The fallout from disturbances late last week in the Madrid neighborhood of Lavapiés continued on Monday, as a political row broke out in City Hall over the handling of the crisis.
Events were sparked when, on Thursday, a 35-year-old Senegalese street vendor named Mame Mbaye suffered a heart attack and died. A rumor quickly spread via social media that he was being chased by the police at the time of his collapse, something that was subsequently denied by the Madrid authorities. But the damage had been done, and rioting broke out on Thursday evening in the southern neighborhood, one of Madrid’s most multi-cultural, in protest of police treatment of the African community. Radical leftist groups are reported to have streamed into the neighborhood, leaving cars damaged, trash cans set on fire and stones and other objects thrown at police.
The next day the mood on the streets remained tense, with the consul of Senegal forced to take refuge inside a local bar after Senegalese citizens accosted him when he showed up in support of Mbaye. National Police riot officers arrived on the scene and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Thousands of people took to the streets once more on Friday evening, to honor the memory of Mame Mbaye. The street protest passed by without incident, apart from the death of a second Senegalese man after suffering a stroke. Ousseynou Mbaye, 54, passed away in hospital on Friday after collapsing on Thursday night at 8pm, just as the violent protests began in the Lavapiés neighborhood. According to council sources, his death was not related to any of the police actions.
Residents of Lavapiés have filed around two dozen complaints related to a video in which a group of people are seen vandalizing cars parked in one of the neighborhood’s streets, police sources have told Spanish news agency EFE. In the video hooded figures are seen jumping onto parked cars, smashing in their windows and breaking their rear view mirrors.
On Monday, City Hall councilor Montserrat Galcerán attacked the leader of her own Ahora Madrid party, Mayor Manuela Carmena, for “criminalizing the poor.” Via social networks, Galcerán stated that “there is an urgent need to investigate the circumstances of the death of Mame Mbaye, and, above all else, to change the policies of our City Hall to guarantee the rights of migrants and to stop persecuting and criminalizing the poor.”
Galcerán, who is part of an anti-capitalist wing of the party that is particularly critical of the mayor, backed her colleague Rommy Arce on Sunday, who posted a tweet saying that “nobodies,” such as Mbaye, are “victims of institutional xenophobia and of a capitalist system that puts up internal and external borders.”
Mayor Carmena, for her part, had written two messages on social media prior to Monday. “The council will always listen to peaceful expressions,” but warned that “no type of violence can be repeated.” She added: “Lavapiés wants to continue to be a neighborhood of exemplary cohabitation,” including a photo of children playing soccer in the area.
On Monday, in response to the criticism from members of her own group, Carmena said that their comments were within the bounds of freedom of speech, and as such did not need to be censured.
She also reiterated that City Hall had acted “correctly” in the face of last week’s incidents, stating once again that the death of Mbaye “had nothing to do” with a police chase, as was reported at the time. She added that irregular migrants such as the Senegalese man are living through “tremendous drama” and that their situation must be “addressed,” calling on the Interior Ministry to help City Hall to do so.
The conservative Popular Party (PP) group in City Hall has called on the security chief, Javier Barbero, to quit after failing to stop the rumor spreading that Mbaye had died while being chased by police. Officers are often seen in the city center pursuing street hawkers, who are known as manteros, due to their custom of laying out their goods for sale on blankets (mantas in Spanish). Attached to strings, these blankets can be quickly scooped up when the police approach.
Begoña Villacis, from the Ciudadanos party, meanwhile, called the messages of Carmena’s team “irresponsible” and complained about the council’s delay in offering explanations about the incidents.
In response, Carmena claimed that the ambulance report about the accidental death of Maybe was sent early on Friday morning, and that councilors took five hours to convene a press conference in order to lend the meeting “solemnity.” “The management of City Hall was appropriate,” she said. “We did what we had to do and the most important thing is that we know that [Mbaye] was treated [by an ambulance crew]” after he collapsed on Thursday.
English version by Simon Hunter.