Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The criminalisation of the Converse All-Star

Welcome to a lesson in logic, courtesy of the Greek police.

On the 19th of May 2009, Panagiotis Ketikis will stand trial. For wearing converse.
So you won’t think I am putting it too strongly when I say, this could have been me, this could have been you. This trial concerns us all. Especially those of us wearing converse. Or care about the rule of law. Or care about politics and hope for change.

On May 5th 2007 there was rioting and some vandalism in the centre of Thessaloniki. What’s new, you say.
Some hours after the events and a few roads along, where Egnatias and 3rd September roads meet, Panagiotis was stopped and taken into custody, initially to confirm his identity (yes Greek police can do that. Yes Greek police do do that every chance they get).

Upon arrival to the police station and, presumably, after checking Panagiotis’ file, the policemen must have thought Christmas came early. Panagiotis had a previous arrest on his record, you see.
A few months previously Panagiotis had been arrested alongside another 48 people, accused of vandalism during a demonstration in favour of universal free education.
All 49 were acquitted.
But why should the police let facts stand in the way of a good story?
Panagiotis was there and the police needed a suspect.

So yet again Panagiotis is accused of something he has not done.
Only this time resolution has not been quick.
Only this time, not only did he not do what they say he did – he wasn’t even there.

On Saturday the 5th of May Panagiotis was at his university campus at a party.
So he has an alibi and more witnesses than you can shake a stick at that he was not where the police say he was. But that doesn’t stop the prosecution from proceeding. You see there is irrefutable evidence that Panagiotis was one of the vandals at work in the centre of town on that 5th of May 2007: one of the vandals had been wearing a pair of converse and Panagiotis was wearing a pair of green converse when stopped by police. QED, thought the Greek policemen and arrested the chemical engineering student who at the time was only 19. Simple police reasoning: as there can only be one person wearing converse in Thessaloniki, arrest the first converse-shod person you come across. Job done.

So Panagiotis found himself with a list of charges as long as your arm: possession of explosives; construction of bombs; causing an explosion; vandalism; disturbing the peace; disturbing the safety of the transport system – among others.

On May 8th 2007 Panagiotis meets with the interrogator.
His lawyer presents video footage of the wanted vandal smashing up a Mercedes Benz pointing out that the man in question looks nothing like Panagiotis (being evidently taller and skinnier) yet, according to the police, he is Panagiotis. And his converse are not even green. But the interrogator decides to imprison Panagiotis until his trial regardless. Despite the witnesses. Despite the alibi. Despite the evidence.

His lawyers accuse the DA and the Thessaloniki Police Department of collusion and fabrication of charges but all attempts to have the young man released fail. And Panagiotis is treated like a dangerous criminal, held before his trial to minimise the chances of his escape to a foreign country or the danger of his committing another crime. That dangerous converse-wearing, party-attending engineering student.

But this is no joke
Panagiotis was held for over a month.
And although the treatment he got from other inmates was understanding, almost warm, the police used every means at their disposal to scare, hurt and intimidate him.
And yet, in interviews and in his blog, Panagiotis is measured, calm, grounded.

Well I am not.
That boy was stuck in prison way too easily. With no evidence of guilt. Against all evidence of his innocence. He was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, wearing the wrong shoes. Wearing the shoes I wear most days of my life.
So yes, this could have been me. It could have been you. It may well be you next time. Don’t fool yourselves: Panagiotis is the only one suffering right now but on May 19 we are all on trial.

This case sounds too much like something that would happen in Saddam’s Iraq, in Pinochet’s Chile, in Greece under the colonels.
Dictatorships stick people in prison just because.
On May 19th it’s our democracy and our rule of law and the integrity of our institutions that should be judged. It’s not Panagiotis but the whole bloody system that should be on trial. Converse or no bloody converse.

I haven’t met Panagiotis.
But I read about him in the papers, in blogs. And I read what he has to say in his own blog and this is what I see: I see a sharp, measured and politically engaged man, left-wing and opposed to violence. Not so much angry as hungry for change and opposed to destruction and blind rage. Stick a pair of converse on his feet and this is me.

And I, too, am a citizen of a country that allows vandals to run riot while a thinking political animal has to report to the nearest police station every month for the two years between his release and his trial. And I too am a citizen of this country that takes its rage out on the innocent, those who happen to be nearest, those who will be easier to arrest, easier to intimidate. And I too wear converse. And while I write this from the comfort of my home, far away from the clutches of the Greek police, safe and snug, not having shared in anything Panagiotis had gone through, the fact remains that May 19 2009, at the Katerini Court House will be a big day for us all.
And it’s up to us to make sure that it’s not Panagiotis that is on trial that day. But the system that victimised him. Because unless we do that, we are up next.
Converse or no converse.


  1. There's nothing you can do but emigrate. Unfortunately, change normally happens slower than a lifetime. We're still before Enlightenment, and it took 200 years for the other nations. Sorry, I truly am.

    Or, you can join the police and act decently. :-)

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  3. Panagiotis is not standing trial for wearing Converse...He was wearing GREEN Converse. Perhaps Greek Police believes that this colour is not stylish.

  4. I guess this would be the icing on the cake.
    Greece is slipping further into some joke nation.

  5. @ Polyvios – first of all, welcome.
    Secondly, sadly, I have already emigrated. 12 years away and counting. And Greece never fails to hurt me on a daily basis. And every day I decide to move back. And every day I read the news and see a country sinking deeper and deeper into bigotry and repression. So I stay away.

    But if we can still hope for the Enlightenment then not all is lost. Delayed. But not lost.

    As for joining the police and acting decently, I’m not sure they’d have you if they suspected you of decency ;-)

    @ Haris – if the police’s gripe is with colour, I may be safe. Do you know how they feel about maroon?

    @ bastard – sad and true. A bad joke that takes forever to get to the bloody punchline.

  6. έχεις απόλυτο δίκιο σε ότι λες. καταντήσαμε - γιατί για καθαρή κατάντια πρόκειται και τίποτα άλλο - να πρέπει να αποδείξουμε την αθωότητα μας αντί να πρέπει να αποδείξουν αυτοί - ούτε να τους ονομάσω δεν θέλω - πως είναι κάποιος ένοχος. και το χειρότερο; το έχουν περάσει και στο κόσμο.

    τις προάλλες έγιναν κάποιες μικροκλοπές στο χώρο εργασίας μου και άρχισαν όλοι, αφού τους το είπαν οι μπάτσοι φυσικά "είμαστε όλοι ένοχοι μέχρι να αποδειχτεί ότι είμαστε αθώοι". έβγαλε η γλώσσα μου μαλιά κυριολεκτικά να τους λέω ότι ΔΕΝ είμαστε όλοι ένοχοι και ότι είναι δουλειά των μπάτσων να βρουν ποιος είναι ο ένοχος. δεν με άκουγε κανείς. συνέχισαν να πιπιλούν τη ίδια χαζοκαραμέλα για ενοχής των πάντων! μέχρι φυσικά που βρέθηκε ο "ένοχος" - ένας φουκαράς που του φόρτωσαν καμιά εικοσαριά ή και παραπάνω κλοπές και ησύχασαν.

    ναι όλοι θα δικαζόμαστε εκείνη τη μέρα στη δίκη αυτή και καλό θα ήταν να πάμε όλοι εκεί με ΠΡΑΣΙΝΑ παπούτσια Converse στο δικαστήριο να δούμε θα μας συλλάβουν κι εμας άραγε;!

  7. Two years ago my mother was in a major street of Athens, in a heavy traffic jam. Suddenly a foreigner- the point of my post is not to accuse them, we will talk about this issue another time- broke the side window of the car with a crowbar and took her bag which was under- her seat. We went to the nearby police station to report the incident. They send us to another police station saying that the place wasn't in their area of responsibility. After visiting 3 other deps we were sent again there. We found out that 60 attacks have already taken place there...They ve done nothing...This is the greek police. To serve and protect the criminals

  8. @ Dorothea – όπως τα λες είναι. Αντί να είσαι αθώος μέχρις αποδείξεως του εναντίου πρέπει να αποδείξεις ότι δεν είσαι ελέφαντας. Γιατί όπως βλέπουμε από την περίπτωση του Παναγιώτη, το να αποδείξεις ότι είσαι αθώος δε φτάνει.

    Η σκηνή που περιγράφεις στη δουλειά σου είναι πολύ λυπηρή και δυστυχώς πολύ συνηθισμένη. Έμαθε στο φόβο ο κόσμος. Αφού οι μπάτσοι και όλοι οι ιθύνοντες σε αντιμετωπίζουν πάντα ως ένοχο, μαθαίνεις να φυλάγεσαι και να φοβάσαι. Κοινώς, τα καλά της κάθε δικτατορίας.

    Στις 19 Μαΐου πρέπει να είμαστε όλοι διπλα στον Παναγιώτη. Με πράσινα σταράκια και το παλιό καλο σύνθημα: δε θα περάσει ο φασισμός σας!

    @ Haris – you should be glad they didn’t arrest you instead as they seem to arrest the closest available ‘body’ rather than wasting time on evidence, investigation and whatnot.

  9. A friend and I were discussing how police are rounding up immigrants and people who look like immigrants, and he told me a story about his Greek girlfriend was checked. Instead of apologizing for their mistake, they took her into custody for "being difficult" and of course she protested, spending a night in jail. This went all the way to court, she was assessed a fine, and if she doesn't pay she will go back to jail.

    We already know how Greece treats immigrants, but is this how they treat their own also? This is a nation in serious decline.

    In March 2008 when we were having rolling strikes and electric/water/phone cuts, with no garbage pickup or mail delivery, I whispered to my friend in Thessaloniki that this is a clown country. He has since emigrated to the USA, and every day I wish I could follow.

  10. Nice shoes above. I always remmeber when I was a little child and the sketabord was in the top, my friends and I always bought that kind of shoe.