Another Romani teen shot dead by Greek police
13 November 2023
Around midnight on Saturday, 11 November, Greek police shot a 17-year-old Romani boy after a car chase in the town of Thebes, north of Attica. According to media reports, the car, with four passengers, two boys and two girls aged 15-17, failed to stop when ordered. In the ensuing pursuit, the car was surrounded by police in a dead-end alley in the Liontari village.
Witnesses said a gun shot was heard, fatally wounding the 17-year-old. The police claim that one of the underage passengers tried to snatch the policeman’s gun which ‘went off’ killing the boy. The victim’s brother claimed that it was the policeman who fired the gun.
In a statement, the Minister for Citizen’s protection Giannis Oikonomou expressed condolences to the family of the young victim and stressed that “the circumstances under which the sad incident took place are under investigation by the competent authorities.” An autopsy will take place to determine the exact cause of death.
Police shoot dead three Romani teens in three years
This is the third such incident in three years, and based on past experience, the police account should be viewed with deep suspicion. On 14 December 2022, more than 1,500 mourners gathered in a Roma neighbourhood in Thessaloniki for the funeral of Romani teenager Kostas Frangoulis, who died of his wounds after being shot in the head by a police officer during a chase over an unpaid EUR20 gas station bill.
In the immediate wake of the shooting, about one hundred Romani men erected barricades and set fire to rubbish bins outside the hospital, and 1500 protestors clashed with police in the streets of Thessaloniki. Not many there credited the official claim that the victim’s actions had “placed the lives of the police officers in immediate danger.” The fatal shooting sparked three nights of rioting and protests in Greece.
One year earlier, on 23 October 2021, seven Greek motorcycle police officers in pursuit of a stolen car opened fire on the three unarmed Romani occupants of the vehicle, killing 18-year-old Nikos Sabanis, and seriously wounding a 16-year-old. Between 30 and 40 shots are clearly audible in a video recording of the incident, and a radio conversation between the police operational centre and the attending officers shows that the officers were aware that the occupants of the vehicle were three Roma.
The police press release after the incident mentioned injuries to the seven police officers, that the deceased was 20 years-old and had a criminal record, and that the minor who was shot only had light injuries. These were all later proven to be false; no police officers were injured, the victim was 18 and had no criminal record, and the 16-year-old boy was seriously wounded.
‘The European tradition for protecting minorities’
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across European capitals in June 2020, the Greek EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas, responsible for ‘promoting our European way of life’ claimed that Europe does not have issues “that blatantly pertain to police brutality or issues of race transcending into our systems”, and that because of the “European tradition for protecting minorities, we have less issues than they have in the States".
Following the police shooting of Nikos Sabanis, in an open letter to the Greek Prime Minister on the 27 October 2021, the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) and the ERRC urged the authorities to investigate the possibility of racial motivation behind the disproportionate use of force; expressed concern at the national news coverage which triggered a wave of anti-Roma sentiment, with the prosecutor referring to Roma as a ‘social menace’; and called for a swift response from the competent authorities to declare that hate speech is unacceptable, and that there is no impunity for law enforcement concerning crimes against Roma or other ethnic minorities.
This latest killing of yet another Romani teenager serves as a tragic reminder that when it comes to policing Roma and other racialized minorities, contrary to Commissioner Schinas’s assertion, Greece and the European Union does indeed ‘have issues.’