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Curacao condemns 'racist' police over arrest of Zwarte Piet protester

The arrest of a black Amsterdam artist for protesting at the ceremonial welcome of Sinterklaas has sparked a furious response on the Caribbean island of Curacao.

A typical Zwarte Piet actor in traditional costumeGovernment minister Sheldry Osepa told Algemeen Dagblad that the treatment of 27-year-old Quinsy Gario, who grew up in Curacao and Sint Maarten, exposed “a deep-rooted motive that can be traced back to racism.”

Gario was arrested and dragged away from the parade in Dordrecht on Saturday as families with small children looked on after he refused to take off a T-shirt with the slogan: ‘Zwarte Piet is racisme’ (Black Pete is racism).


The slogan refers to the character Zwarte Piet, who traditionally accompanies Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) on his journey from Spain to the Netherlands and distributes sweets to children on December 5. The character is almost invariably portrayed by a white actor in blackface make-up.

Shortly after Gario was arrested a film was uploaded to YouTube in which three police officers can be seen pinning him to the ground and carrying him into a side alley.

Osepa told the newspaper that Gario had been “crudely mistreated” and called the incident “a slap in the unmade-up face of black artists”.

“A skinhead-like shaven-headed police officer and his colleagues decided they needed to arrest the pacifist Quinsy Gario,” said the minister.

Curacao, one of the Leeward Islands, is a former Dutch colony which became a centre for the slave trade in the 17th century. In 2010 it became a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands after the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved.

Saturday’s incident in Dordrecht followed eight arrests in Amsterdam for demonstrating at the arrival of Sinterklaas by steamer. All eight demonstrators were detained until the evening and fined.

A council spokesman in Dordrecht insisted that Gario and his friend Kno'ledge Cesare, 30, who was arrested alongside him, had only themselves to blame.

“Demonstrations were banned for the arrival of Sinterklaas. The men were asked five times to stop their demonstration,” the spokesman said.

“They put their banner away, but did not remove their T-shirts. They ignored an order from the police. You can be arrested for that.”

Source: Curaçao noemt politie bij intocht Sint racistisch

Photo by Gerard Stolk

Watch the YouTube film of Quinsy Gario's arrest for yourself here