Friday, July 28, 2006

B for buses .... The article on what really happened on busline 23

Please read the related post on this subject!
(source: Humo nr.30/3437)

The body of the victim barely showed signs of violence: 2 bruises and a torn fingernail

Prime Minister Verhofstadt announced certain laws allowing prisoners to leave prison before they've completed the whole of their sentence should be reviewed.
Mayor Janssens of Antwerp assessed the crimes as dreadful and absolutely intolerable.
Cardinal Danneels praised the bravery of the victim.

But what did really happen that Saturday afternoon on bus 23? Please stay put in your chairs while reading this article.

The evening before the incident, France had beaten Togo in the World Cup. Initially this was the topic the youngsters where talking about, while they were waiting at the busstop in front of one of Antwerp's colleges. They're making plans what to do during the school holiday's. The day before, they've all taken their final exams.

Laughter at the bus
Between the busstop at the Hospital where the victim (traindriver) got on and the Astridplein there are 4 stops. It's a one km drive (3/4 miles). Normally it takes about 7 minutes. The bus is full. Most seats are taken. A few people are standing.
The youngsters were on the backseat, or near to the back seat. Also the traindriver is sitting nearby.
The 6 kids are noisy. Too noisy to the taste of the traindriver. He's on his way to the nearby Central station, where he would have started his shift on the Thalys. (high speed train between Paris and Amsterdam).
He gets up and shouts at the kids: 'Can't you keep things quiet?'

What follows afterwards is not a clearcut situation. Most of the witnesses had to admit that they had noticed very little of what had happened at the bus before what was later referred to as 'the murder'. Those who had seen something come close to confirm the declarations of the youngsters.

One of the boys offered his apologies to the traindriver. Apparently the way he apologized didn't please the man. The traindriver looks very annoyed. The boys then continue their animated conversation...

For some reason or another we couldn't stop laughing, one of them explained later on.
The traindriver returns to the group of youngsters, while pointing his finger at one of them and tells them to stop: now!

Most passengers don't take any notice: they are staring in front of them. They just ignore the traindriver as well as the boys. One of the kids starts to impersonate a donkey or at least makes donkey like sounds. The others join him.

They themselves admit this was very childish behaviour and they shouldn't have done it. But then again, the reactions of the man became extreme.
The man stands up again: they have to stop immediately. He points his finger at one of the kids again and yells: it's always the same, you Morroccans making trouble. One of the kids grabs the guy's finger and pushes it away.

The man's forehead becomes all sweaty. He starts to breathe faster and faster. He grabs the boy by the throat. The boy is 1.60m in height (5ft4). The man seems a giant compared to him. The man pushes the boy's head against one of the bus's windows and yells something that to witnesses sounded like: "You'll keep quiet now".
The boy swings his arms in an attempt to push the man away, but he doesn't succeed to move the 2 arms that nearly suffocate him. According to his friends, his face turned all read and he barely was able to breathe.

A 14-year old girl writes a letter that will be read during the traindriver's funeral.
Dear Sir,
I saw you, I saw you standing there, your arms in the air, in the middle of the bus. You didn't beat anyone. I saw them beating.
The girl was later questioned by the police. No she didn't see the man beating anyone. What she did she was, she admitted, was that the man grabbed the boy first.

Kick in the chest
The whole incident happened in a few seconds. The boy tries to cry 'help'. The man didn't lose his grip, or not instantly. One of the boy's friends kicks the assailant of his friend on the chin. The man still doesn't lose his grip. The friend kicks again, somewhat harder. Now the man lessens his grip. He loses his balance.

While being questioned, the friend of the boy declares:'He was strangling my friend, I had to do something.'

One of the youngsters pushes the alarmbutton. The bus stops, the doors swing open. The youngsters leave the bus as soon as possible.
One has to crawl over the fallen man and kicks him in the chest.

Taking for granted that the actions of the youngsters can be put into the category of brutal and senseless violence, the reaction of one of them is remarkable. One of the boys remains in his seat at the bus. Nobody seems to be taking any notice of him.

His lawyer states that this boy hadn't been involved in the incident. He had nothing to do with it. He got of the bus the next stop. All witnesses agree on this.

According to the D.A's office and the Monday papers, this boy had taken part in the incident and had fled together with the others.

His lawyer agreed that his client didn't report himself to the police. But why should he have? Only later did he realize that the incident was in the spotlights. None of the boys had realized that the man had died.

According to the first articles published in the media, the youngsters had been fighting among them on the bus and their victim had died in an attempt to settle the disagreement. After 3 weeks of investigation nothing of this assumptions stands. The boys weren't fighting, they were having a laugh. The reconstruction confirms that the traindriver was the first man to use violence.

Fight or flight
When 5 of the kids are strolling along the neighbourhood shops, the traindriver is still alive. He struggled to stand up, but is shaking on his legs and sweating heavily. A few passengers inform the busdriver. He stops the bus at the nearest stop, runs to the rear end of the bus and sees how the man collapses in a seat. He and a few passengers stare in 2 eyes which have lost all signs of live.

The youngster can't have known that their assailant lost conscienceness. Also the one who stayed on the bus couldn't have known. He left the bus when the man was still standing.

According to the autopsy report the body barely showed signs of violence. Two bruises and a torn fingernail were found. There was no trace to be found of the kick in the chest. Apparently the man died of a lord membrane haemorrhage. According to the report such a haemorrage can be caused by the 'fight or flight syndrome'. This is a natural reflex which gives a human extraordinary powers due to a natural shot of adrenaline caused by a state of fear or arousal. In the case of the traindriver this coincided with high blood pressure. This condition is also know among panicking divers.

The conclusion in the autopsy report is clear cut: the kicks the victim received from the boys did not result in his death. According to the lawyers there's only a small chance somebody will be convicted. Unfortunately the man brought himself in to a situation that caused his own death. One could state that one of the boys was hurt more gravely than the victim.
In this particular case the legal system wanted to be very sure no mistake was made. A board of experts has been put at work and 2 weeks ago they came to the same conclusion as the one described above: lord membrane haemorrhage.

At first everything seemed to be so clear: a man drops dead on a bus, seconds after a violent incident involving kids of foreign descent. Then the kids run. This is what was seen by the witnesses. Few days later, the D.A. lessened the charges. Now they don't even seem to stand.

The photoalbum
Had the police been searching for let's say Bin Laden, they would have used similar force in comparison with the M.O. they used to catch the boys. Armed policemen raided the neighbourhood where the boys lived. They were wearing full gear: helmets, guns, bullet proof vests ...
One of the boy's mum tells that during the raid, doors were being kicked in and cupboards destroyed. A 5 month old baby allegedly was taken out of it's crib. The father of one of the boys was kicked himself during the raids.
The police states that they were able to find the culprits by using their 'infamous photoalbum', to be compared with a catalogue containing hundreds of pictures of people who ever got arrested by the police. Good craftmanship, for which they were congratulated by the prime minister who announced that the culprits would be severely punished.

One of the lawyer's says: I'm curious, my client was sitting on a bus and did nothing at all, except running from an incident. Does he think his client will leave the court as a free man? He doesn't know what to answer. At the moment his client realized he was linked to a case that had been blown up in the media, he went to the police himself. The lawyer doesn't understand how his client's picture ended up in the photoalbum: he is a Spanish national, who was visiting relatives. He didn't have any police records: neither in Belgium, neither in Spain.

They look so alike...
On the 4th of July, after 10 days in custody, 2 of the boys are released from prison. One of them is mentally handicapped. He barely realizes what happened. Another boy is released from a juvenile detention centre a few days later. On the 10th of July, a 4th boy was released. The court has to acknowlegde they'd made a mistake by relying on a witness statement:'They all look so alike.'
One boy admits he has kicked the man, but not very hard. A 2nd boy also admits to have beaten the man. One is still in prison, the other in a juvenile detention centre, but maybe not for long.
The busdriver declared to the press that the boys hadn't bought a ticket, but 4 of them didn't have to, they bought buspasses, as students usually do. 2 of them admit they didn't pay for the busfare.

Threatening letters
During the days after the incident, former women's boxing champion Daniella Somers, had some explaining to do. One of the boys has been a member of her boxing club for years. According to her, he hadn't been one of her best pupils. In fact he was quite weak compared to the others who never would team up with him during training. Nevertheless she was disappointed in her pupil. Even if he hadn't beaten anyone, he did nothing to prevent the incident. (my reflection upon this: would he be able to, being not so good at boxing?)

Since September 1st, 2005, the law is very strict: names of minors involved in court cases cannot be published in the media. A former police commissioner and safety advisor to the extreme right wing party Vlaams Belang (he, himself is due in court as a defendant in a case involving racist remarks and acts of violence put the full name of one of the boys on his website) This boy was the 2nd who voluntarily reported himself to the police. Earlier that day he was taken care of in an Antwerp hospital for stomach problems. Two days long he had been listening to radio and TV and had heard that the police were looking for 6 member murdering squad. He hadn't reported himself earlier because he was ill because he had been full of fear. This boy's lawyer explained on television that he had nothing to do with the whole incident. He was just on that bus with his friends and didn't do anything. The day after the lawyer had appeared on TV, he discovered a scratch on his car, clearly caused by a sharp instrument. Also the lawyer received a few letters threatening him. He doesn't suspect foreigners however. While he was buying a paper and the guy in the newsstand tells him that people are gossiping about the lawyer and that he is no longer liked...
In the mean time, his client is free again. According to the lawyer he didn't need to make much effort to obtain this result. He just waited for the result of the inquiries. The 2 boys who were his clients are to respect a curfew and they have to follow suitable pedagogical advice.
One of the lawyers states that the fact remains that the traindriver probably would still be alive, hadn't he been on that bus. It remains a fact that this particular bus line doesn't have a good reputation (note: I know, I've taken that bus for years and decided to get my driver's license because of the general atmosphere)
When an adult appears in court, all the judge is concerned about is the question of guilt. When a minor appears before juvenile court,

*to be continued on August, 1st ... My holidays are finished as of today and the first day back at work was so hectic, I fell asleep as soon as I got home ...*
*Have I been tired the rest of the week also?
No I've stopped the translation for a while, because I was getting some topic unrelated comments on several blog entries. They were funny but not relevant to the articles. I've now changed the comment settings here to 'moderated'!

Hoping to resume translation some time this weekend!
Well here I am again: When a minor appears before juvenile court, the judge will access the case from different angles, for instance, what can be done about the youngsters anti-social behaviour.
One of the lawyers is being asked: your client didn't do anything wrong, yet he'll be punished. The lawyer says it's more of a matter of how to behave on a bus, shouting at passengers is just not done.
Very different from what had been suggested at first none of the youngsters had been in prison before. 3 out of the 6 were known as small offenders, letting themselves into petty theft or fights. The most remarkable culprit turned out to be a copycat of the Paris arsenists. He supposedly threw a Molotov cocktail at a car, but he turned out be the biggest victim. The case was closed because there was no proof that the boy had thrown the bomb.

Arteriosclerosis
After the traindriver had died, a small group of union representatives paid their respect to his widow. In the house, the delegation saw a cupboard full of books about 'Vlaams Legioen' (Flemish legion), Hitler's 3rd Reich and some flags of the extreme right wing group Voorpost, the latter being some sort of fighting squad linked to the Flemish party 'Vlaams Belang' (this party being the former Vlaams Blok, a party that changed it's name after being convicted for racism) While questioned by the police the widow stated that her husband had had deviant ideas about foreigners, without being racist however.

At the moment I'm writing this, the final report about what happened has been completed. The report showed that the man had a very weak health. He suffered from arteriosclerosis. The report comes close to stating that if the man had missed his bus and he would have run to catch up with it, this could have been fatal too.

The youngsters that have been released aren't allowed to talk to the press. The question remains: 'Why?'

The magazine HUMO was the only one to write an extensive article about the incident. When it comes to national newspapers only a paper called Nieuwsblad published a very small article to rectify what they had published before ...

In this translation I omitted all names of the youngsters, their family, their lawyers and their victim. I now realize I mentioned the name of the boxing coach. Fact is I like her, she's a nice person who floored a bankrobber while he tried to rob her former husband's bank!
I think she's doing a good job giving youngsters a purpose in life!

1 Comments:

Blogger Manic said...

This totally changes the incident. I wonder if this will be put into the news. It seems to be against mainstream believe. It's like the train driver said: You Morrocons always cause trouble. Why would the media want to change that image that they are stimulating? Just look at the murder in Brussels Central station, everyone, even the Morrocons believed it was one of them.
Prejudice often leads to confirming prejudice, changing a certain view is hard and isn't done in a day. Let's hope that this article you're translating -never saw it in my newspaper or heard it on tv, yet- will get the media attention it deserves to change the prejudice image.

8:36 AM  

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