Testimony of Eyewitness of the Assasination of Alexis Grigoropolous
Public testimony of an eyewitness of the assassination of 15 year's old boy Alexis Grigoropoulos from Greek Police that lead to December riots and general social revolt that still going on in
Testimony of Eyewitness of the Assasination of Alexis Grigoropolous
I am an Exarchia resident whose balcony overlooks the spot where Alexis Grigoropoulos was murdered
I’m not so involved in any political activities. I’m not an activist. I can only speak about the killing. I can’t take a position on all the other things that happened because all these other things are very complicated and I don’t have clear thoughts on them.
Exarchia has always been an alternative, counterculture neighborhood. For many years it was a frequent occurrence that something would happen on a street corner in Exarchia and suddenly everyone from the cafes and the bars and the sidewalks would pour out into the streets and run to see what was happening. Usually it was incidents between people and police, some fights, confrontations, insults, shouting matches. In the old times it happened very often. Then there was a period when this didn’t happen so much, but in the last years it has started becoming more common again.
The reason that I found myself with a camera on the balcony that night was because I had always wanted to film one of these confrontations that are always taking place below my window. But every time I would come to my balcony to see what was happening, I got delayed. By the time I went back inside to get my camera it was too late, it was already over. This happened to me many times. And the last time that it happened, I said to myself, the next time, first I’ll grab the camera and then I’ll go to the balcony.
And in the end the next time turned out to be an incident that I never expected could happen. Two years earlier a friend visited me from
All the previous times, I never got scared observing these fights between people and the police. It was part of my everyday life in Exarchia. It was something commonplace. Because the Exarchia locals express their negation of authority firmly, and they believe in it, whenever something was happening I didn’t need to take a position or make a stand because it was just a part of life in this area. Of course in the ten years that I’ve lived in this flat, I’ve observed year after year a gradual increase in the police presence, an intensification. Policemen began to appear on every corner in the neighborhood, in groups, and also they were armored. The feeling of observing armored police in full riot gear carrying pistols, tear gas guns, and machine guns—it was getting more and more intense. In this period the slogan started to appear on the walls: “on every street corner there are police, the junta didn’t end in ’73.”
On 6 December I was here in the apartment with my German friend. He was cooking in the kitchen and I was in the living room. Suddenly I heard a bang. I hadn’t heard any noises before that. Nothing was happening in the streets, no shouts, nothing. Without warning there was just a bang. It seemed to me that it came from down the street, on the lefthand side. Despite the surprise this time I remembered to grab my camera first. I was not in a panic, I didn’t feel anything unusual, I just calmly got the camera and went to the balcony. I didn’t think anything extraordinary had happened. I looked outside, but I didn’t turn the camera on in the beginning because nothing was happening. I saw a few youths down to the left, sitting like they always do. The young anarchists are always hanging out down there, although this night there were fewer than normal. And on the righthand side, up the street, I saw a police car parked at the corner. One moment after the police car drove off, I saw two cops coming back on foot, and this was very strange to me. I asked myself, what are they going to do? They arrived at the spot where the car had been before, and started provoking the kids, saying come on you pussies! When I heard this I shouted to the German guy, come look! The police came and they’re starting a fight. He would get a chance to see this phenomenon of the Greek cops provoking a fight by insulting people. It’s normal that the police speak bad to people, but this was too much. It was provocative because they parked the police car and they came walking back and shouting challenges. That’s how normal people start a fight. It was like a personal fight, not the usual provocation by police.
Immediately after that they both took out their guns, both the cops. This was never mentioned by the media. And I got one surprise after another. First they came back on foot, then they started a fight by insulting the kids, then they took out their guns, and then they took aim, in a moment when there was no challenge and no threat, there was no fight or confrontation going on. And they shot. I heard two shots but I can’t say if both of them shot or if one shot twice. It’s possible that one of them shot twice. And they turned around and just left, simple as that, as though nothing had happened. Me, until that moment, it didn’t occur to me to look to the left, to the group of kids, because it was all so incredibly strange, the behavior of these two policemen. There was no need to look to the other side because nothing was happening there. And then I heard the people in the street shout that a kid had been shot. And then I felt panic. I ran inside, grabbed the telephone and called an ambulance, and I went down to the street. I saw just one kid lying there, and I was shocked. Everybody was shouting and many people were fainting. The kid wasn’t dead yet, and a doctor had appeared and was trying to administer first aid. Then the ambulance arrived and he died inside in the ambulance, I think.
I found out from other people that the first bang had been a concussion grenade. Apparently someone had thrown a plastic bottle at the police car and yelled an insult as it was passing and the police responded by throwing the grenade from the car. That’s not so unusual here. It’s normal to shout, everyone in
I went back up and tried to watch the video on my computer, but I couldn’t because I was missing some program. So I knocked on my neighbor’s door and said I recorded something but I don’t know what it is. Can we put it in your computer so I can see what it is? And we saw the video, and the way I felt, I had never felt that way in my entire life. We called down all the people from the entire neighborhood, everyone, we all came down onto the streets, and the energy, the atmosphere, was one of rage. It was overflowing all the streets, everywhere people were pouring out of their houses onto the streets. Everybody.
The riot police had the gall to come here, back to this corner where the first cop car had stopped, and where the shots were fired. And of course everybody started shouting at them, young people, old people, normal people, everyone was shouting at them to go the hell away.
About two hours after the shooting, it’s impossible to say exactly how long but it was about two hours. The secret police came. I was back in my house listening to the radio and the TV, which were saying there were riots in Exarchia, that the police had been attacked and fired in self-defense, but this wasn’t true. And the riots hadn’t even started yet. And from my window I saw men without uniforms looking at the walls of the buildings around the shooting. The secret police had come to search for the shell casings and the bullets, to investigate the area. I was with my neighbor, and I told him I was going down. I wanted to react somehow to what they were saying on the news. So I went down and I said that what they’re reporting on the television wasn’t true. One tall old guy came up to me with a greasy smile, and said, yes, and who are you? And I felt an amazing fear. Because I’m very naïve, I just felt the obligation to go down and say the truth. But this guy, he terrified me. So I backed off and said, no, who are you? And he told me his name and his position. He was the chief of the secret police agency, and he was in charge of the autopsy and investigation. They took my name and telephone, and they asked me if I was going to come to the central police station to testify, and I said yes.
He asked me what happened. I brought him to the exact point where the policemen were standing when they opened fire. And exactly at that point was where they found the shell casings. And they asked me if I had a vehicle, if I could drive myself to the station. And I said no and they told me I would come with them. I said I hoped the people wouldn’t bomb the police car on the way, and the chief laughed and said have no fear. He directed me to where a large group of riot police were gathered, and I found myself in the middle of a MAT squad. It was right at that moment that the people attacked. The chief disappeared immediately, he ran away and they left me while the people were attacking, and I saw all the guns that the police had and I flipped out. I couldn’t focus on anything, I felt how powerful theHe asked me what happened. I brought him to the exact point where the policemen were standing when they opened fire. And exactly at that point was where they found the shell casings. And they asked me if I had a vehicle, if I could drive myself to the station. And I said no and they told me I would come with them. I said I hoped the people wouldn’t bomb the police car on the way, and the chief laughed and said have no fear. He directed me to where a large group of riot police were gathered, and I found myself in the middle of a MAT squad. It was right at that moment that the people attacked. The chief disappeared immediately, he ran away and they left me while the people were attacking, and I saw all the guns that the police had and I flipped out. I couldn’t focus on anything, I felt how powerful people were, they were full of rage. I can’t remember if they were attacking with stones or molotovs or clubs, only that they were overpowering and I had to get out of there. I ran away by myself and came back to my house.
Of course I was expecting that they would call me for an interview as a witness. But they never did. I spoke with a lawyer of the movement, Yianna Kurtovick, she’s one of the members of the Network for the Defense of Political Prisoners and Immigrants. And she brought me to the examining magistrate. I had to go to find the judge because the police never called me to testify. And after I testified, some days later, they closed the whole area to make the official report to prove whether the bullet hit the kid directly or if it richocheted off the ground. That was the official story, that the one cop had fired at the ground and the bullet bounced up and hit him.
The magistrate, the photographer, and the secretary came up to my balcony to take photographs. The chief of the secret police was down in the street. I called out to him, Oh hello, you left me alone last time in the middle of a riot. And he answered, I didn’t abandon you, it was you who was afraid that the rioters would burn us alive. And I said to him, Don’t tell lies in front of all these people.
I remember telling myself some years ago that I lived in a military camp, with all the police around Exarchia. Now I say that I live in a warzone. What happened in December, I never believed that it could ever happen. Despite all the feelings of military occupation provoked by the police. For me, there was always a limit, always a final line, and when the police crossed this line, it was a qualitative change. Everything changed. Everyone understood that there was a certain horizon to the situation and beyond it everything was different. We have passed this horizon. And now I say that it is not a conflict anymore, now it is war.
In comparison with before December, everything is more powerful. The assassination of Alexis was like the cherry on top, the last straw. Now there is no more tolerance for the police. The killing was so outrageous, so far beyond the limits, that the people reacted and still they continue to react. They are getting empowered from the rage that was expressed at the moment of the killing. There were many other problems too besides police brutality, and these problems continue, but the people don’t tolerate these other problems either, not anymore.
So I’ll be in the trial of the policeman who killed Alexis. I was worrying about how I’ll feel towards the defense lawyer, because he’s defending a very bad person. Then I started to worry about the outcome of the trial, because if this cop ends up with only two or three years in jail, I don’t know how I would react. How do you react to the decision of a trial like this? Because many terrifying things are happening, and we hear about them and see them on the news, but it is very different when you saw it with your own eyes. It is not just words, it is a clear truth for you, there is no doubt about this, there is no distance from it. It is such an absolute truth, the assassination, it is like if you steal something from me in front of my eyes and then tell me it never existed. It is not something you just heard about from somewhere else. And I fear very much that if they find this cop not guilty, maybe my reaction will get me thrown in jail. I think about this all the time, as I prepare to testify.