan and the Dutch authorities wanted to send him there rather than drive him 300 km to his home in Brussels.
In the cell on the other side of me was a twelve year old child, whom I never saw. But I heard on more than one occasion the guards in conversation with this prisoner, and even they couldn’t believe it. “How old are you?What? You’re twelve years old?! I cannot imagine how it’s possible that a child could be in there. Maybe there is an option for a child to accompany his/her mother, in the case that the mother is arrested. I think there is a legal possibility for that. Even so the cells are way too small to house two people. I never found out what that situation was about.
Further along the corridor was an inmate who was suicidal. Sometimes in the night I heard him screaming and you could actually hear the thud of him banging his head against the rim of the toilet. He was eventually taken to hospital where he did survive but not without serious damage.
For me it was pretty well identical to my first stay there. The guards were very curious to try and find out my name. Some of the strategies they used were absolutely strange. Once they woke me up in the middle of the night and showed me a piece of paper with a name on it, a Turkish name. They said he was here to visit me (in the middle of the night?) and did I know him? I said I had never seen the name before, then they left me alone. They made extensive checks of my finger prints but never turned up anything. That’s because I didn’t have a criminal record. But they couldn’t accept that. To them, since I refused to show them my I.D. then I must be a criminal.
My routine was the same as the previous year. Twenty three and a half hours locked up and half an hour a day in the exercise pit. The first day in there we had been given a sponge football which we kicked around a bit. On the second day the football had vanished. We were left to our own resources. There was one guy in there who I immediately spotted as an undercover cop. In the Netherlands these cops in civilian clothes are called ‘Stille’ or ‘silent’ cops. They are used to infiltrate the unsuspecting general public, or they will try to ‘merge’ in with a demo or protest march. They are also used as arrest teams in situations where there is a pubic order problem or a disturbance. But to most people with any kind of previous dealings with the police, the silent cops are instantly recognisable…. the macho posturing, the tight blue jeans, the musclebound pumped upper bodies. So when they put one of them in with us in the exercise yard I spotted him straight away. No doubt the thinking was that by taking away the football then we would have to engage each other in conversation and so the silent cop would overhear these valuable titbits of info (like my nationality and name for example). I scrutinised him a bit more. He was just different than the other prisoners.
Too clean, well kept, and the tell tale sign was his trainers which still had shoelaces in. Impossible. I went up to a Surinamese guy leaning against the wall. I said “Can you smell bacon?” He understood immediately and looked at me wide eyed and enquiring. “Look at that guy there,. The big white guy with the oiled hair and the tight jeans.” I said “He’s got laces in his trainers. You know as well as I do that there is no way they will ever let you in here like that. Stille. ” ‘Yeah man you’ re right” he answered as we both began staring at the guy. “Do they think we’re idiots”. I walked up to the man and asked him directly, or rather told him “You’re Stille aren’t you.” The man looked at me, said nothing, turned, walked towards the gate, rang the intercom bell and said to the guard “Time for me to get out”. the door opened and he walked out. I don’t know if the silent cop was just generally trying to listen in on us or if he was specifically targeting me and my personal details. I made a point all through my arrest that I would never reveal my true name or nationality to anyone, even other prisoners. This was a little bit tricky because when you meet people inside, the first thing they want to know to get some kind of handle on you is ‘what’s your name? where are you from? and it’s difficult to get trust from people if you won’t give up this most basic of information. But in every case when an inmate asked where I was from, and so on, I would patiently and politely explain to them that the whole structure of my arrest was built on me not giving my identity up to the police. People understood and respected that. I think some inmates thought I was some kind of important political prisoner even. Every one knows that there are snitches everywhere in jail and so it was just accepted that I was without name or country and everyone just started calling me NoName (and with some affection actually).
Time passed slowly. I expected I might have to stay a couple of weeks but knew that my friends would be getting a lawyer for me. One morning a couple of officers came to me in my cell and said “you’re leaving.” They didn’t say you’re ‘going free’. I thought there was something ominous about it. As I was taken to the outer door I saw a big blue arrestee bus waiting. “Where are we going? ” I asked. The guards seemed reluctant to talk about it. I got into the bus, there were four or five other prisoners already in there. When the bus started moving they informed us that we were being taken to the deportation/prison ship in Rotterdam. Shit! That was bad news. I had heard about this prison ship. it had quite a reputation, not a good one.
So after a journey of about one hour we arrived at the prison ship which is moored at Rotterdam. In fact there are actually two ships next to each other. Well they are just floating prisons really, you could hardly call them ships. I think the fact that they are technically not on Dutch soil means that the authorities can get round all sorts of legal complications and expedite the processing of the prisoners without having to worry too much about their legal and human rights. One is smaller, housing about 100 inmates. this one is called The Reno. The second one is quite huge and has several hundred prisoners on board, this is The Stockholm. (I think they were built in Sweden for the Dutch government). The Reno is more of a holding prison while you are processed on your way to the bigger ship.
As soon as we arrived I realised that the whole ethos of this prison was very different from any normal jail, or police cell, or Foreign Detention. It was big and serious. Razor wire. Big fences. Many guards. The staff on these ships is split roughly half half between regular police and hired security. The security guards were a bit more relaxed and seemed to view it as just a job, but the police working there were super-keen and aggressive. They had the idea that all the inmates were actually hardened criminals and should be treated slightly better than animals. But of course most of the inmates were Asylum seekers who were being processed, not in any way to be regarded as criminals, or simply foreigners who had been picked up without papers. But to the on-duty cops we were dangerous criminals, even terrorists. Immediately on arrival I could sense the heightened paranoia among the staff. The security was intense. Up to four officers would accompany one prisoner who was kept in handcuffs at all times throughout the induction process and sometimes in leg-irons. There were many many locked doors of heavy steel. One door would only be opened when the other doors had been secured. The police officers shouted at us in shrill voices, in a completely unnecessary manner, since the prisoners had no option but to comply with them. They were armed with batons and pepper spray, not guns. The danger of a prisoner managing to get hold of a gun was too dangerous to even contemplate (however the guards outside at the perimeter, they did have guns of course.) . As we were brought in we had to go through the search rooms. These are pristine shiny metal rooms with heavy doors. The prisoners are stripped naked .They have the option of the squatting down process, which you have to do three times so that anything you may have hidden up your ass will fall out on to the floor, or there is also the dreaded cavity search, in which the police are actively searching your ‘cavity’ with a pair of tough rubber gloves. The adrenalin levels among the police in this search room was palpably intense. It’s not only about looking for hidden contraband, it’s also about humiliation. African prisoners seemed to be specially selected for maximum humiliation. The police officers would be screaming by now, taking photos and films on their mobile phones of naked men. Filming their ass holes and their genitals and shrieking at their victims that the films would be getting posted on youtube tonight. This is the kind of stuff that went on in the search rooms. Not much physical violence to be honest. Obviously there was a bit of punching and slapping when prisoners resisted but there was more of an emphasis on psychological torment and power games of dominance and submission.
From the search rooms we were passed on to the main part of the boat. As we exited, we had to pass the exercise yard which was quite big, open air, with a large fence around it. You could sense that this was a tough place, full of desperate men. The inmates grouped together in gangs, based loosely on ethnic divisions. There were Arabs, Latinos, Blacks, Chinese, Turks. The only ‘whites’ were some huge Russians covered in tattoos. Because EU citizens have right of residence in the Netherlands, there were no Europeans…except me of course. As we walked along the perimeter of the yard, many of them came up to the fence to stare at us, the new inmates, to shout insults at us, or to make jokes, or to show us who was the boss here in this place, or just to satisfy their curiosity. I attracted particular attention being quite obviously white. Everyone started shouting at me, asking me where I was from. Many of the prisoners are just innocent victims who have been stopped at the wrong place at the wrong time without the required paperwork and so guys from Ghana, Ivory Coast or Cameroon for example who have residence papers for Germany or Belgium and have lived in those countries for years, suddenly find themselves picked up on the streets of Amsterdam while they are on holiday and then deported back to Africa because they don’t have right of residence in the Netherlands. This impacts massively on their lives of course but it is even a bigger problem for people who are trying to escape from some of the living hells on earth like Somalia, Iraq and so on. I saw some prisoners being deported to Afghanistan!. So the mood of the ship is really one of desperation. There are also some really criminal guys in there too, crack dealers, women traffickers, so there are very hierarchical gangs full of bad motherfuckers. It’s intimidating.
So I was put into a cell. The whole regime and lifestyle is different from the Foreign Detention for example. There are usually four prisoners to a cell which is maybe three by five metres in size. I was sharing with one guy from Ivory Coast, one from Nigeria and one from Liberia. Bunk beds and a tv in the top corner. There was also a microwave. We each had our own food, although it was still the bread with chocolate paste and the stringy spaghetti. We were allowed to keep our shoelaces in. We were allowed writing materials, pen and paper (I started a sketch book). We were not allowed newspapers and yet we were allowed to watch CNN. Figure that out. We were not allowed cell phones. We were not allowed to put pictures on the wall. Why not?..Rules. But what’s the rule for? ..That’s just the rules.
We were locked up for most of the day but three times a day there would be ‘recreation’. This meant that the cells were opened and we could walk up and down the narrow corridors, maybe meet some of the other prisoners. There were four telephones, they were only available for a period of one hour. Four telephones for a hundred guys! You have to understand that the telephone would take on great significance in the daily life of an inmate, for phoning his lawyer, his girlfriend, his family and loved ones. It was important. So almost always the phones and the phone queues would be the cause of lots of stress, aggravation, arguments and fights. My cell mate from Ivory Coast spoke no English or Dutch, I spoke a bit of French and so tried to help him. None of the guards spoke French and unbelievably he was given a lawyer who also spoke no language that he could understand. So just trying to get some minimal information about his legal case, on the phone, in the phone hour, surrounded by stressed out prisoners shouting at him, you can imagine it wasn’t much fun for him. Also there were a lot of robberies.
A few months previous to me being sent to this prison ship there had been a notorious incident at an asylum detention centre at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Basically a fire had broken out in the night, the guards just locked down all the cells and ran away leaving the prisoners (asylum seekers by the way, not criminals) to burn. Eleven prisoners died. There were huge repercussions in the media and for the authorities, although no one was officially blamed or punished of course. New protocols were introduced to preclude this kind of thing from happening in the future. So one day I was talking to one of the guards on the ship about the fire at Schiphol and asked him what the procedure was in case of fire on our ship. He told me that the new regulations said that the cells would be opened and all the prisoners would be gathered together in the big exercise yard outside on the quay. By a strange coincidence there was a fire alarm the very next day. It was mid morning and we were about thirty of us in the small recreation room. This room had little to offer in the way of recreation. There was a kind of ‘shove ha’penny’ table game (called ‘sjoelen’ ) which was so dull that in fact the guards were the only people who I ever saw playing it. There were a few books to read, old novels, no newspapers of course. At a certain point the fire alarm went off. It was loud and it went on for a long time. There was a fire on the floor below us. What did the guards do? They locked us in that recreation room while they got the hell off that ship. It was an unnerving feeling sitting there in that room, not knowing what was the nature of the fire below, knowing very well how many steel doors and locks lay between us and the outside. Some prisoners freaked out totally. Some screamed and shouted but there were no guards to hear them. After a while it became apparent that the fire was not of a really serious nature, although no one knew that at first when we were left to our fate. In the end we sat in that recreation room for maybe 40 minutes. It was one of the very rare times when large numbers of inmates were left together without any supervision. A few personal scores were settled that day and some prisoners sustained injuries which none of the other prisoners could explain. The fire alarm was a sobering event. In our cells it was allowed to smoke cigarettes. Often at night you would lie on your bunk knowing that the guy underneath you was in a kind of trance staring at CNN or Eurosport, in a half sleep with a half smoked cigarette in his hand. You are very aware that in the worst case scenario if a fire breaks out, the doors are all locked and there are bars on the windows. During my entire stay on that ship I never slept for a longer period than two hours. I would spend many a night lying there listening to the screeching metal of the boat as it scraped the side of its moorings, or the incessant thudding of the massive chain that smashed against the side of the vessel.
One of the guys in my cell was from Nigeria. He was traumatised deeply. I don’t know what he was like before he went in there but it was obvious to us that he was mentally ill. Sometimes he would get up in the night, put all his clothes on and stand in the toilet for hours just facing the wall. Or he wouldn’t speak for days. Or he would take a shit on the floor and then try to clean it up with his daily sandwiches. Stuff like that. I talked to the doctors about him. I said “Look this guy is not going to make it. At the moment he is lucky to be with three cell mates who are trying to take care of him. But if he gets transferred to another cell where there are many many prisoners who would just abuse him, then it’s going to be a disaster. It’s your responsibility as the prison doctor, he needs treatment badly” But the doctors couldn’t care less. In the end the guy went completely catatonic.
The other prisoners were generally very friendly towards me. Nobody could figure out what I was there for. There was intrigue, mystery and speculation around my identity. No one objected to calling me ‘NoName’ in fact I think people liked it. Many prisoners would come and talk with me. Apart from some small confrontations with some of the ships bullies, I tried to be a as sociable as possible, while keeping myself to myself and my identity quiet. Every two days we were able to use the exercise yard. Some sat around smoking, others did push-ups or toning exercises, or jogging around the inside of the perimeter fence. I practiced Tai Chi. I had been practising this on a weekly basis in Amsterdam’s Chinatown and felt that it was something I should definitely continue in prison. I was getting worried about my health. Earlier in the year I had gone down with a near fatal case of pneumonia. My constitution was weak. My vital body smashed. The combination of lack of sleep, prison ‘food’, sharing a cell with chain smokers, had all left me in a bad state. As I went through the different Tai Chi positions, the other prisoners would make comments, or laugh, or marvel, or do some quite funny impersonations of me.
To get visitors was a luxury and was quite a bureaucratic rigmarole but eventually some of my close friends were able to visit me. I sat at a small table opposite two friends, with a guard standing about two metres away. I don’t know if he expected to pick up some information about my nationality, maybe. I had already been in contact with my lawyer and my friends confirmed that according to legal precedent, it was likely they would hold me there for six months, with an option for a further six after that. I think after seeing me in the flesh my friends began to worry about my health.
One morning I was woken up in my cell and told ‘You’re going to the other boat.”
So I gathered my few possessions, some photographs and drawings that friends had sent to me, some letters, my sketch book, and I walked the two minute journey to the other boat. This boat was quite a change from the first one. It was huge in comparison. A labyrinth. In fact I never really did get an idea of how big it was. It seemed to have many compartments and ‘zones’ as well as different levels. I was marched along some corridors and deep into the bowels of this iron beast. Eventually we came to the cell to which I had been designated. The guards unlocked the door. The cell was occupied by six men who I immediately recognised as being Russian. They lay around on their bunks smoking like chimneys. And the cell was tiny! And it had no windows! I would estimate it was a cell for two people, maybe four at the outside, not seven. And it stank of sweaty trainers and old ashtrays. I turned round to the guards and said “I’m not going in that cell, find me another one.” They said that I had no choice. I began shouting at the guards. This was unusual, because up to a point I had been more or less compliant with the prison authorities, believing that it only made the time in jail harder if you were constantly engaged in conflict with your captors. But now I began to shout at them. I dug my heels in and refused to enter the cell. I told them that I had pneumonia, infected lungs and that I wouldn’t survive any length of time in a place like that. So they said “just go in for today and tomorrow we’ll find you another cell”. Oh sure. I just refused point blank. So then the guards left me standing outside the cell in the corridor and they went to consult their superiors. After about an hour they came back and said “Ok we’ve found a space for you in the no smoking wing”. This ship was so large that it had a no smoking wing! I was quite surprised but felt it was potentially a good solution.
I was taken on another sojourn of the ship’s corridors and came eventually to another cell, quite a small one. As I entered I immediately noticed how clean it was. It smelled really fresh. And light. There was a fair sized window and while it was heavily barred of course, still the sunlight absolutely flooded in. It was the polar opposite of the dark ashtray unwindowed cell full of Russians with smelly footwear.
I walked inside. There were four bunks, only two of them occupied. Two dark skinned prisoners, both approximately middle aged, were lying on their beds. “Take your shoes off!” one of them barked. “And after you’ve made your bed, go and take a shower because you smell bad.” It was true I hadn’t been able to shower or get clean clothes for three or four days. My new cellmates were very fussy about cleanliness, but I didn’t mind that actually. I went and had a shower. The facilities on this boat were better because there were some very long stay prisoners onboard. My cellmate was a refugee from Somalia, he had already been on that ship for two or three years. But the routine was the same really, same food, no newspapers, CNN television. At least this cell had a view of the water.
My new cellmates were not overly friendly at first but of course with the passing of time social barriers came down and I discovered that the older bigger guy, who had told me I smelled bad, he had studied political history. He became aware that he and I could have some kind of discussions about this and he was also very interested in my case from a social point of view. He had wild speculations about who I was and why I had ‘really’ been arrested, more or less telling me that he knew I was some kind of terrorist. We became quite close in time but he never once asked me to reveal my name or nationality.
When the time came for ‘recreation’ the cell doors were unlocked so that we could walk up and down the corridors and exchange pleasantries with the other inmates. But suddenly our cell became a hive of activity and several young men came in at once. They were all muslims. And then it suddenly hit me..that this cell I was in, it was the prison mosque. They had come to do their daily prayers. The small cell became completely full, not a metre of floor space to spare. I was lying on my bunk. As the men prepared to pray I turned to my Somalian cellmate and I said “What shall I do? Do you want me to wait outside?” He said “Yes OK”. Then as a kind of afterthought he said “Or you could stay here and pray with us. I can explain to you what to do.” I thought about it for a second and replied “Yes. ok that’s good. I’d like that.”
So I stayed with them and they showed me the most basic parts of the prayer ritual, the washing, the text and the meaning of the prayers, the proper way to stand or kneel and so on. It was interesting. I was also surprised by how well the other men accepted me. They were in no way patronising rather they seemed to be delighted that I wanted to learn about Islam and they were most supportive of me. I would say that most of the men in our small ‘mosque’ were very serious in their faith. I don’t want to give the impression that they were fundamentalists, but they were simply very devout, mostly young, Muslims whose faith was the cornerstone of their lives. So three times a day we all prayed together and the other two times of the day when our cell was not freely available to all then I prayed just with my two Somalian cellmates. After a few days the word got around the boat that I had ‘converted’ to Islam. This seemed to be quite a big deal among the prisoners but an even bigger deal among the guards who were shocked and visibly disturbed by this news. “NoName’s become a Muslim!!” , “See! We knew he was a dangerous case”, “He’ll become a radical!” these were the kind of sentiments being expressed by the prison officers. It also affected my status and personal security. As a Muslim I became more or less untouchable in terms of abuse or physical attack. Because of the tremendous solidarity between the Muslim brothers it was impossible to fuck with any one of them because you would bring on the wrath of the whole group. I sensed this immediately and found it an interesting phenomenon. Every Friday the Imam came to visit the prisoners. The young brothers enthusiastically introduced me to him. He was friendly and supportive. He tried to explain some of the nuances of the prayers. I said to him “Is there some kind of initiation ceremony I have to undergo in order to be genuinely considered a Muslim.?” He said “No no, you’re a Muslim now, that’s it.” I told him that I wasn’t circumcised. He smiled and said “That’s no problem, that can always be done later !”. The other men laughed at this.
In the meantime my case was coming up before the court. I would not even have been pre-warned about this if two friends of mine who came to visit me hadn’t told me. I went through the rigmarole of using the telephones and spoke to my lawyer. He explained to me the situation. Based on previous similar cases, I would almost certainly lose. The court would not want to set a precedent that some one could just walk away unidentified when challenged for I.D. on the street. In which case I would be held here for 12 months if I still refused to show my identity. The lawyer said that my friends were urging me to let him hand in my passport in the almost certain event of me losing the case. They were worried about long term deterioration of my health. He said that there was little more that I could do and that I had already proved a point. The story of my case was also making the newspapers. One high profile newspaper ‘Het Parool’ had written a supportive article and had stated that I was an EU citizen (without giving my name or nationality) and that I was languishing in a deportation boat on a trumped up charge. I reluctantly agreed with my lawyer to go ahead with his wish to hand in my papers when I lost the case.
So one Thursday midday I was taken out and locked up in the back of a prison transport bus and driven back to Amsterdam to the court on Parnassusweg. I was put in a holding cell in the belly of the building while I awaited my hearing. On the way down there I caught sight of myself in a mirror for the first time in weeks and I was shocked at what I saw. I was haggard from chronic lack of sleep and my face was white, gaunt and covered in sores and pimples as a result of the terrible prison diet.
After a while I was escorted by two officers in to the courtroom. It was full. There were friends and supporters, members of the anti-I.D. law pressure group with placards and slogans, some members of the press because of the media coverage which my case had started to attract. I turned briefly towards some of my friends and gave a wave of recognition, but for the most part I faced towards the judge. The judge was a middle aged woman who right from the off seemed sympathetic to my case. As I recounted the events of my arrest she nodded in agreement and also was particularly hard on the prosecutor who was trying to paint a picture of me as some kind of shady terrorist/criminal. However this did not fill me with optimism because I knew that I was most likely going to lose the case and in fact her grilling of the prosecution was actually a sign that she was going to decide against me, so that afterwards she could say that she had been fair an unbiased. The prosecutor brought up my previous stay in the Foreign Detention and said maybe I had been arrested for a ‘serious crime’. But this made his case look even more ridiculous, and in fact the judge mocked him . Not only did I have no record of any crime against my fingerprints but I had even been released without charge. It was clear that the judge understood that I was a European citizen and that my refusal to give I.D. had been a point of principal. She herself had even speculated out loud that I might be Dutch. I gave a little speech about the growing encroachment against human rights which was happening in the Netherlands as embodied not only by the I.D. laws and the vigour with which these laws were being pursued, but also with the bicycle checks and the new tactic of closing off certain streets in the center of town from both ends and then only allowing people to leave after they had been searched, (this was ostensibly to look for dangerous weapons, which we all carry nowadays.)
As I expected I was found guilty of refusing to show identification when asked for it. The judge was not going to set a new legal precedent which would allow anyone to have the right to refuse. So I was taken back to the boat in Rotterdam, back to my Somalian cellmates. the following morning my lawyer handed in my passport to the authorities and I was told I was being set free. I said goodbye to my fellow inmates. They were both happy and sad to see me go. I asked them if they needed anything which I could send to them. There were a few items. The older Somalian guy asked me to get him some new trainers. When I was out I did buy some trainers for him and sent them, but he never got them. I was released at Rotterdam train station. I asked for some money to buy a train ticket back to Amsterdam but it was refused. I eventually got home about ten at night. Out of the next 48 hours I slept 30. When I woke up it was new years eve.
Fast Forward to July 2009, about two and a half years after my incarceration on the prison boat in Rotterdam and about four years after my time in Foreign detention in Osdorp, Amsterdam.
Here is a transcript of the letter of complaint I sent to the Amsterdam Police following yet another harassment followed by arrest without any grounds whatsoever.
To The Police Complaints Commission
I would like to register a formal complaint against the Amsterdam Police because of an event which happened to me in the area of the city near to Nieuwe Market which I believe comes under the jurisdiction of the Police Bureau on Beurs Straat.
I am living at Spui Straat 231, This is the address where I am registered. Every Friday at 2p.m. I give lessons in Tai Chi at the Chinese Community Centre ‘ Fa Yin ‘ which is situated on Recht Booms Sloot.
On Friday 24th July, at about 1.30 pm, I was walking from my house on Spuistr to the Community Centre, as I have done every week for the last six years. This is a short ten minute walk which takes me through the red light area to Nieuwe Market.
As I was walking on one of the small connecting streets, ( I don’t know which street this was precisely, but one of the many small streets that runs from Warmoes St to Nieuwe market) I was approached by two police officers, one male , one female, both of the rank ‘two stripes’ . Although there were many people on the street at this time of day, they decided to pick me out of the crowd and began shouting at me in an aggressive manner, that I should spread myself against the wall and be body searched. This was before any other kind of verbal contact had been established. This was how they ‘introduced’ themselves to me without any clarification or explanation. Naturally I was shocked and I said to them “What are you doing ? Whats all this about ?” and I got the reply “ Shut up! I know you” from the male officer. Of the two officers he was the one who was primarily initiating this event. I said to him “You can’t just stop people randomly on the street and demand to body search them.” He moved towards me and pushed me against the wall so that I could not get away from him. He then asked me to show my ID. I said to him “What am I suspected of? What crime has been committed?” He answered “You’ll see”. I said to him that he could not ask me for my ID unless I was suspected of a crime and ‘You’ll See’ was not a proper way to address this point. I told him that I was not carrying my ID but that I lived on Spui St and that I was registered there. He said he did not want to walk all the way to Spui St to check my ID. He said I was under arrest. He then twisted my arm in an aggressive manner and told me that we were all going to the Police bureau on Niuewe Market. I became naturally angry and spoke to him in a very blunt manner. I told him about the illegality of the procedure. He said if I made a problem he would cuff me. I told him that I had an appointment to give a class at Recht Booms Sloot, that he could take me there in handcuffs and explain to the Chinese Community there just why he was making me unavailable to teach the class, because he certainly had not explained it to me.
Eventually I was frogmarched across the market square and we went to the door of the Police bureau at Niuewe market. Because this bureau is not a public bureau , as I understand, there are not always police officers there, and this was the case on this day. So we were unable to go inside the bureau. At this point I made phone call to a friend using my mobile to contact my lawyer, Ms S. Hopman. We had to wait there for about 15 minutes during which time there was quite some argument between myself and the officer. After asking him very many times why I was being arrested he came up with the idea that ‘I looked like someone in a photograph that he was looking for ‘ . I said that I would like to see that photograph because I was sure it didn’t exist and that I would also like to get an apology from him when this was all over. Maybe I should mention here that I am 56 years old, white male, don’t smoke, drink or use drugs and that I have no criminal record.
He then decided to body search me on the street outside the Police Bureau. I tried to complain about this but the young male officer became very physically aggressive. The search found nothing of any consequence. The officer took from me a small tuning fork (I am a musician playing in an orchestra) and said he would keep it because it was a kind of weapon.
During the body search another Police officer arrived on a police motorcycle. He was older and more senior than the arresting officer. As I was being searched I spoke to him looking for some kind of voice of reason. I said to him, this is absolutely wrong, this is a violation of my rights, there is no crime and there is no suspicion of any wrong doing. This senior cop seemed to agree with me but felt duty bound to support his colleague. They decided to drive me in a police van to the Police station on Beurs str. When I was alone in the back of the van with the young arresting officer he was physically aggressive towards me. I think this was partly because of my continual verbal arguing with him but more because he was beginning to realise that he had behaved quite stupidly and was taking out his anger on me.
When we arrived at the police bureau I was processed at the arrestee desk. During this time the arresting officer was talking to the superior officer of that bureau who I later discovered to be Rxxxxx Fxxxxx (badge number). When the junior officer described how the arrest had taken place, officer Fxxxxx told him very clearly that it was not a legal way to proceed and that indeed you cannot randomly stop/search citizens walking on the street.
Officer Fxxxxx came and spoke to me in a very reasonable manner and said this whole thing would be resolved if I would bring in my ID to the office at a later date. I said that I wanted to make a complaint against the arresting officer and that I wanted to have his name and number. At this point officer Fxxxxx had a talk with me in private. I said to him that this brutal manner of policing, where young immature cops are walking around in busy cosmopolitan areas without any social finesse, that these kinds of incidents, which happen more and more frequently, these are the things which are turning the public against the police. He understood completely what I was saying, and implied that what happened to me was the kind of thing which happened more often, and he regretted that. The policy in Amsterdam which has been applied in the last five years or so, to have many many police officers on the street, in actuality means a very high number of immature and inexperienced young guns on the street without the sufficient numbers of senior police to accompany them and that is a recipe for a lot of conflict which could be avoided.
Officer Fxxxxx apologised to me fully for the incident which happened. He said that he hoped his apology would prevent me from taking it further as a complaint. I said I would think about it. He released me right there. Later in the day I returned to that bureau and showed my passport to officer Fxxxxx. I said that I had decided to go ahead with the complaint, because I know that incidents like the one which happened to me are becoming more common as a result of the recent policing policies in Amsterdam, and that the only way the public could do anything about this was to file a complaint in a hope that the weight of statistics might eventually bring about a change in attitude in the local police force at a higher level of bureaucracy, policy and government. I once again asked officer Fxxxxx for the name and number of the officer who arrested me. He would not give me this information and instead said that I should make the complaint against him. The implication was that he has to take the blame for the mistakes of his junior officers. I agreed to do this, but I should say that in his dealings with me officer Fiscalini was at all times correct, reasonable and friendly.
In making this complaint I hope that the views expressed within it will be taken on board by the Police body who will be reading it and judging it. It is now more than 24 hours since this event mentioned above, and I have waited this time so that I could calm down my anger and write something which is measured and accurate. I would sincerely hope to receive a full apology in writing.
I received a full written apology for this arrest from the Amsterdam Police Authority. I heard that the officer who had arrested me had been relieved of his duty.
In the autumn of 2009 I left Amsterdam, a city which I had lived in for eighteen years. I moved to another country.
Amsterdam……once described by Dr. Timothy Leary as ‘the most liberal city in the world.’