Protesters march during the 14th anniversary of the 2008 fatal police shooting of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos, in Athens, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
THESSALONIKI — A police officer appeared before a court in northern Greece on Tuesday over the shooting of a teenager who allegedly failed to pay a gas station bill, as protesters gathered outside the courthouse.
The 16-year-old, a member of the Roma minority, was in critical condition in a Thessaloniki hospital. The 34-year-old police officer who allegedly shot him in the head was suspended from duty and arrested.
The officer appeared in court on a felony charge of attempted manslaughter with possible intent and a misdemeanor count of illegally firing his weapon. He asked for and was granted more time to prepare his defense, as is common in the Greek justice system, before he appears before an investigating magistrate.
Scuffles broke out between police and the protesters gathered outside the courthouse, who held up a banner reading: “It wasn’t the gas, it wasn’t the money, the cops shot because he was Roma.” Protesters threw rocks and large wooden sticks at police, who responded with tear gas.
Some protesters set dumpsters on fire, while others attempted to put out the smoldering trash with water bottles.
The shooting occurred outside Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, at around 1 a.m. Monday. Officers from a motorcycle patrol chased the teenager’s pickup truck after a gas station employee reported the unpaid bill of 20 euros ($21).
The police officer told prosecutor during his brief court appearance Tuesday, “I fired because the lives of my colleagues were in danger.”
In a statement Monday, police said the motorcycle patrol had given chase to the pickup truck, whose driver allegedly ignored orders to stop and repeatedly ran red lights. The police statement said the driver attempted to ram one of the police motorcycles, “placing the lives of the police officers in immediate danger.” It said two shots were fired in an attempt to stop the vehicle.
Panagiotis Ramos, who was among the protesters outside the courthouse and identified himself as a family friend of the wounded teenager, dismissed the police version that the aim of the shooting had been only to stop the truck.
“It was a racist shot. It wasn’t one, but two,” Ramos said. “The shot was straight. He was trying to finish him off.”
The injured youth was not named but was identified by relatives as a member of the Roma minority.
The officer’s court appearance coincided with the anniversary of the 2008 fatal police shooting of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos in Athens that sparked Greece’s worst riots in decades. Protest marches commemorating Grigoropoulos on Dec. 6 often turn violent. Two protests were planned in Athens for Tuesday, one at midday and one in the evening.
On Monday night, about 1,500 people took part in a protest march organized by left-wing and anarchist groups in central Thessaloniki over the latest shooting. Some smashed shops and threw Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Police detained six people after the end of the march.
Several hundred people also took part in a peaceful demonstration Monday in central Athens over the teen’s shooting as well as a past incident in which a Roma man also was shot during a police chase. The demonstrators in Greece’s capital had a banner, reading: “They shot them because they were Roma.” Brief clashes broke out with police after the protest ended.
Members of the Roma community in Greece and human rights activists frequently accuse Greek authorities of discriminating against Roma. Several Roma men have been fatally shot or injured in recent years during confrontations with police while allegedly seeking to evade arrest for breaches of the law.
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