photo: John Samson (archive)

THE HAGUE – Mitch Henriquez (42) passed away on June 28th, 2015 after a rough arrest in The Hague. Five years on in the same month, Black Lives Matter protests are taking place and his name gets mentioned. The Office for the Public Prosecutor acknowledges that too much force was used during his arrest, but did this statement have any consequences?

For Mitch’s family the past five years have been filled with court cases and they have been drained financially, they say. Mitch’s sister, Lila Henriquez, started a Go Fund Me page to ‘continue on fighting for justice for Mitch and others like him’.

Nothing to celebrate for years
Lila lives on Aruba, where Mitch also used to live. He was vacationing in the Netherlands when he was arrested. It’s her birthday, but she hasn’t felt like celebrating in years. “I had a feeling that I didn’t have anything to celebrate. It’s my birthday during the month that my brother was taken from us.”

‘Almost all the police officers acquitted. I almost gave up’- Lila Henriquez, Mitch’s sister

She’s doing better now, she says emotionally. “I was lost for a bit. Couldn’t fight any longer. So much was distorted during this case. Almost all the police officers were acquitted.”

Lila Henriquez holds a picture of her brother during the funeral procession for Mitch on Aruba. Archival picture: Ariën Rasmijn

That Michel’s name – Lila lovingly calls her brother by his full name – is used during the Black Lives Matter protests in the Netherlands, does wonders for her. “The protests reinvigorate us. They give me the strength to keep on fighting. We want justice, but the process takes years. Those are years of court charges, attorney’s fees, and detective costs. I moved in with my mother and I rent out my house. It’s not an easy path to follow.”

Barely any police officers in front of a judge
The attorney for the family, Richard Korver, confirms that prosecuting police officers can take a long time. Even though he doesn’t have any cases that he can compare this one to. “Police officers barely appear before a judge. It’s exceptional that this case has made it so far.”

The attorney understands that the family started a crowd-funding campaign. “I do everything pro bono. I’ve also invested my own money into this case. We hired lip readers, detectives to find images, and I could go on. It all costs money.”

Still from one of the videos that were made during Henriquez’s arrest. An unconscious Mitch can be seen being lifted up into a police van.

Process not over yet
Korver has started an article-12 procedure, after the Court of Appeal said during its ruling that the four officers who were acquitted could’ve been prosecuted for neglecting to aid an individual. “I told the public prosecutor that he could also prosecute the other police officers. He had no intention of doing that, was his answer.” An article-12 procedure is a formal complaint for the unwillingness to prosecute an offence.

The police officer who held Mitch in a choke hold, has been convicted and sentenced to six months’ probation. The police officer has appealed in cassation.

The attorney has also turned to the European Court for Human Rights. The European Court will specifically look at the investigation into the performance of the officers, which Korver says was handled ‘very badly’. The case has started, but can take years to complete.

‘41 known fatal arrests since 2016 and not one single officer in front of a judge’ -Jair Schalwijk, Control Alt Delete

After the fatal arrest of Mitch Henriquez, Control Alt Delete, an organization that fights against ethnic profiling, started keeping count of how many people lose their lives during or after an arrest. The Central Criminal Intelligence Agency (Rijksrecherche) doesn’t keep count of how many people pass away during an arrest. Only cases where someone passes away due to a police bullet are noted in the yearly reports of the agency.

A protester holds up a picture of Mitch Henriquez during the protests against police brutality in The Hague in 2015. Archival picture: Pieter Hofmann.

“Since January 2016, we have registered 41deaths. Of these, nearly half had a migration background”, says Jair Schalkwijk from Control Alt Delete. “Out of all the 41 cases since 2016, the Office for the Public Prosecutor has never once filed charges against a police officer.”

And those are just the cases we know about. “It’s difficult to get an overview of what happened during certain arrests, that’s why we asked to Office for the Public Prosecutor to be more transparent in this.”

Similarity with George Floyd
Schalkwijk sees similarities between what happened to Mitch Henriquez and the American George Floyd. “Both were black men who were unarmed and not threatening to the police or bystanders.”

Lila also believes that racist motives played a role. “It’s difficult to prove but I believe that Mitch’s accent and skin color made the officers use more aggressive force. I don’t believe it would’ve ended the same for a white Dutch person.”

Mitch’s family will organize a memorial on June 28th in the Netherlands and on Aruba.

What happened five years ago during the arrest of Mitch Henriquez?

The Aruban Mitch Henriquez – picture: Facebook

Mitch Henriquez was arrested in the Zuiderpark in The Hague on June 27th, 2015. During his arrest he was held in a chokehold and beaten in his face. He was also pepper sprayed in the face. Mitch had jokingly said that he had a weapon on him, after which five police officers arrested him. After his death, protesters took to the streets for days on end in The Hague.

Video from the second protest in The Hague after the death of Mitch Henriquez: