Violent scuffles broke out in Thessaloniki, Greece on Monday after a Roma teenager was shot by police and left in critical condition.
The sixteen-year-old was shot in the head in the early hours of Monday morning after driving a truck away from a petrol station near the port city of Thessaloniki without paying.
Officers from a motorcycle patrol had pursued the teenager’s pickup truck after a gas station employee reported the unpaid bill of twenty euros. The Greek police department said the youth had tried to ram officers in pursuit on motorbikes in his attempt to evade arrest.
Sixteen-year-old Roma Kostas Fragoulis was hospitalized at the Hippocrates Hospital of Thessaloniki and is in critical condition with a bullet wound to the head.
Fragoulis’ father told the assembled press outside the hospital: “What if he didn’t pay? Should they have killed him? They should have come home to arrest him. He made a mistake. He should not have been shot.”
Protesters burned roadblocks and threw Molotov cocktails at riot police on Monday evening. They also smashed shop windows in the center of the city. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Earlier in the day, protesters and members of the teenager’s family threw rocks at riot police outside the hospital where he is receiving treatment before police responded by firing tear gas.
In a statement, police said officers had fired two shots to try and stop him from attempting to hit police motorbikes.
After the shots were fired, the driver had lost control, hit a wall, and was “transported to the hospital with serious injuries,” police reported.
The 34-year-old police officer who allegedly fired the shot was suspended from duty and arrested. He appeared in court on Tuesday morning on a felony charge of attempted manslaughter with possible intent and a misdemeanor count of illegally firing his weapon.
He asked for and was granted more time to prepare his defense, as is common in the Greek justice system, prior to appearing before an investigating magistrate. He will appear in court again on Friday.
Asked to comment on Monday’s shooting, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said, “The value of a human life can never be measured by any amount of money.”
Roma people in Greece
Another Roma youth was killed in 2021 near the port of Piraeus. This was also after a police pursuit. The death of the driver has caused outrage amongst the Roma community both within and outside of Athens. Protests have been erupting across the city.
The issue of Roma people in Greece remains controversial to this day. The Council of Europe estimates that approximately 265,000 Roma reside in Greece, comprising 2.47 percent of the population.
Roma, or Romani or Romany as they are otherwise known, were formerly called Gypsies. They are stigmatized because their lifestyle differs drastically from the social norms of Western countries.
The stigma stems primarily from claims that the Roma commit crimes, such as grand theft, robbery, drug trafficking, and even murder in some rarer instances.
Stigma also comes as a result of outright racism. The racism and discrimination towards Roma may, in fact, lead them to a life of petty crime.
Some of the most common problems the Roma communities face in Greece include instances of child labor and low school attendance, especially among girls.