Man intervenes in racially-motivated attack

  • 2006-06-14
  • By Paul Morton
RIGA - Two young men attacked a black man on Brivibas Street at 7 p.m. on June 10, in yet another racially motivated assault in Riga. But this time, a concerned bystander intervened, chasing and eventually catching the assailants. Thanks to the witness' quick actions, the two attackers were brought to the Riga City Chief Police Office, where police initially filed the report as a case of "hooliganism."

Members of AfroLat, Latvia's African-Latvian Association, jumped to protest the charge, pointing out that the assailants had allegedly hurled racist epithets at the man.
Officials later re-labeled the crime as a "racially-motivated incident," which carries stiffer penalties.
The Baltic News Service reported that police had originally filed the case as an act of hooliganism because they lacked experience in investigating hate crimes.

The Latvian daily Diena identified the heroic bystander as Deniss Grigorjevs, a graduate of the Latvian Police Academy. "How can you not intervene when you see that a person is being hit and nobody else is around?" Grigorjevs was quoted by the paper as saying.
AfroLat member Christopher Ejugbo said the victim had chosen to remain anonymous due to concern for his family's emotional well-being. "It's not easy for them to live in this society, and [making his name public would] just makes things worse," Ejugbo told The Baltic Times.

Ejugbo said this was the first time AfroLat has been able to influence the police to change a criminal charge.
"According to police statistics, there have been no racially motivated attacks [in Riga]," Ejugbo said. "This is because every time someone is attacked in a racially motivated incident it is classified as hooliganism."
The AfroLat member added that last week's incident was particularly important as "someone actually helped track down the skinheads."
"We want to emphasize the seriousness of this crime because it is bigger when it is based on skin color," he said. "We want to take this opportunity to let the public know that it was not an incident based on a conflict between parties… It was based on skin color."

In order to verify that the crime was, indeed, classified as a racially motivated attack, Ejugbo went to the police station to check for himself, he said.
"The police should understand the nature of this crime," Ejugbo pointed out. "The police need to be educated. For them to classify it as an act of hooliganism is wrong."
On June 12, the Latvian branch of the European Network Against Racism issued a press release condemning the police's response to the attack.

"This is yet another racially motivated attack that highlights several deficiencies in police response and gaps in the national laws, which are supposed to provide protection against this kind of crime," the press release said.
Ieva Reksna, chief of the Latvian State Police's press and public relations bureau, said there were two or three recent attacks listed as racially motivated on record. "We don't think it's such a big a problem," she said.
When asked if she was considering awareness campaigns to educate the public and police about racially motivated attacks, she said, "It's not a problem for the police, but for politicians."