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First Antwerp debate between youth and police succesful

Youth from Kras Kiel, a youth centre in Antwerp, organised a neighbourhood debate to discuss problems they face with police discrimination. Plenty of participants showed up at the Nova meeting centre, including the police commisioner, the neighbourhood police officer, the youth director of Antwerp and representatives of several city-wide youth organisations. Yvonne Heselmans, director of IDEA NL, led the debate. She and Roos Keja had previously trained the neighbourhood youth in a Debate in the Neighbourhood project.

The discussion focused on the fact that youth in the neighbourhood felt discriminated by the police. They often had to show their ID when they were merely talking with friends on a streetcorner, for example. They were often asked for their ID in a harsh manner and would not know why they were asked to show it. They asked whether they had a right to know the reason for the request and the police commissioner confirmed they did. They further wondered where else they could gather with friends as the number of youth centres is limited. The City representative acknowledged that there was no budget left to support further youth work in Antwerp, but suggested a few other options to support projects that the youth had developed.

The police acknowledged that there were different elements in the police force. The police is trying its best to combat discrimination and promote diversity in the neighbourhoods. Some officers do discriminate, however, or cannot deal with the complexities of working in the city. Such behaviour is not tolerated in the police force, said the police chief. The police officers encouraged the youth to report any case of discrimination and to speak up for their rights. Youth workers should help youth to describe and report each incident with the police. The police officers also invited youth to monthly neighbourhoodmeetings. The youth present were reluctantly enthusiastic, and wanted to be sure that they would be heard at such meetings.

One of the fathers present stated that discrimination was not limited to younger generations and stated that older generations from different backgrounds should also start a dialogue with youth and the police. The debate ended on a positive note with all sides being prepared to continue talking and listening. The KRAS youth were thanked for their efforts to establish the first debate of its kind between youth and police in the whole of Belgium.

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