Lito: An Exarchia resident whose balcony overlooks the spot where Alexis Grigoropoulos was murdered.
Suddenly i heard a bang
I’m not so involved in any political activities. I’m not an activist. I can only speak about the killing. I can’t take a position on all the other things that happened because all these other things are very complicated and I don’t have clear thoughts on them.
Exarchia has always been an alternative, counter-culture neighbourhood. For many years it was a frequent occurrence that something would happen on a street corner in Exarchia and suddenly everyone from the cafés and the bars and the sidewalks would pour out into the streets and run to see what was happening. Usually it was incidents between people and police, some fights, confrontations, insults, shouting matches. In the old times it happened very often. Then there was a period when this didn’t happen so much, but in the last years it has started becoming more common again.
The reason that I found myself with a camera on the balcony that night was because I had always wanted to film one of these confrontations that are always taking place below my window But every time I would come to my balcony to see what was happening, I got delayed. By the time I went back inside to get my camera it was too late, it was already over. This happened to me many times. And the last time that it happened, I said to myself, the next time, first I’ll grab the camera and then I’ll go to the balcony.
And the next time turned out to be an incident that I never expected could happen. Two years earlier a friend visited me from Germany and he mentioned that the police here seem very provocative and dangerous. Even though he was a tourist, the way they behaved made him feel less safe, they made him feel endangered. And when this friend heard about what happened on the 6th of December, he wrote that he wasn’t at all surprised. But I was.
All the previous times, I never got scared observing these lights between people and the police. It was part of my everyday life in Exarchia. It was something commonplace. Because the Exarchia locals express their negation of authority firmly and they believe in it, whenever something was happening I didn’t need to take a position or make a stand because it was just a part of life in this area. Of course in the ten years that I’ve lived in this flat, I’ve observed year after year a gradual increase in the police presence, an intensification. Policemen began to appear on every corner in the neighbourhood, in groups, and also they were armoured. Observing armoured police in full riot gear carrying pistols, tear gas guns, and machine guns - was feeling more and more intense. In this period the slogan started to appear on the walls: "on every street corner there are police, the junta didn’t end in ’73."
On December 6 I was here in the apartment with my German friend. He was cooking in the kitchen and I was in the living room. Suddenly I heard a bang. I hadn’t heard any noise before that. Nothing was happening in the streets, no shouts, nothing. Without warning there was just a bang. It seemed to me that it came from down the street, on the left-hand side. Despite the surprise, this time I remembered to grab my camera first. I was not in a panic, I didn’t feel anything unusual, I just calmly got the camera and went to the balcony I didn’t think anything extraordinary had happened. I looked outside, but I didn't turn the camera on in the beginning because nothing was happening. I saw a few youths down to the left, sitting like they always do. The young anarchists are always hanging out down there, although this night there were fewer than normal. And on the right-hand side, up the street, I saw a police car parked at the corner. One moment after the police car drove off, I saw two cops coming back on foot, and this was very strange to me. I asked myself, what are they going to do? They arrived at the spot where the car had been before, and started provoking the kids, saying "Come on you pussies!" When I heard this I shouted to the German guy, "Come look! The police came and they’re starting a fight." He would get a chance to see this phenomenon of the Greek cops provoking a fight by insulting people. It’s normal that the police speak bad to people, but this was too much. It was provocative because they parked the police car and they came walking back and shouting challenges. That’s how normalpeople start a fight. It was like a personal fight, not the usual provocation by police.
Immediately after that they both took out their guns, both the cops. This was never mentioned by the media. And I got one surprise after another. First they came back on foot, then they started a fight by insulting the kids, then they took out their guns, and then they took aim-in a moment when there was no challenge and no threat, there was no fight or confrontation going on. And they shot. I heard two shots but I can’t say if both of them shot or if one shot twice. It's possible that one of them shot twice. And they turned around and just left, simple as that, as though nothing had happened. Me, until that moment, it didn’t occur to me to look to the left, to the group of kids, because it was all so incredibly strange, the behaviour of these two policemen. There was no need to look to the other side because nothing was happening there. And then I heard the people in the street shout that a kid had been shot. And then I felt panic. I ran inside, grabbed the telephone and called an ambulance, and I went down to the street. I saw just one kid lying there, and I was shocked. Everybody was shouting and many people were fainting. The kid wasn't dead yet, and a doctor had appeared and was trying to administer first aid. Then the ambulance arrived and he died inside in the ambulance, I think.
I found out from other people that the first bang had been a concussion grenade. Apparently someone had thrown a plastic bottle at the police car and yelled an insult as it was passing and the police responded by throwing the grenade from the car. That’s not so unusual here. It’s normal to shout, everyone in Greece is shouting at each other. So I’m sure the policemen hadn’t been threatened, they weren’t defending themselves. Really if a policeman feels a serious threat, he doesn’t drive down to the next corner then walk back to clean up the situation. Usually when the police feel a threat or feel like they’re under attack, they drive off, they get out of there. The police were not on the defensive at that moment.
I went back up and tried to watch the video on my computer, but I couldn’t because I was missing some program. So I knocked on my neighbours door and said I recorded something but I don’t know what it is. Can we put it in your computer so I can see what it is? And we saw the video, and the way I felt, I had never felt that way in my entire life. We called down all the people from the entire neighbourhood, everyone, we all came down onto the streets, and the energy the atmosphere, was one of rage. It was overflowing all the streets, everywhere people were pouring out of their houses onto the streets. Everybody.
The riot police had the gall to come here, back to this corner where the first cop car had stopped, and where the shots were fired. And of course everybody started shouting at them, young people, old people, normal people, everyone was shouting at them to go the hell away.
About two hours after the shooting, it’s impossible to say exactly how long but it was about two hours. The secret police came. I was back in my house listening to the radio and the TV which were saying there were riots in Exarchia, that the police had been attacked and fired in self-defence, but this wasn’t true. And the riots hadn’t even started yet. And from my window I saw men without uniforms looking at the walls of the buildings around the shooting. The secret police had come to search for the shell casings and the bullets, to investigate the area. I was with my neighbour, and I told him I was going down. I wanted to react somehow to what they were saying on the news. So I went down and I said that what they’re reporting on the television wasn’t true. One tall old guy came up to me with a greasy smile, and said, yes, and who are you? And I felt an amazing fear. Because I’m very naive,I just felt the obligation to go down and say the truth. But this guy he terrified me. So I backed off and said, no, who are you? And he told me his name and his position. He was the chief of the secret police agency and he was in charge of the autopsy and investigation. They took my name and telephone, and they asked me if I was going to come to the central police station to testify and I said "yes."
He asked me what happened. I brought him to the exact point where the policemen were standing when they opened fire. And that’s exactly where they found the shell casings. They asked me if I had a vehicle, if I could drive myself to the station. I responded "no" and they told me I would come with them. I said I hoped the people wouldn’t bomb the police car on the way and the chief laughed and said have no fear. He directed me to where a large group of riot police were
gathered, and I found myself in the middle of a MAT squad. It was right at that moment that the people attacked. The chief disappeared immediately he ran away and they left me while the people were attacking, and I saw all the guns that the police had and I flipped out. I couldn’t focus on anything. I felt how powerful the people were, they were full of rage. I can’t remember if they were attacking with stones or molotovs or clubs, only that they were overpowering and I had to get out of there. I ran away by myself and came back to my house.
Of course I was expecting that they would call me for an interview as a witness. But they never did. I spoke with a lawyer of the movement, Yianna Kurtovick, she’s one of the members of the Network for the Defence of Political Prisoners and Immigrants. And she brought me to the examining magistrate. I had to go to find the judge because the police never called me to testify. And after I testified, some days later, they closed the whole area to make the official report to prove whether the bullet hit the kid directly or if it ricocheted off the ground. That was the official story that the one cop had fired at the ground and the bullet bounced up and hit him.
The magistrate, the photographer, and the secretary came up to my balcony to take photographs. The chief of the secret police was down in the street. I called out to him, "Oh hello, you left me alone last time in the middle of a riot." And he answered, "I didn’t abandon you, it was you who was afraid that the rioters would burn us alive." And I said to him, "Don’t tell lies in front of all these people."