THESSALONIKI – The shooting in the head of a 16-year-old Roma boy by a police officer brought violent protests in Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki that followed with wild demonstrations in Athens marking the 14th anniversary of a 15-year-old boy shot and killed by a police officer there.
The victim, identified as Kostas Frangoulis, 16, was severely wounded as he was pursued by police motorcycle teams after allegedly not paying for 20 euros ($20.97) worth of gasoline and driving off, said the British newspaper The Guardian.
The officer said, “I fired once in the air and once towards the vehicle. Colleagues’ lives were at risk,” the paper said, and he was suspended from duty and charged in the case.
He told a public prosecutor the target was the vehicle’s wheel and that he opened fire only twice after the teenager attempted to ram one of the pursuing police patrols, which put “the lives of my colleagues in danger,” The Guardian said.
Protests erupted in the city, including members of the Roma community who say they are often targeted by police. In 2021 an 18-year-old Roma man was fatally shot in a car chase near Athens.
News of his shooting prompted protests from the Roma community outside the hospital in Thessaloniki where the boy had surgery to remove the bullet from his head. Protesters joined friends and relatives at the scene and stones were thrown at police, who responded with stun grenades.
“And what if he didn’t pay? Did they have to kill him?” his father told Greek media, adding that the boy had made a mistake and police should have arrested him at home, said the BBC.
Video from outside the court later went viral showing a man identified as the boy’s father being manhandled by police outside the court. The man is seen being thrown to the ground, surrounded by riot police, the report added.
As the boy lay in a critical condition in hospital in Thessaloniki, his lawyer told reporters that they did not want him to become another Alexis Grigoropoulos, the boy shot dead in Athens in 2008 by a reserve police officer.
The attorney, Theofilos Alexopoulos told Thess Today that the boy’s life was in the balance but they wanted him to survive and for the plight of Roma people to be recognized with Greek police fighting a reputation for brutality.
FIRE IN THE NIGHT
According to the Council of Europe, the Roma (Gypsies) are Greece’s biggest minority and number some 270,000, mostly living in makeshift accommodations, and often moving around.
“Stop these murderous policies,” chanted protesters. More than 4,000 law enforcement personnel, backed by heavily armed riot police, were dispatched around Athens, the report also added.
As protests swirled through the night in Athens over the anniversary of Grigoropoulos’ killing, the major opposition SYRIZA party put the blame on the ruling New Democracy government Conservatives.
“History is repeating itself not as farce but as tragedy as a result of police immunity and blatant arbitrariness,” said a statement from SYRIZA, the former ruling party that has a hard-core element of terrorist sympathizers.
The violence in Athens, said The Guardian, was driven by leftwing and anarchist groups who smashed windows and hurled rocks and Molotov Cocktails at police, who retaliated with teargas and stun grenades.
“It was a murderous attack against a member of a discriminated minority,” Yiannis Baroutsas, a student, told the paper as he marched through the capital with protesters. “The police have a culture of brutality in this country. They use guns against Roma and stun grenades against us.”
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has a law-and-order government and the shooting in Thessaloniki came as he announced a 600-euro ($629) bonus for police officers, with mid-2023 elections coming.
“A lot of us see it as proof that this government condones the tactics of the police,” said Baroutsas. “Couldn’t he have announced the bonus on another day?” he asked.
The government has said it’s trying to rein in violence and troublemakers, particularly in the anarchist stronghold neighborhood of Exarchia where Grigoropoulos was shot in a confrontation between a crowd and two officers.
Civil Protection Minister Takis Theodorikakos said the shooting of the Roma boy, was being investigated and “everyone should respect that,” as he tried to rein in the fury too, reported The Guardian.
He also said that the attacks and injuries sustained by police officers dealing with near-riots “must be unanimously condemned … we support the police but always strictly within the framework of the law. The law is for everyone without exception.”