The use of rubber bullets by Catalan Police is being discussed in Parliament
The use of rubber bullets by the Catalan Police is at the centre of a fierce social and political debate. The Catalan Parliament has recently decided to create a commission in order to discuss the methods used by riot police, which is expected to take place at the beginning of April. This kind of ammunition in Catalonia has allegedly caused the loss of an eye and sight loss to 8 people over the last three years and heart necrosis to a man. All sides in this conflict will be consulted in the parliamentary debate and a quick process is expected in order to respond to increasing public concern regarding this method.
Barcelona (CNA).-The use of rubber bullets by the Catalan Police is at the centre of a fierce social and political debate. The Catalan Parliament has recently decided to create a commission in order to discuss the methods used by riot police, which is expected to take place at the beginning of April. A quick process is also expected in order to respond to increasing public concern regarding this method. The issue became even more controversial after the general strike demonstrations in Barcelona last November, when a woman allegedly lost her eye because of this ammunition.
A platform grouping victims was created to stop the use of this ammunition
Rubber bullets are defined as less lethal weapons used to disperse crowds by Spanish and Catalan riot police during violent demonstrations. This kind of ammunition in Catalonia has allegedly caused an eye and sight loss to 8 people over the last three years and heart necrosis to a man, according to the platform ‘Stop Bales de Goma’ (‘Stop Rubber Bullets’ in Catalan). The European Commission warned on July 2011 that Spanish, Portuguese and French police would need to stop using rubber bullets by the end of last year, but the weapon has not been shelved yet.
Politicians are divided
The Catalan Parliament’s parliamentary commission will take into account the opinion of the governing party, the Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), as well as the word of the activists against the use of this ammunition and police testimonies. The main goal is to reach an agreement with all sides in order to get the balance between the right of the police to defend themselves and the society from violent demonstrators, and the right of citizens to be safe, Lluís Guinó, Spokesperson of the Home Affairs Commission of the CiU, told CNA. Apart from discussing if the abolition of rubber bullets is necessary, the methodologies used by police will also be put to debate.
Even though all sides agree that such debate is logical bearing in mind the transformation society has undergone, it is a polyhedral issue and there is no clear position. On the one hand, the Catalan People’s Party (PPC) says that it is willing to talk, but only if alternatives are proposed. Pere Calbó, Spokesman of the party, stated that if rubber balls are banned, another method will have to take its place, and that is necessary to explain to people what the risks are. He argues that before saying no to rubber bullets, other options must be analysed and proved economically sustainable, effective and less harmful than the rubber balls. Besides, he insists that police must be able to decide, due to the fact that they are defence professionals and must be allowed to carry on with their job.
The opinion of Jaume Bosch, Spokesman for the Catalan Green Socialist and Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA), is different. Bosch says that in the current crisis situation, when there are demonstrations almost every day, it is useless to use repression against citizens. According to Bosch, it is not just necessary to ban rubber bullets because its effects cannot be controlled, but to change police methodology as well in order to adapt it to the times. He states that police needs to dialogue more with demonstrators instead of using weapons, but admits that sometimes it’s impossible due to minority violent groups. In these cases, he proposes to increase the number of policemen, just like in England, to control crowds.
Lluís Guinó (CiU) remains neutral and prefers to wait until the decision taken by the parliamentary commission before stating any preference. However, he insists that it is necessary to listen to all sides and dialogue with them, as well as to learn from police from other countries about their control methods.
Police union states that the riot brigade members need a way to defend themselves
The Spokesman of the Catalan Police union, Antonio Castejón, used to be a riot policeman. He claims that rubber bullets are effective and that all movements made by police are commanded by their bosses, so everything is under control. However, Castejón says that if rubber balls are banned, they will have to adapt, but insists that during demonstrations, policemen are exposed to violence and that they need a tool to defend themselves or they will have to run away. He reminds that all weapons are risky for people, and that society should evaluate if it is worth taking the risk or not.
Eye-loss victims demand the rubber bullet ban
Nicola Tanno is one of the eye-loss victims and also one of the figureheads of Stop Bales de Goma. He states that his position is clear: he wants rubber bullets to be forbidden. He says that they are dangerous and can hurt and even kill innocent people, just like happened in the Basque Country last year, because they cannot be fully controlled and are too risky. Tanno does not want to participate in the debate of which weapon is better, because according to him all weapons are harmful. However, he agrees that if a new method is chosen in order to replace rubber bullets it must be proportional, not arbitrary and controllable. He states that no one deserves to lose an eye or their life for going to a demonstration, and hopes that the parliamentary commission will come up with a solution. Last month two policemen were charged regarding to Tanno’s case.
The use of rubber bullets was already controversial, but it exploded further last November, when a woman lost her eye during a demonstration in Barcelona. Her case is still in court, as well as the cases of other members of the Stop Bales de Goma. Since then, many voices have claimed against this kind of ammunition. Currently, more than 23,000 people have signed a petition in Change.org to ask for its abolition.
Replacing rubber bullets?
There are many proposals on the table, such as changing rubber bullets for water canons, tear gases, horses, dogs, or increasing the number of policemen, among others. However, it is still unsure if the methods exposed will be effective, if they will be less harmful, or if there is enough money to bring in the changes. The answer will be known in some months, after having been discussed at the Catalan Parliament.