„Here the law is 'fear the police’”

02 April 1998

During recent field investigation by the ERRC to Macedonia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Romani victims of police brutality spoke of negative experiences with the police both in detention and in public. Some of their testimony is provided here.

ŠUKRI MUSTAFOV (19) KOČANI, MACEDONIA, AUGUST 14, 1997

A month ago I went to Kamenica to sell at the bazaar. I was selling soap and plastic bags. One policeman came up to me and asked me where I was from. I said I was from Kocani. He told me to come with him to the police station.

At the police station, they took my things from me — twenty boxes of soap and about 20,000 plastic bags. There were three or four policeman in the main room. One of them took me downstairs to a cell. It was dark there, so I couldn’t see very well. Once we were in the room, he beat me with his truncheon on my legs, arms and feet. Then he left the room and another one came in and did the same thing. Then a third policeman came in and beat me as well. I think this went on for about an hour. Then they took my belt and left me there for twenty-four hours without food or water.

After twenty-four hours they put me in a police car and brought me back to the police station in Kočani. They put me in a chair and made me say what I had done. I told them I had been selling soap and plastic bags at the bazaar in Kamenica and I demanded my things back — I told them that the soap and the bags weren’t mine, and that I sell for other people. I told them that if they took my things I would get in trouble with my boss.

One big policeman beat me here in Kočani. He made me hold out my hands and he hit them with his stick. Then he hit me twice on my back. Finally they let me go. They gave me a document saying there would be a court hearing and they told me I would have to pay 28,000 Denars [approximately 950 German Marks]. I haven’t received the fine yet. They didn’t give me back my bags or my soap and now the person I sell for also wants money. He told me to fend the money or we will have to fight. I don’t know what I am going to do. I have been beaten by the police about ten times, and I have had my things confiscated about that many times as well.

M.N. (26) TETOVO, MACEDONIA, AUGUST 11, 1997

Here the law is „fear the police”. I had problems with the police three months ago. I was selling in the car park of a local hospital when one policeman caught me. I asked the policeman please not to take my things because I live by selling. This is dangerous, because if you talk back to the police, they hit you with their truncheons. But this policeman wanted me to come to the police station with him. I begged; I told him I wouldn’t sell anymore in that place, but he said he wasn’t interested in my story and he told me that if I kept talking, I would taste his stick. I told him that I was an honest man. That was when he stepped up and hit me. In front of everybody, he punched me in the stomach. There were five or six people watching.

Then he handcuffed me, took me into the hospital and brought me into a small room there. No one in the hospital stopped him. He handcuffed me to a chair and started hitting me with his truncheon. He hit me two or three times. One blow hit the back of my head and I lost consciousness. I don’t know how long I was in the hospital room; I have a feeling it was about one hour. When I regained consciousness, he removed the handcuffs from the chair, brought me to his car, and drove me to the police station.

At the police station, they confiscated my merchandise. The policeman who brought me in told the others that I had talked back and so he had had to take me to the hospital room and teach me a lesson. One of the other policemen said, „If that had been me, I would have broken you with beating”. The police chief wanted to know how long I was going to live like this. I told him that I had to sell to support my children and that if I had a choice I would be a police chief instead. They wrote in my file that I had talked back and resisted. Then they let me go and told me they were giving me my last chance and that if I did it again, I would go to jail. Now I don’t sell anymore. I try to live off social benefits but they are too low. I don’t know what I will do.

SULTAN KAMBEROVSK1 (19) KUMANOVO, MACEDONIA, AUGUST 9, 1997

Before I went to the police station to turn myself in, I went home and dressed double — I put on two pairs of everything. Then I put on my leather jacket. My mother cried. She thought they were going to kill me. I went with my father to the police. They told us to sit in the waiting room. Then a policeman came out and told my father to leave. My father pressed my arm, stood up, and left the police station. As soon as my father left, I tried to run — I wanted to follow my father. I slipped out of the police station, but the police came out and caught me and brought me back.

Then they called me in, asked me to empty my pockets and to take off my belt. There were five policemen in the room. One of them hit me in the face. I felt down. Then they all started to kick me and to beat me with their sticks. I was screaming and crying. One of them kicked me in the kidneys and I thought I would die. One of them told me to sit on my knees behind a door. Then they brought my cousin in. They asked us to identify each other. Then they made him kneel and put his head to the floor. Then they started beating him. He yelled and screamed. They called me a stinking Gypsy and they swore a lot. They told us the only thing we Gypsies understand is beating.

They put us in separate cells. There were no beds, no blankets, nothing. It was really cold. There was no light. After half an hour I had to go to the toilet and I called the guard. They let me go and I came back. After another half hour, a tall policeman came and asked me if I was the one who was involved in the rape. I said yes. He said, „If someone did that to your sister, how would you feel?” I told him not to say that to me. Then he kicked me. I had long hair at the time and he grabbed me by my hair and started swinging me around and banging me against the wall. I felt to the floor and he kicked me in the ribs.

ORHAN SEBADIN (20) GOSTIVAR, MACEDONIA, AUGUST 17, 1997

They give you one warning and then they hit. One year ago my cousin and I were selling jeans, T-shirts and pullovers in the park by the hospital. The police came and told us to pack up our things and leave, but we didn’t. After two hours, the police returned. I saw them coming, and I took my things and put them in my bag. My cousin didn’t see them coming however. There were two of them. They came up to him and started shouting at him and demanding to know why he hadn’t left. He told them that he had to sell, because he has children and he wouldn’t be able to feed them otherwise. The policeman told him, „this is not my problem.” Then one of them hit him in the chest with his stick. This made him double over, and then the policeman hit him twice on the back. He kicked him as well, and hit him in the face once with his fist. Then the police confiscated his things and told him to come to the police station later. He went there one week later and had to pay a fine of 8500 Denars [approximately 285 German Marks].

D.D. NIŠ, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF YUGOSLAVIA, JANUARY 18, 1998

Trade is the main source of income for my family and many other households in this community. It is a very hard business especially when we cross the border. We pay to leave the country, we pay a tax for the merchandise when we leave the country where we bought it, and we pay a tax when we return to Yugoslavia. And then there is 23% tax on sales, and the rent for the market place. We get in trouble with the controllers when they come around while we are selling, as well as with the police. They treat us like criminals, and every time we cannot pay what they ask, they detain us. Sometimes they stop us on the way to the market and say, „For you, Gypsies, there’s no entry”. They don’t let us trade, and when we try to earn money by collecting paper for recycling, they don’t let us do that either. When they detain us, they do not allow us a phone call. We do not get a lawyer even if we ask. There is a lawyer that I would pay myself, but they would not even let him inside the police station. There is no law that holds once they’ve taken you inside.

One day shortly before our New Year’s the police chased my 14-year-old son, S.Z. on the street. He managed to run away. When he got home, we went to a lawyer and went with him to the police station. The policemen told us that it wasn’t my son they had been looking for, and then they told us all to leave. There is no way you can fend out anything from the police if you have trouble.

Seven or eight months ago, police killed a Romani kid here in the broad daylight. Zvonko Belulović was his name and he was 13 or 14 years old. There was one witness, a woman, but she later changed her story. First she said that she saw the policeman doing it, now she says she didn’t. This kid’s mother had a heart condition and she needed medicine. He tried collecting old newspapers for recycling, but that did not get him enough money to pay for the medicine. So he stole a sweater from a stand. Two policemen ran after him, and one shot at him when he was running on the bridge. Žuti is this policeman’s nickname. The bullet hit him and, wounded, Zvonko fell into the river. The policemen did not bother to help him and get him out.

The police told everyone here that everything was in their hands, and that they were investigating. The boy’s father, Rifat Belulović, went to the police station and they beat him up there. We tried to collect money here for a lawyer. The boy’s mother died a month or two after it all happened. Rifat has another son. Around the time of this shooting, the police were chasing him because he stabbed the tires of a patrol car.

The police detain and harass us regularly here. They come into the neighbourhood looking for someone, and ask you for that person. If you don’t tell them where to find him or her, they beat you not only on the street, but also inside your own house. After that they make you to go and show them where to look for the person they are after. We are very afraid here all the time.

Often it happens like this: they see you on the street with something and they think you stole it. If you don’t have a receipt with you, they detain you for a day or two, beat you up, and give you some papers to sign. You’d better sign and not protest, even if you don’t know what’s written on the documents.

I once saw this at the market: a kid bought some walnuts. Right after that the police caught him and beat him. They took the walnuts and brought them to the vendor, but he said the boy had paid for them. After that, the police simply let the kid go. There is no way a policeman will get disciplined for doing something like this.

I myself have been beaten many times. If we went to the market now, they would take me right away. They would just ask me: „What are you doing here?” and swear badly and say things like „Fuck your Gypsy mother”. Then they would handcuff me, take me in and take my money.

If something gets stolen somewhere, we Gypsies are always suspected of theft. For example, some time before New Year’s I went to buy some meat at the market. On the way back, I was passing by a shop where a shopkeeper was complaining of theft to the police. When they saw me passing, one policeman came out, swore, and slapped me on the face, although it was clear that I hadn’t done anything. After that I just went home, as if nothing had happened. I did not try to file a complaint.

The last time I was beaten up by police was approximately ten days ago, on the New Year’s Eve. I went to the market in the morning to buy some goods. They called me over and swore „Fuck you Gypsies”, „Fuck your Gypsy mother”. Then they asked me what kind of money I had — Dinars, German Marks — and what I needed the money for. They took all my money, handcuffed me, talked on the radio, put me in a police car and brought me to the police station.

At the police station they first beat me up. They beat me with a wooden bat — they didn’t explain or ask anything, they just beat and swore. They beat me all over my body, trying to cause maximum amount of pain without leaving visible marks. There were three of them. Then they took away my coat and put me in a cold cell. Every new shift would take me from the cell and beat me for a long time — it felt like almost an hour. Every time I lost consciousness they splashed me with cold water. Several times I felt on the floor. Every time it happened they dragged me up again, asked why I had fallen, and continued beating me. They kept asking if I was going to go the market again. I kept saying „No”, and they kept asking why I was lying and beating me. In the end they told me, „Do not show up at the market any more, you are prohibited from entering the market. It’s up to you to decide whether to go or not, but you know what will happen to you there.” Then, finally, between 9 and 10 p.m., they let me out. Since then I’ve been afraid to go to the market.

Every time I come back from the police I have to stay in bed for several days. Last time I was beaten I did not even go to see a doctor. I knew what would happen if I went, because I have gone before: we are told that if we were beaten by police, they won’t document the injuries. If the injuries are not documented, I cannot get the necessary treatment at the hospital for free, so there is no point in going to a doctor.

Once a policeman told me, „Hitler did not work properly, so we should finish his job. We should make camps and make soap out of you Gypsies.”

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