Brussels: School 404 evicted after fire

Press release of the school 404

This Saturday, April 10th, a fire took place in the former school 14, rue Capronnier 1, in Schaerbeek. Renamed School 404, this place was inhabited since March 2020 by about thirty people and several associations including Hope4ever and the ASBL 404. Fortunately, there were no physical injuries. On the same day, the municipality enforced its decision to evict these inhabitants from their dwelling by the police.
The course of this day and those that followed, the handling of the situation by the public services, the forces of order, the firemen, the media and the owners of the place, reveals various mistreatments, discriminations and abuses of all kinds.

We will not keep quiet about our anger and refuse that once again, our dissident voices are silenced and stripped of their political dimension. We refuse the stigmatization of squatters, and claim squatting as one of the most relevant and emancipating political dynamics in the city of Brussels today.

The 404 collective and the Hope4Ever association have reinvested the old school to welcome, in the short and long term, dozens of people, for a shower, a coffee, a night, 300 nights, administrative support or emotional support, bike workshops, crafts, artistic activities, free distribution of food and clothing. The vitality of spaces like this one has multiplied in the face of the health crisis and the shutdown of reception, food, social and psychological support structures. Squats are a place of refuge, of habitation, of collective research, of deconstruction, of counterpoint to the commercial, racist and sexist system that surrounds us.

It is thus extremely violent for us, to find ourselves criminalized by the police as soon as they arrive on the scene, whereas they had ignored our complaints and our requests for investigation during the two previous fires. This stigmatization started from the beginning of the intervention, with firemen who did not carry out the classic procedures of securing a building (the tour of the rooms to check that everyone was out of danger was not done correctly: two people who were not woken up found themselves in a critical situation). The police deployment in proportion to that of the firemen was once again unjustified. This omnipresence of police had for effect only a rise of the tension and the violence as the intervention went on. We were thrown out in the rain, barely pulled out of bed by the flames. 26 people were administratively arrested and deprived of their freedom for several hours, forced to declare their identities, interrogated, and humiliated with sexualizing, transphobic, racist, and classist speeches. The negligence of the police chief in not relieving the police officers present at the scene resulted in tired and aggressive officers taking out their physical and moral aggression on the occupants. The police are responsible for beating residents with batons, and for making forceful arrests that prevented people from getting their essential belongings. They also arrested and took three of our comrades into custody for “rebellion”, releasing them a few hours later for lack of probable cause. Moreover, in an illegal way, it refuses to communicate us the number of the agents involved. Within a few hours, we find ourselves on the street, our house barricaded. Not surprisingly, when we came back to move, we found our rooms looted, destroyed, some of our beds covered with urine.

It seems important to us to underline the reaction of the municipality: after a year of half-hearted verbal support without any concrete help, the burgomaster takes the decision to evict us. This public institution is also an accomplice of the violence of the police on Saturday. The public authorities leave us in the hands of the police the whole day, without sending the least psychological or food support, without proposing the least shelter and without setting up the least solution of rehousing. The municipality of Schaerbeek then makes it absurdly difficult for us to negotiate the move, granting us only one day to empty 3500 square meters and imposing the presence of the police on us.

We would like to remind you that, for the past year, we have received visits from representatives of the municipality of Schaerbeek, asking us if we were able to take in homeless people, thus relieving itself of the responsibility for what it is. On several occasions, we have asked for financial support, material aid, and help with rehousing. Nothing has been put in place.

We have great difficulty, logically, in believing in the “humanism” of this municipality which sells public property to companies and evicts the people who live there, under a federal moratorium which forbids it. This is an illegal eviction revealing the systematisms that continue to repress the most precarious in the name of the interests of the authorities and the private sector. The occupation of the school was physically opposed to a gentrification project in a popular neighborhood: the premises have belonged for several months to the firm BPI Real Estate (26 and a half million in turnover and 6 million in profit in 2019). It plans to demolish the whole, to build a building of private social housing, and a ground floor of more than 2000 square meters of commercial surface (notably for a Lidl), with a parking lot and two advertising signs. An imposed project, rejected by the majority of the inhabitants of the district, whose voice has obviously no weight in front of the real estate monster, because as we know, it is the entrepreneurs who control the spaces, and not the ones who occupy them.

The media finally reported the facts without any testimony from the occupants, using a language that despised the squat and glorified the same police officers who did violence to us. They do not mention or hardly mention the fact that this space was a place of life, and simply omit to mention the uninterrupted socio-cultural activity that has been developing there for a year, nor the political reaction, that is to say the immediate eviction procedure applied by the municipality, nor the fate of the thirty evicted occupants, for whom none of the ten or so media that relayed the information will show the least interest.

We oppose this criminalization of alternative lifestyles, and we will continue to fight for the valorization and expansion of places like ours. We denounce the private and capitalist dynamics and the complicity of the public services, which impose absurd and soulless projects on everyone and reinforce the socio-economic inequalities that only enrich a few. We demand grassroots solidarity, civil disobedience, a collective and horizontal handling of the health crisis and socio-economic problems, and we will continue to work collectively, through our daily lives in the city, for the abolition of a system of oppressive and brutal privileges.

The public and social services of Brussels must recognize the immense, daily, and free work produced by the squatters throughout the city, and urgently activate an in-depth reflection with them, in order to set up a real policy of concrete support for these initiatives.

La 404
1 rue Capronnier, Schaerbeek
Brussels, Belgium
ecole-404 [at] riseup [dot] net

Some squats in Brussels
Some squats in Belgium
Groups (social center, collective, squat) in Belgium
Events in Belgium