A shooting in Taksim still echoes for protesters

June 13, 2013

It's not clear how he let himself stray so far from his fellow riot police, but when he looked up from the protester he was kicking and saw the crowd of Istanbul protesters closing in, the lone policeman appeared to panic. The video, now infamous in Turkey, shows him reach for his pistol and fire into the air three times over the crowd, apparently to scare them off. But by the third shot, his arm had dropped, and one of the protesters collapsed.

Ethem Sarısülük, who is 27 years old, is still medically alive but brain dead, according to the Turkish Medical Association. The Turkish outlet Bianet reports that sympathetic protesters gathered hundreds of miles away in his home town of Ankara, the capital, where they met with his family and even painted an image on a nearby bridge of Sarısülük floating above a tableau of riot police and tear gas.

The shooting, though it happened June 1, almost two weeks ago, is still echoing for the protesters in Istanbul's Taksim Square, where the demonstrations first began and where the shooting took place. It's become a symbol of what some see as an overly harsh police response and an unaccountable state; the police have refused to release the name of the officer who fired, despite pleas from the victim's family.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, perhaps emboldened by his still-broad public support, has demanded that protesters clear the square. Speaking in Ankara, Erdogan told the "environmentalist" protesters to "get out of there. Leave us head-to-head with those terrorist organizations so that we can clear Gezi Park and give it to its owners."

Other than suggesting a popular referendum on the fate of Taksim park, Erdogan has not offered much in the way of a concession to the demonstrators or an apology for the police behavior during the successive crackdowns. Meanwhile, the shooting of Sarısülük continues to fuel fury, outraged coverage in some Turkish media and heated debate on Turkish- and English-language social media.

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Max Fisher | June 13, 2013