Jerrol Marten, MDRA discrimination hotline director: 'It's a positive trend that we're getting more reports'

Jerrol Marten has been director of the Meldpunt Discriminatie Regio Amsterdam for two years. He sees that the number of reports is not decreasing. "I demand a long-term vision from the municipality.

A day after Jerrol Marten (59) attended the Black Lives Matter demonstration at Dam Square, he saw the vacancy for director at the Meldpunt Discriminatie Regio Amsterdam (MDRA) passing by. He needed to apply, a friend thought.

Marten: "I wrote a column as a cover letter. About that we in the Netherlands have also had our George Floyds over the years, about Kick Out Zwarte Piet, where peaceful protesters are beaten up, about the feeling that racism evokes in me. Two weeks later I was hired."

On Sept. 1, he will serve two years with the MDRA, a complaint hotline for residents of Amsterdam and neighboring municipalities who experience discrimination. Last week the hotline reported seeing an "increasing trend" in the number of reports it receives each year. Most of them were made by Amsterdam residents who were discriminated against on the basis of origin or skin color, followed immediately by reports about sexual orientation.

Marten is not surprised. "Discrimination has always been there, but people swallow less. The younger generation in particular is much more empowered. Also because of Black Lives Matter. I actually think it's a positive trend that we're getting more reports. It doesn't necessarily mean there is more discrimination."

Getting defensive

Most discrimination occurs in the workplace. After a report, the MDRA enters into discussion with the employer. This also happens with complaints about the hospitality industry or stores, for example. Just this week: an Amsterdam resident with a service dog was refused entry to a store, which is not allowed by law. The owner of the store was addressed by the hotline. He was shocked and acknowledged the mistake; the staff will be better informed.

It is an example in which the accused party does not get defensive. With regularity, however, that is the first reaction, Marten observes. "Companies are afraid of reputation damage or don't believe they are discriminating. Such an attitude complicates things, because it leaves no opening for a conversation between perpetrator and victim. By acknowledging discrimination, you give the space to take action."

One stick might be to go to the Human Rights Board. Suppose someone who is pregnant was promised a contract extension, but in the end it is not given. The moment this case comes before the College, the ruling becomes public. "And companies are not waiting for that," Marten explains. "It helps us to then still have the conversation with the employer to try to come to a solution."

Human Trafficking

Marten previously worked for nine years at the National Coordination Center against Human Trafficking (CoMensha), where he was responsible for coordinating shelter, care and assistance to victims of human trafficking, and still holds a role on the board of Sustainable Rescue Foundation. This NGO conducts research on modern technology to combat human trafficking.

He is also trying to implement similar technology in dealing with discrimination. People who are discriminated against often do not know where to go to make a report. They go to the police, chain partners or indeed to the official hotline. But all the data is not centralized.

The MDRA director wants a system where these reports are pooled, so that not once a year there is a report on the latest trend, but quarterly. As an example, he cites reports about the lhbtq community. Reports trickle in everywhere, many incidents get into the media, after which Mayor Femke Halsema is addressed. Marten: "We need to use a centralized system to be able to see early on that there are different incidents. You then want to be able to make interventions to be able to prevent escalation."

Not an extension of police

From the lhbtq community, there is also criticism of the MDRA. In an action report states that reporting discrimination "takes hours," and responses from the hotline are experienced as "very discouraging": victims feel that little or nothing is done with their report.

Marten thinks a "number of things" have been mixed up here. The reporting process on the MDRA website is quite simple, he explains, and the victim is always contacted after a few days. According to the director, the confusion lies with the police, with Pink in Blue. "Usually a report to the police does not lead to an investigation. People then think it's us because they see us as an extension of the police. It should be clearer that we are not."

He himself is also critical of the police, because they regularly send victims away without being able to report them. Also in the area of Muslim discrimination or anti-black racism. "The police are not allowed to judge whether something is discriminatory; the public prosecutor does that. Officers should just take a report if people want to. Fortunately, we see that things are moving somewhat in the right direction, but we are not there yet."

Continue to name

Looking back on the Black Lives Matter movement two years later, Marten sees that the energy released then is "subsiding. "The benefits affair was a slap in the face for people. To say as a government that you stop racism, but then still go on and take a very long time to acknowledge what injustice has been done. But you also see that we are taking steps everywhere in society. Black Pete, the slavery past, recognition of racism in the police; we have to keep naming that. Just like other things that are not going well. The current reception crisis is something like that."

With the MDRA, Marten is working to promote a seal of approval for employers. Employers who work according to a system by which discrimination is taken seriously and addressed. He plans to raise the plan with the National Coordinator against Discrimination and Racism and the Ministry of Interior, among others.

Marten also has a clear message to the City of Amsterdam: come up with a long-term vision. "In ten years we want a city that offers safety for all citizens. Where there is no discrimination and where inequality has disappeared. In my opinion, that should be the starting point not only for the current alderman, but for everyone after that. Come up with a ten-year plan, just as there is for the sustainable city. Make the vision less dependent on the political color of the moment."

Source: The Parole.