Seven months ago, I reported about a Brussels gang, the Flagadas. They were deflating the tires of SUVs to protest against pollution. Sometimes more than 100 SUVs were deflated in one single night. These 'eco-guerillas' claimed they did nothing wrong, as the "theft of air" is not illegal. The Brussels police seemed to agree, as they refused to register complaints from the SUV owners because "the cars had not been damaged". I argued that the Flagadas' actions were restricting the freedom of people and causing them harm.
Yesterday Laurette Onkelinx, the Belgian minister of justice, confirmed that deflating tires is not a crime.
If no harm is done to the car, the Flagadas can not be punished. The deflating of tires can not be considered to be a crime. It does not cause any harm to moveable possessions, nor does it make a vehicle unusable. Hence, the Flagadas can not be brought to justice before a court of law.
There are, however, some ways to counter these Flagadas, according to the socialist minister. Towns could create local bylaws to counter vandalism with administrative penalties. She added:
But of course, this makes only sense if the police knows who these people are, and this is only possible when they are caught while committing the act. And it is evident that this will almost never be the case, as these people do everything to prevent being caught.
Car owners who feel that they are harmed by the Flagadas, can always press civil charges. "But that is only possible when the perpetrators are known", she warned. Make no mistake: the minister also said that she disapproves of these acts. "There are other and better ways to protest", she concluded.
What to think of all this? Implicitly the minister is sending a signal to all local police forces in Belgium. If your town is terrorized by the Flagadas, do not set up special patrols - "these people do everything to prevent being caught", so don't bother, folks. She's also sending a message to the population: we can not protect you against tire terror, you're on your own, folks! Press civil charges if you want, but as far as the state is concerned, we can't and won't do anything. That's the message people are hearing. This is Belgium, 2006.