The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Activists see George Floyd parallels in video of Czech police officer kneeling on Roma man who later died

A vigil in Teplice, Czech Republic, on June 22, three days after a Roma man died following his detention by police. (Ondrej Hajek/CTK/AP)

In a video shared widely on social media, Czech police officers push to the ground and appear to kneel for minutes on the neck of a man bellowing in distress, who had been wandering the streets of Teplice, Czech Republic, in a state of belligerent agitation.

The man later died in an ambulance, according to media reports. Police said in a statement that a court-ordered autopsy had found no connection between his death and the manner of his restraint.

Advocates for the Roma community in the Czech Republic said the man was Roma and compared his killing to the death of George Floyd — the Black man whose final moments under the knee of a White police officer on a street in Minneapolis, captured in a video seen around the world, sparked a global protest movement against racism and police brutality, including demonstrations in the Czech Republic.

How George Floyd’s killing sparked a global reckoning

Recorded from a window Saturday, the Czech video shows two, then three police officers pressing the man into the ground as he cries out. One officer kneels on his neck, while another holds his legs. Several bystanders look on.

The man’s name has yet to be confirmed, but activists are referring to him as “Czech Floyd.”

Police rejected the comparison, tweeting from an official account that there is “no ‘Czech Floyd.’ ” The tweet described the man as a “multiple recidivist” who demolished cars while under the influence of an illegal substance. The intervention, according to police, was legal and unconnected to the man’s death.

The police published another video of the man, apparently filmed before the incident, showing him lying on the ground while shouting, then punching a car.

“According to a preliminary autopsy report, the man was suspected of being affected by a foreign substance of the amphetamine family, and autopsy revealed pathological changes in the coronary arteries of the heart,” Ondrej Moravcik, a Czech Republic Police Department press official told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Before they opposed Muslims, Europe’s far right targeted a different minority

Citing the “obvious similarity” between this case and that of Floyd, members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Minority Affairs called on Czech authorities to prioritize a thorough investigation into the man’s death.

An ethnic minority in Europe, the Roma number up to 12 million across the continent. Roma rights and community groups — which have been fighting anti-Roma discrimination — responded to the video with skepticism of the police narrative and called for justice.

But Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek backed the police officers, according to media reports. “The intervening police officers have my full support,” Hamacek said, according to Romea. “Anybody under the influence of addictive substances who breaks the law has to count on the police intervening. It is mainly thanks to the work of policemen and policewomen that we are among the top 10 safest countries in the world.”

The influence of drugs “does not legitimize the police brutality and at least potentially lethal use of force that the video so clearly evidences,” Ashli Mullen, a sociologist and creative director of Roma rights group Romano Lav, said in a statement also signed by others.

N. Macedonia: 2 policemen suspended over Roma man’s beating

“As a Czech Roma woman, I feel angry, sad and terrified. Something needs to change,” Mariana Gombarova, who works with Romano Lav, told The Post. “It makes me so angry that this continues to happen to our communities.”

Mourners held a small vigil near the place where the man was detained, placing on the sidewalk candles, bouquets and a ribbon reading, “Romani Lives Matter.”

Unsatisfied with the police statement about the man’s death, grass-roots organizations are pushing for an investigation. Roma advocacy group ERGO Network asked that the officers be “sanctioned for their disproportionate use of power and inadequate techniques.”

“The obvious question that comes to mind is, why is it that the police officer continued to kneel on his neck and squeeze him against the pavement long after he was immobilized?” Isabela Mihalache, senior advocacy officer for the ERGO Network, said in an email. “We take a strong stance against police violence and inadequate police response particularly in handling people from racialized minorities.”

This report has been updated.