by Adriana Stimoli & Anne Lee Steele
Note from The Graduate Press team: Due to the specific context of the Black Lives Matter protests in Switzerland, Part 1 of our coverage focuses on what the protests represented for those that organised it, within the context of police violence and racism in Switzerland. Part 2 of our coverage, which focuses on the implications of the BLM movement for The Graduate Institute and its student body, will be released next Monday, June 22.
Le 9 juin dernier, les rues de Genève ont été témoin des revendications et actions antiracistes de plus de 10’000 personnes, réunies sous une pluie battante qui n’aura en rien entamé la vigueur du moment. Dès dimanche à Lausanne, samedi à Bâle, Berne, Zürich, Neuchâtel et vendredi à Bienne, les participant.e.s se sont réunies afin de condamner les discriminations raciales et les violences policières à l’encontre de la population Noire. Partout, la foule a dénoncé le récent décès de l’Afro-américain George Floyd à Minneapolis, mort étouffé sous le genou du policier blanc Derek Chauvin.
A l’heure du (post)coronavirus, la plupart des manifestant.e.s étaient masqué.e.s en ce lundi 9 juin. Les organisateurs et organisatrices prirent également soin de diviser les un.e.s et les autres en groupes de trois cents personnes. A l’instar de la pluie, les mesures sanitaires n’ont toutefois pas entaché l’effervescence du rassemblement; une ambiance forte que nous avons tenté de capturer.
On June 9, the streets of Geneva witnessed the anti-racist claims and actions of more than 10,000 people, united together under a pouring rain that did not hinder the energy of the crowd. As of last Sunday in Lausanne, Friday in Biel, Saturday in Basel, Bern, Zurich, and Neuchâtel, participants protested to denounce discrimination and police violence against Black people. In particular, the protests denounced the death of the African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis, killed by suffocation, under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer.
As the march occurred during the (post)coronavirus period, most of the protestors were masked, and were initially divided into groups of three hundred by the organisers. The rain and sanitary measures did not diminish the effervescence of the gathering, and it was this electric ambiance that we tried to capture.
At the march, Institute students were eager to show their support, which had been organised by Black Lives Matter Suisse Romande (BLMS). The collective support, which included a poster-making session that was organised before the protest itself, followed a number of actions taken by initiatives and GISA throughout the previous week. On May 30, the Black Conversations initiative released a statement that condemned racism against Black people, which was later endorsed and emailed to the student body by GISA the following day. On June 1, an email was sent out by GISA and Black Conversation with whom they had collaborated to produce an anti-racist reading and resource list. Supplementing this, the Latin American Student Association also released anti-racist resources in Spanish and Portuguese. A statement and petition was later released by ASA, in collaboration with BC and GISA, to gather the required support needed in order to vote on a GISA-endorsed statement. Signed by 102 students, and later voted on by 202 students, an official statement was released by email and social media on June 7.
As the murder of George Floyd reverberated strongly with students at the Institute, it also resonated deeply within the wider Black population of Switzerland, which has pushed for recognition of the country’s own history of racism and racially-motivated police brutality. At the protest, the names of victims of the Swiss police — Nigerian Mike Ben Peter among them — featured on placards throughout the crowd. Allegedly killed during a police intervention in Lausanne in February 2018, the autopsy of the 40-year-old ruled out the theory of an overdose, and suggested disproportionate coercive measures.
Unfortunately, the fate of Mike is not an isolated incident in Switzerland. On November 6 2016, Hervé Mandundu, a 27 year old Congolese man, was killed in Bex (VD) after a policeman shot him three times. Following this tragedy, a demonstration brought together more than 1,000 people in Lausanne under the slogan “Stop Violence Policière/Stop Police Violence”. The following year, in October 2017, Lamine Fatty, a young man with severe health issues who had just gone through brain surgery, was incarcerated on the premises of the Lausanne gendarmerie (police station). On October 24, the young Gambian, 23, was found dead in his cell. At the time, many associations demonstrated to denounce the negligence that allegedly led to the young man’s death.
For several years, Swiss activists have denounced police brutality, pointing towards the opaque actions of the Swiss police forces, as well as the declarations that have been used for their defence. Furthermore, and as far back as 1994, Amnesty International has released statements about the racialized nature of policing in Switzerland. Along the same lines, the information platform humanrights.ch, which was started in 1999 to “further the implementation of human rights in Switzerland” analysed the ongoing situation in a 2018 report, specifically citing the recent deaths of Hervé and Lamine:
… All these events [the death of several black men during police interventions] have two things in common: the dark colour of the victims’ skin and the lack of transparency of the authorities. It is still unclear exactly what happened during these events. Although some of the victims had a criminal record, others did not. But nothing justifies their deaths or the severe injuries they received during the police intervention. The accumulation of serious cases in Vaud within a year is all the more conspicuous because the canton has been in the headlines for the same reason in the past…
– Humanrights.ch, “Suspected police violence in the canton of Vaud: authorities must act”, 11.07.2018
“Racism in Switzerland is present. [It is] a harsh reality, sometimes veiled by the political inability of Swiss authorities to actually name and contest racism,” scholar Stefanie Claudine Boulila decries in an article from July 2018. Through a meticulous analysis of the Swiss state’s anti-racism efforts, Boulila explains how the denial of race in Swiss political discourse informs and induces public silencing around racism. Nevertheless, it is this reality of racism in Switzerland that was strongly denounced throughout the march as well as through the numerous discourses held at its conclusion, as people gathered in Parc des Cropettes. One speaker reminded the crowd how crucial the act of acknowledgement itself is, how invariably difficult that might be in Switzerland and around the world:
Entendre ce discours, comme quoi il y a du racisme ca peut faire mal, mais il faut l’accepter c’est la réalité. Nous ne sommes pas là pour orienter les gens vers la haine, mais il faut soigner le mal par la racine car la haine raciale existe bel et bien. C’est ensemble que nous devons le faire (…) nous devons faire en sorte que les politiques migratoires soient revues, tout comme le système éducatif. Il faut faire en sorte que la véritable histoire, celle de nos peuples soit enseignée. Il faut qu’on enseigne aux jeunes blancs que la vie des jeunes noirs compte. Les systèmes éducatifs doivent être revus, repensés dans le monde entier.
(Hearing this phrase, and us saying that racism is here [in Switzerland], may hurt, but accepting it is the reality. We are not here to direct people towards hatred, but we have to treat the evil at its roots because racial hatred does exist. We have to do it together…we have to make sure that migration policies are reviewed, as well as the education system. We have to make sure that the true history of our peoples is taught. We have to teach white youth that the lives of black youth matter. Education systems need to be reviewed and rethought around the world.)
Members of L’Association des étudiant(e)s afro-descendant(e)s de l’Université de Lausanne then took the floor to remind the crowd that “what happened to George Floyd is just one case among many… We must continue to fight every day. The struggles we are fighting should not just constitute a momentous phenomenon. We must fight every day, all the time” (translated from French).
As “Black Lives Matter” manifestations occurred across Switzerland during the ensuing week, it became all the more clear that while the death of George Floyd has inspired acts of solidarity across the world, they took on a specific resonance in Switzerland. Here, such manifestations have reverberated with the sufferings and political claims of those who have denounced police brutality against Black people, as well as other minorities. To Black Lives Matter Suisse Romande and others, the June 9th protests was another expression of these ongoing struggles. Nevertheless, the fact that it took the atrocious murder of African-American George Floyd to be – literally – rendered visible for Switzerland to address its own legacy of racism and police brutality, was not lost on the organisers of the June 9th march.
In light of the Black Lives Matter Protests organised by BLM Suisse Romande, The Graduate Press team encourages readers to learn about the ongoing actions against racism in Switzerland, and the associated organisations that work on these issues:
- Black Lives Matter Suisse Romande(@blmswissrom)
- Collectif Afro-Swiss
- L’Association des étudiant(e)s afro-descendant(e)s de l’Université de Lausanne
- Carrefour de Réflexion et d’Action contre le Racisme Anti-Noir en Suisse http://cran.ch
- Université Populaire Africaine en Suisse: http://upaf.ch
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