Istanbul protests highlighted issues of police brutality

by | Nov 14, 2014 | Opinion

Dilara Kurtaran
Assistant News Editor

In the summer of 2013, I went to Turkey to visit my family. It was around the time when Istanbul street protests had started. It was also when I got my first lesson in police brutality and how it just makes everything worse.

The protests started because the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to remove Gezi Park, which is one of the few remaining public spaces on the European side of Istanbul. People didn’t want the government to demolish the one green park they had left, so they started a peaceful protest by camping out at the park. The police then proceeded to use tear gas against the protesters and burnt their tents in order to let the demolishing continue.

I didn’t know how serious it got in Taksim Square until I saw it with my own eyes.

The first day was fine. Around 9 p.m. everyone, and I mean everyone, would go to the windows and balconies to bang metal cookware to create noise. Istanbul has a dense population, so the combination of pots and pans created a huge commotion. At the same time, people who were driving would start honking for three to five minutes straight. People would blast the national anthem from their homes and their cars, and last but not least they would get ready to go out and protest on the streets.

It all started out seemingly innocently, with the protestors just walking around and yelling out slogans. Shops would offer them free drinks and snacks. I noticed the protesters had brought face masks and extra clothing, the purpose of which was to protect against police tear gas and high-pressure water spray, I was told.

Then it happened. I heard the sirens go off.

My friends took me aside because they knew I was on vacation and they didn’t want me to get hurt. I saw the police brutally attack the protesters with tear gas and water tanks. I saw people get hurt and get beaten up. Shop windows were smashed.

This was the first time I saw police brutality with my own eyes rather than on television. I realized that the government censored what was actually going on in Turkey. The TV stations weren’t allowed to report on it.  While the whole world was watching and seeing what was going on in Istanbul, the Turkish people couldn’t. Television stations and newspapers were fined for trying to report the truth. People communicated with each other using social media like Twitter and Facebook to tell each other locations to avoid because the police were attacking.

Is this how the police, who are supposed to serve and protect, do their job?

There was no reason for them to go burning down the tents of peaceful protesters or use tear gas – they took it too far. This is exactly why the protests grew bigger. Eventually 10,000 people gathered at Taksim Square to protest, and once again the police tried to stop them with excessive use of tear gas.

A protester named Ethem Sarisuluk, who was protesting in the capital city Ankara, was shot by a riot police officer and died 14 days later.

In a televised interview, Prime Minister Erdogan described the protesters as “a few looters,” and called social media a “menace” and an “extreme version of lying.”

There is much controversy about Turkish police. Video evidence of police wrongdoing is sprawled across the Internet. For example, a video that gained a lot of attention on Facebook saw a police officer walking down the street to get rid of protesters when he broke a random apartment’s window and threw tear gas into the house for no reason. This was recorded by someone from his own house, and in the video you can hear the people in the house yelling and crying because of what they witnessed.

Turkey isn’t the only country that has gained attention for police brutality. Recently, there have been protests going on in Hong Kong. Just like Turkey, the police in Hong Kong used tear gas and methods of brutality to stop protests.

Why is there a need to use extreme force against peaceful protesters? It causes a snowball effect and turns peaceful protests into full-out urban wars.

Police brutality exists and it needs to be controlled.