Operators of the Reitschule cultural centre in Bern have accused police officers of racism and abuse of power following an altercation in early September. In an open letter, they called on the City of Bern to take measures to better control police during operations.
The letter comes after clashes at the centre on September 1 left several people injured, including three police officersexternal link. During the incident, one police officer drew a smileyexternal link on a rubber bullet shot into the crowd – an image that has gone viral in Switzerland.
Reitschule representatives have called police behaviour during events and demonstrations inappropriate and accuse the police of "racist, offensive and abusive behaviour". They also point out that their complaints are often rejected as "lacking credibility".
In an interview in the Berner Zeitungexternal link last week, the cantonal minister in charge of police, Philippe Müller, defended the police actions and called on the city of Bern to take action against the centre. “When police officers are attacked with bottles and iron bars, there is no longer any talk of de-escalation,” he said. “The officers must retaliate.”
The Reitschule is considered one of the liveliest, yet most controversial entertainment venues in Switzerland and is no stranger to skirmishes with police. It has also been a major point of contention between political groups in Bern since the 19th-century former riding school was occupied by squatters in the 1980s.
There have been multiple attempts to shut it down because of its association with leftwing movements. In April, the Supreme Court endorsed a decision to declare invalid a people’s initiative aimed at closing the centre.
In the letter sent by email on Monday night, the Reitschule asked the parliament and the Bernese government to reintroduce a city police force. “This would put the capital back in the democratic control of police operations that were ceded to the canton several years ago," the letter said. In addition, it would like to see the creation of two independent bodies: an independent mediator and an independent investigative body for the cantonal police.
The Reitschule is also calling for a ban on the use of rubber bullets of all kinds throughout the city. Accompanying the letter are two videos denouncing the firing of rubber bullets at head height and the alleged obstruction of filming during the clash. The cantonal police argue that rubber bullets are used to keep attackers at a distance.