13. Boumla

On the 4th of December 2013 I was visited by Baye, whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks – just a regular visit to see how I was doing. Soon after he arrived he got a phone call from someone he lived with in Boukhalef.

His friend told him that the police had been in Boukhalef for the past few hours and that when they’d tried to question everyone in the building, one guy had tried to get away and been thrown from the fourth-floor window.

This all sounded very familiar – only two months had passed since Musa Seck had allegedly been thrown from another fourth-floor window.

A few minutes later, I got a call from Frankie. She explained that she’d had the same call and that she was on her way back to Boukhalef to find out what was going on. When Sven came back home soon after and was greeted with the news, he insisted that there was no time to lose and that we should go there immediately.

We quickly gathered our things, making sure that we didn’t have anything incriminating or important on us. We locked the door and started to run down into the marketplace to find a taxi. We were running so fast that the locals must have been wondering what these crazy Europeans were doing.

We ran right through the busy market until we got to the end and hopped into a taxi. The taxi took us all the way to Boukhalef but had to slow down as we got closer – we could see that the traffic was being redirected at different junctions so it would avoid something, but we couldn’t figure what or where this something was.

Eventually the taxi got around the ‘something’ and we drove into the main apartment complex area. It was quieter than I expected, there were no police or migrants – no more than usual anyway.

We walked through the streets, heading in the direction of where we knew people would be. A few people were stood around on a corner, so we approached them to ask about what was going on. Working around the language barrier, we were given the general direction of where things was supposed to be happening.

Continuing on, we crossed paths with another guy that told us he was the brother of the guy who’d died. I wasn’t sure if he meant a brother as in a real brother or brothers sharing the same cause. He was going in the same direction and said he would take us to where we needed to be.

We went along a few streets, turned a few corners, following the brother. Suddenly, he stops and points to the ground and says ‘This is the place’, still pointing at the ground.  I’m confused for second, but then he starts to move the gravel around with his foot and I realise that he’s uncovering a pool of blood.

This must have been where it happened. I looked up at the apartment and tried to imagine falling from the top floor, I felt sick.

I tried to ask where everybody was – the police, the body, where were they?

We deciphered that a large group of the local migrants were going to the hospital. Feeling really confused and a little frustrated, we headed back towards the main road on the edge of Boukhalef, hoping we could catch up with the crowd and find out what they were going to do. I tried to ring Frankie, since she was already in the march, but was it was too loud and I couldn’t get through to her.

We hopped back into a taxi and told him to go along the main road towards Tangier. After a few diversions and calculated guesses we saw the beginnings of a crowd. We paid the driver and got out. As we walked into the crowd, I noticed that it was mainly Moroccans.

Just at that moment, the crowd got spooked by something and they all started stampeding past us. I wasn’t sure whether or not to run with them, nor was i sure what they were running from. There was complete panic for a few moments but it soon stopped and we moved forward until we could see the police line ahead.

We moved cautiously around the blockade to avoid confrontation with police. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that we were some of very few Europeans there, so we were expecting attention. We wandered around and went up to higher ground so that we could see what was going on.

I could see a crowd of about five or six hundred migrants in the middle of the road. The police line was there to my right, trying to stop the migrants going any further, and there was about fifteen police riot vans coming up behind on the left. The whole area was surrounded by a thousand local Moroccans, some in huge, intimidating groups. The whole thing was at a stand-still.

I started to walk into the crowd of migrants to see if I could find anyone I knew. I heard my name almost immediately and turned to find Frankie running towards me. We hugged.

Frankie, Sven and I were pulled into the mass of people. They were asking many questions all at once and I couldn’t really make out one question from another. We were being pulled and shoved, not in an aggressive way, but in an assertive way, like they really wanted us to understand. I was grabbed by the arm and pulled through and into the centre of the crowd. The group parted and the lifeless body was revealed.

Cedric was a nineteen year old boy from Cameroon, not long come to Tangier with the intention of striking for Spain. I was told that less than an hour before his death, Cedric was giving an interview to someone about Musa Seck’s death and the brutalities caused by the police. Soon after, Cedric had also died at the hands of the police.

Cedrick - Moments after his death
Cedrick – Moments after his death

Cedric was now lying dead on a piece of wood. He was covered with a large cloth, but was occasionally revealed to show onlookers the tragedy that had occurred.

I could see Sven on the other side of Cedric – he was stood for a moment, an expression of horror on his face – and then the crowd swallowed him up again.

Then a roar began – a roar of at least a hundred migrants in the area directly around us who’d started shouting and chanting. I realised that my friend had started it. Sven was shouting “Boumla… Fuck boumla” over and over again, ‘boumla’ being slang for the police in Wolof.

The crowd were in a frenzy – grabbing Sven from every direction, they were furiously embracing him and patting him on the back. One man grabbed him by the head with both hands looking at him sharply in the eyes, thanking him profusely – thanking him for being here and witnessing the brutality that was happening. It really showed how alone they must have felt in their struggle and how desperate they were for people to know the truth about what was happening to them.

Because of the chanting, there was a sudden sharp cry from somewhere, and then I could see rocks flying towards us. Everyone started to panic and run.

I ran a few meters back and turned to find Frankie beside me. I tried to shield her with my body and shielded my head with my hands. It was only a few seconds before the shower of rocks was over. I looked around to see if anyone was hurt but it was difficult to tell amongst the chaos.

The police were trying to get the local Moroccans to go back but they were clearly outnumbered. They tried several times, but as soon as the police were heading to another crowd, the mob they’d dealt with before would just reform. Locals would try and get as close to the migrants as possible, simply walking in and around the police lines.

A Moroccan came up to me and shook my hand. He began to speak French to me. I asked him about what was going on here, why the migrants weren’t being let through and why there were so many Moroccans causing problems here. He simply answered “There is no problem here”.

It was only after that comment that I realised he was a police officer that I’d met before at the Senegalese house. I recognised his face and remembered that he had said something similar when they were raiding the house. I got a bit spooked at the thought of him recognising me and made excuses to walk away.

I began to speak to individual migrants, now that the initial excitement had subsided. From asking Frankie as well as migrants, I was able to understand what had happened.

The police had come raiding, as they had many times before. They’d been going around the apartment block that Cedric lived in, checking the papers of everyone they came across, and Cedric had headed for the roof to hide.

There were two women that had also been on the roof and who’d witnessed Cedric struggling with the police – the cops had pulling Cedric and he’d been pulling back. At a critical moment, the police had let go and allowed Cedric to fall six stories from the roof.

It was not the first or even the second time this had happened – I can’t be sure of the exact number but there may have been up to seven deaths in the three years previously, all at the hands of the Moroccan police.

After Cedric had died, the police had left very quickly, leaving his body behind. An ambulance had been coming to take the body away to the morgue, but before that could happen, a crowd of friends and family had gathered around Cedric. More and more people had come until the ambulance couldn’t get close to Cedric.

When a migrant dies, whether it’s accidental or not, the body is taken away and an investigation is never followed through. So to try to prevent Cedric’s death from being swept under the political carpet, some of Cedric’s close friends had decided that they would take Cedric to the morgue themselves.

A piece of wood had been taken from a makeshift fence and Cedric had been placed onto it and covered with a cloth. The close friends of Cedric had chosen to act as his pallbearers, picking the plinth up by it’s corners and resting it upon their shoulders. Everyone had started to march away from the scene towards the main road that leads to Tangier and – more importantly – the hospital.

The crowd had grown in size as the procession moved on; it had grown from several dozen people to a few hundred. The police had come back soon after they’d heard about what was happening. They made lines to try to stop the demonstration going any further but Solidarity with Cedric had gotten too large for them to control.

Numerous times, the six friends carrying Cedric and the dense crowd around them had been halted by a police line – but every time they had broken through. With Cedric raised high up in the middle, and everyone surrounding his body, they’d charged at the police like a battering ram, successfully breaking through the lines.

The police had seemed to care very little about respecting Cedric’s body and would try to push and shove everyone back. Several times they’d shoved so hard that the body of Cedric had fallen from his plinth and had had to be placed back up. Cedric’s friends that were carrying him were noticeably covered in blood that had spilt down from where Cedric was placed.

This had gone on for approximately two kilometres until the march had come to its final halt, and that’s where I entered the scene. Stood around within the crowd of migrants, I could see individuals mourning Cedric.

Some would scream and shout in despair, raising their hands into the air like they were smiting their god for letting something like this happen. Some fell to the ground, unable to hold back the anger and frustration of their loss. And others ceaselessly shouted at the police, telling them that they had done this and that they should be ashamed of calling themselves police officers, Muslim and – especially – human beings.

Once again I heard shouts coming from another direction. As I turned to look, I saw another wave of rocks flying towards us. Everyone tried to shield themselves as best they could. I looked up and abruptly witnessed a man nearby being struck by one of the rocks flying through the air.

It was a Moroccan, hit by a Moroccan-thrown rock. I saw him stood out in the open, with barely anyone around him and – THUNK! – the rock hit him square on the head. He made no movements for a second then raised both his hands to his head, wrapping them around tightly.

I started to run towards him, as did many others. He began to stagger around in big circles and by the time I had reached him, he was on the floor having a massive seizure. Others were there – Moroccans, police and then paramedics. They tried their best to hold the guy down as he was convulsing. They seemed to be examining him for a few minutes, checking his vitals. Eventually, he was carried away and I never saw him again. I still wonder about that guy hit by the rock and whether he recovered or not.

I got a call soon after from Sven and their friend, telling me that after the first rock-throwing they’d gone to the side to get shelter and had attempted to help a paramedic treat an injured migrant. They’d been spotted by the police and questioned about their reasons for being there and whether or not they were journalists – also having to get their passports photographed. With that, they’d decided that it was time for them to leave.

I was approached by some official looking guys too, who spoke to me in French about getting the migrants to go home. For some unknown reason, they made it seem like I had some kind of control. I just demanded that he should tell the police to go home. We both agreed that the body of Cedric should be taken away though, and then they promptly disappeared.

I stood around for a while, occasionally being asked if I was a journalist doing a story on this atrocity. I always replied with a ‘no’ but they continued to go into great detail about how evil the Moroccan police were, how they are breaking Human Rights laws, and how the European Union funds these atrocities. They were right of course but I couldn’t help feel that I was disappointing them whenever I said I wasn’t a journalist coming here to report on the evil that was happening here.

The crowd began to get louder again – there was a lot of talking amongst the migrants. Soon enough the mass had collected together again and Cedric was raised up high once more.

I could tell that they were going to attempt to push through the police line – everyone had a look of assured confidence, like they knew that this time they might actually make a difference and win one against the Moroccan police. The dense crowd around Cedric started to move forward towards the police and a little further towards the hospital.

At that moment, I thought about what they would do if they actually made it to the hospital. I guessed it would become even bigger news than it already was, but that’s the thing they want the most – to have the rest of the world recognise that Morocco is Europe’s little Pit-bull, clamping down onto so called “Illegals” and not letting go.

Because for most migrants, going home is not an option and going forward is notoriously dangerous. So they’re stuck in this endless cycle of catch and release, exploited as part of Morocco’s money-making machine that Europe has created. With that thought in mind, I realised that I too wanted that to make the news – I also wanted the world to see what was happening here.

In a moment of madness, I followed the crowd and moved through until, before long, I was at the police line. I was right at the front with people full of aggression all around me, like at a Heavy Metal gig except that instead of having my favourite band in front of me, there was a line of angry police armed with guns, batons and riot shields. This really scared me.

I noticed an ambulance to the left, squeezing through the crowd. I knew that this was for Cedric but I wasn’t sure if the friends carrying him were going to agree with the police’s plan. The crowd became even more dense and unpredictable. I could see that some harsh decisions were being made around Cedric and the ambulance.

There were furious conflicts starting too. Most of the people were becoming enraged because they knew they were losing their footing. The police also became tighter in the line and started to intimidate the crowd with deep chants, barking at us from behind their transparent shields. The whole situation was becoming volatile.

I squeezed in between the police and the migrants, trying to get closer to the ambulance, raising my hands high in the air to show no aggression, pushing my body into the shields, shouting “attention” over and over again.

I had almost made it to the ambulance when – BOOM! – I felt a sharp blow to the side of my head. I felt it slow me down considerably but I think it was just a warning poke at me – a reward for my stupidity. I stood confused for a few seconds, right in the middle of everything.

Then a Moroccan came squeezing through the police line, glancing at me – then turning to the police line before speaking to them and making gestures to stop – pointing at me, then making the gesture again. The police seemed to calm down at this and I figured that the plain-clothed officer must have been a bit higher up in the police ranks.

I looked around at the ambulance, as Cedric was still in the middle of a tug of war between the migrants and the paramedics, accompanied by the police. One last time, Cedric fell from his makeshift stretcher before being lifted into the ambulance. Some of the friends that carried him were allowed to travel with Cedric’s body in the ambulance, but the rest had to make their final goodbyes.

One guy was in hysterics – he fell to his knees with his hands together raised high, crying and sobbing uncontrollably. And many others were still shouting and swearing as the ambulance was driving away.

Some officers came in through the crowd and started to try to disperse them, but nobody seemed quite ready yet and continued to yo-yo back and forth, to and fro from the police line, shouting and chanting.

Slowly, the crowd did disperse, and everyone started to head back towards Boukhalef. But first we all had to walk in-between the riot vans that had followed the crowd all the way. People were banging on the front and sides, shouting up close to the officers that locked themselves inside. Some of the officers looked as if they feared for their safety, and others just looked on passively at the mass of people passing through.

I found Frankie again and we talked about what had happened. We walked on, listening to the sporadic calls and shouts of everyone around. People would pass us either coming fast from behind or slowing down from the front. Some would be curious and ask us questions about why we were here and where we were from. I told many that I was here for solidarity, to witness the brutality of Morocco for myself and try to help in any way I could – which, most of the time, felt like very little.

As we were walking, we heard a sudden flash of shouts that sounded familiar. Moroccans were throwing rocks again – groups of them were following us by the edges of the road. Every now and then a rock would narrowly miss someone. Then some individuals gave chase to the stone throwers.

Frankie and I followed, running through a small field and onto a road. By the time we had caught up, the Moroccan had been thrown to the ground and had been kicked a few times by another local. There was lots of Arabic being spoken very quickly. It seemed like individuals on both sides were pleading for it to stop and for everyone to go their separate ways. A minute or two of coarse debates passed and everyone left, leaving the guy behind to dust himself off. On we went.

All in all, I thought what had been achieved here was amazing. Nothing like this had happened here in Tangier before, not to anyone’s immediate knowledge.

For everyone to rally together and stand up against the oppressive state they have been trapped in – to finally fight back after all the times they had to submit to forces beyond their control – to break through the police lines time and time again and to show that they won’t take any more abuse from the king’s dogs – even in the shadow of Cedric’s death, that must have felt empowering.

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An autobiographical novel documenting the struggles of Sub-saharan African migrants in the EU border town of Tangiers, Morocco. Content note for rape, trafficking, police violence, murder and racial abuse.

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