In the wake of the heart-wrenching loss of Christos Michalopoulos, a 17-year-old from Greece’s Roma community, the entire minority is left grappling for answers, deeply affected by the tragic events that unfolded during a police pursuit.
As family, friends, and classmates gathered outside a church near the central Greek city of Thebes to bid farewell to Christos, dressed in black, the air was heavy with sorrow. Clinging to each other in silence, tears flowed freely as they mourned the loss of a young life.
Most of those present at the funeral were teenagers, and the shock of the incident lingered in the atmosphere. Several family members, overwhelmed with grief, appeared lightheaded, some fainting and requiring medical care.
As the bier carrying Christos was solemnly carried out of the church, a small crowd chanted his name, echoing the attendance register call: “Christos Michalopoulos! Present!” His tragic death, resulting from a police pursuit, marks the third instance in less than three years that a Roma teenager lost their life in incidents involving Greek police.
Since that fateful Saturday, protests, calls for justice, and clashes with the police have erupted across the country. Michalopoulos’s loved ones firmly assert that the police were responsible for his death, though the Hellenic Police service has not confirmed this claim.
Amnesty International has called for a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident, including a probe into any possible discriminatory motives. An accused police officer provided his initial testimony in Thebes, prompting Michalopoulos’s loved ones to wait outside the court, chanting slogans and expressing their dissatisfaction with the police and their lawyer.
Describing Christos as a quiet and always smiling kid, friends emphasized his passion for his car, music, and driving. They lamented his unjust passing and shared concerns about regular police harassment, echoing a sentiment of fear and distrust.
One friend recounted a personal experience of police stopping him and a companion at a local taverna for a full body search, drawing attention from neighbors. The pervading fear among the friends is evident as they anxiously await the investigation’s outcome.
“We want justice,” declared one friend, highlighting the collective desire for accountability and a commitment to preventing such incidents from recurring, not only for Roma but for all communities.
The accused police officer was released from custody after giving his testimony, although temporarily suspended from active police duty. The impact of Christos’s loss resonates deeply among those who spent time with him, underscoring the profound emotional toll this incident has taken on the community.
Regarding the circumstances of the incident, the police reported pursuing Michalopoulos’s car on a road outside of Thebes, driven erratically and at high speed. The police signaled the car to stop, which they claim was ignored. The pursuit culminated in the car hitting a parked vehicle.
The subsequent events, including a shooting that left Michalopoulos with a bullet lodged in his clavicle, are under investigation. The police officer involved alleges that the teenager attempted to snatch his gun, while Michalopoulos’s brother maintains that the officer pulled Christos out of the car, kicked him, and then shot him.
A CCTV video released days after the incident captured the exchange between the police and the teenagers. The footage revealed the car rushing by with the police in close pursuit, with commands to stop followed by gunshots and screams within seconds.
Autopsy results indicated that Michalopoulos was shot at close range, and forensic evidence raised questions about the absence of his DNA on the gun. The Michalopoulos family’s lawyer accused the police of tampering with evidence, alleging the washing of the incident site, cleaning of the vehicle, and wiping the deceased boy’s hands.