A day after the death of a Senegalese man triggered rioting in the Lavapiés neighborhood of Madrid, the mood on the streets remained tense. Many business establishments shut down early on Friday afternoon in fear that demonstrations planned for 6pm would descend into new episodes of violence.
Earlier on Friday, the consul of Senegal was forced to take refuge inside a local bar after Senegalese citizens accosted him when he showed up in support of Mame Mbaye, who died on Thursday after going into cardiac arrest during what early reports had described as a police chase against street vendors known asmanteros, due to the blankets (mantasin Spanish) on which they lay out their wares.
The violent street protests began about an hour after his death, when demonstrators set fire to trash cans and parked cars, and caused extensive damage to bus shelters and bank branches. Riot police were called in to quell the protests. Six Spanish nationals have been arrested and around 20 injuries reported.
City officials and the police have stated that the man was not being chased, and blamed a rumor circulated on social media for the outburst of violence. Anti-establishment and far-left groups reportedly showed up in Lavapiés to participate in the disturbances.
Mayor Manuela Carmena has cut short her trip to Paris, where she was attending a UNESCO conference on climate change. City and national authorities will be coordinating security during new demonstrations that are planned for this weekend. Two simultaneous gatherings were scheduled in Lavapiés at 6pm on Friday, one in memory of the dead man and another one to support the police and protest “aggression by anti-establishment elements.”
“I want you to know that the City will always listen to all peaceful expressions. There can be no more violence of the type that residents and public officials experienced last night. Lavapiés wants to keep being a neighborhood that leads by example in peaceful coexistence.” Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena.
Madrid councilor Jorge García Castaño has asked for all upcoming demonstrations to be “peaceful.” “The last thing we need now is demagoguery and partisan politics,” he said. “We need to remain calm and act responsibly.”
The consul of Senegal, Mouctar Belal BA, arrived at Nelson Mandela square inside a diplomatic vehicle at around 12.30pm on Friday. A crowd that had been gathered there since 10am began a heated verbal exchange with him, and the diplomat eventually retreated into a Senegalese establishment, Bar Baobab, on Cabestreros street. Around two dozen men remained outside, kicking at the door and complaining about a lack of timely support from Senegalese authorities.
Union of Street Vendors: “Mbaye was a colleague at the Union, together we denounced police aggression and persecution for years in the face of city passiveness.”
Several dozen National Police officers arrived at the scene after the bar owner called the emergency services, and escorted the diplomat out of the restaurant and into his car. The bar owner accused the police of showing up too late. “The diplomat was holed up inside my bar. Where was the police to protect me?” she asked, surrounded by local residents.
Earlier, the protesters had hurled stones and chairs at the police, and officers responded with rubber bullets. “That is an embassy that nobody wants. They don’t do anything for us. We’ve been waiting for them since yesterday,” said Assane, a 35-year-old from Senegal, standing outside the bar.
The protests began on Thursday following social media reports that Mame Mbaye, an undocumented migrant, had died of a heart attack after being chased by the police.
Madrid city officials said that the man was not being chased when he collapsed, and police sources consulted by this newspaper said that there was confusion regarding two separate incidents: one in which officers were assisting a man who had collapsed in Lavapiés, and a police chase against street vendors in Puerta del Sol.
At a press briefing on Friday, Madrid city councilor Javier Barbero, who is in charge of security affairs, confirmed that Mbage was not being chased by the police when he collapsed, but added that an investigation is underway to determine what happened in the moments before the street disturbances.
According to Barbero, Mbage had been in Puerta del Sol, where the municipal police did chase a group of illegal sellers. The immigrant then headed for Plaza Mayor, and from there to Lavapiés, where he collapsed on Oso street. A patrol car showed up, and officers requested medical backup.
At first the officers believed that the man was having an epileptic attack because he was frothing at the mouth, said the councilor. When he went into cardiac arrest, they began CPR. The ambulance arrived 25 minutes later, and health workers attempted to resuscitate the victim for 45 minutes.
“This is a painful day because in the end, everything ended in death,” said Barbero. “But the facts show that at the time of cardiac arrest and in the minutes prior to it, there was no police action against the victim, who walked to the spot with a friend.”
According to the police’s version of events, on Thursday police officers chased a group of illegal street vendors in Sol, where the latter knocked down a woman during their escape. One arrest was made, police sources said.
Meanwhile, a patrol car headed towards Embajadores was called to Oso street in Lavapiés by a man who said his friend was having an epileptic attack. The officers requested medical backup, and began CPR when they saw that the victim had gone into cardiac arrest. “He was not a street vendor. Nobody said anything about that, and there was no merchandise anywhere in the vicinity,” said these sources.
While the health workers attempted to revive the man, dozens of African men gathered around and began verbally harassing the law enforcement officers. A rumor then began circulating that a street vendor had just died after being chased by the police.
This false rumor was quickly propagated via social media. A few Senegalese migrant support organizations asked for calm, but anti-establishment and far-left groups quickly picked up on the chance to cause a public disturbance, said sources briefed on the matter. Individuals began arriving in the area from other parts of the city and started ripping up pavement stones, knocking over waste containers, vandalizing banks and lighting bonfires.
At 8.50pm, when the dead man’s body was taken to the Forensic Institute, a large group of people blocked the hearse and set up street barricades. A patrol car was destroyed on Fray Severino Hernández street, and the emergency services reported calls alerting them to “large numbers of anti-establishment individuals” coming out of the Lavapiés Metro station, said a Madrid police spokesman.
An eyewitness to Mbaye’s death said that he was not being chased. Manuel, a 20-year-old resident of Oso street who declined to provide his last name, said he heard sounds at around 5pm on Thursday and stepped out on the balcony of his third-floor apartment. Looking down, he saw a man walking by himself who suddenly dropped to the ground.
“When he collapsed, there was nobody chasing him,” said Manuel. Shortly thereafter, he saw two policemen approach the fallen man, and another individual who appeared to be a friend and who asked about his state. More police officers arrived, and around 15 minutes later, an ambulance showed up.
“They were there for around an hour and a half, trying to resuscitate the man to no avail,” said Manuel.
A tough life
Abdul Sene, 42, of Senegal, says that he knew the deceased man. “Selling on the street is very tough, we have no papers and no aid of any kind. We don’t want to steal. What else can we do? We have to pay the rent and the bills.” he says.
Sene also notes that for the last few months, the police have been routinely cracking down on illegal street vending, confiscating money and goods whenever an arrest is made.
Sene Mustafá, 45, also from Senegal, says he was also a friend of Mbage’s. “He was a really good guy, he never gave anyone any trouble in 12 years, he did this kind of work to make a living, just like I do.”
English version by Susana Urra.