Last saturday we had a glorious day on the Nieuwmarkt in AMsterdam. We were giving a course on protest to anybody that wanted to learn something about being a citizen. All day we were talking, discussing, planning, painting and demonstrating. Amsterdam
felt more open and welcoming than we could remember.
And then Law Enforcement happened. this is a special force of less educated police officers. Let's Say parking police with a wider scope of midsemeanors. The Nieuwmarkt is a central tourist area.
There are terraces, guided tours and bachelor parties and company outings. It is leisure and consumerism galore. It being a nice warm day, many people were enjoying their drinks. So we decided to have a drink too. It was half past five, a days work well done..
As we had a bottle of wine and some plastic cups we poured ourselves a drink. The moment we wanted to say cheers and here's to us Handhaving appeared.5 men in bright jackets.
"I wouldn't do that. You cannot do that. You need to throw
that away. Are you from Amsterdam?" Ofcourse we sputtered, yes, but really? They insisted. Under protest I did pour the nice Gewurztraminer on the pavement. But it didn't stop there. "Now empty the bottle!"We blinked in disbelief. The bottle was in the
bottom of the bag on our bicicle. Not in clear sight and we had already poured the drinks. Again, protest nor pleading helped. We offered to leave. No. We offered to laugh it off. No. Then we suggested they asked for real police to explain them that they were
overdoing it a bit. Yes. That they would do. And before we knew it police on motor bikes arrived, threats were made to throw us in jail, and, documents needed to be presented.
Now all of a sudden our day of teachings on democracy turned into a true
lesson. Realising they insisted on being obeyed we turned on the camera and poured out the bottle on the pavement. General disbelief and indignation from standers by. Was this necesary? Were we criminals. In the end my identity was checked and a fine would
be coming my way...
But for what? Hadn't I done everthing they asked? Not immediately and not without vocal protest, but to our knowledge obiding the law doesn't need to be done in silence.. It was for dirnking in public. I was dumbfounded. Because
that was exactly what I couldn't have been doing, since I had to throw everything away.
Ofcourse it was not about drinking. It was about exacting power, losing face and not being a real cop. For them. For us it was about the inability to be fair and
just. That you have the right to fine, doesn't mean you have an obligation to do so indiscrimenately. Rules in public space are made as guidelines, not as dictates. Public order is served better with timely reprimand than strict law enforcement.
top of that: Stopping a person about to break a rule is certainly no reason to fine someone. That is called prevention. Even better than punishment. At least, that is my argument. Let's see if a judge sees it the same way.