Recently, Rotterdam has been characterised by King's Day and explosions in Rotterdam neighbourhoods. Everyone wants to know where the increase in the number of explosions in Rotterdam comes from, who is behind it, and how we can solve the problems. It seems that relatively many young people are involved in violent incidents, which raises the question of whether vulnerable young people are responsible for the explosions. Jeroen van den Broek, criminologist and researcher at Erasmus School of Law, is an external PhD candidate researching street culture. He shares the concerns of the Rotterdam population but also warns in the media against drawing conclusions too quickly and accusing young people.
Since the beginning of this year, explosions have occurred in Feijenoord, Crooswijk, on the Witte de Withstraat, and in many other parts of the city. In total, 51 explosions have already been reported in 2023, according to Rijnmond. Some explosions have resulted in the arrest of minors, in addition to adult suspects, which quickly leads to scrutiny of the role of young people. This conclusion is premature, argues Van den Broek to EenVandaag: “We should not focus on the wrong group. I share the concerns which we all have. [But] we have made the mistake in the past of saying that vulnerable young people were responsible for, for example, assassinations. (...) Of course, it is worrying that teenagers are involved, and 14- or 15-year-olds are being arrested for this. But we shouldn't label the whole group that way. Then we will miss a group that is involved in this.”
According to the criminologist, it is essential to do more research on the possible perpetrators: “What are their motives? That is necessary to develop preventive policies.” According to Van den Broek, it is plausible that drug-related crime is involved: “It is very valid to think about that. These things do not happen for no reason. We should look for it in organised crime; the police also seem to indicate that.” He also believes that “it is likely that it is people low in the hierarchy” placing the bombs.
According to the police, young people are increasingly exposed to crime through social media. Van den Broek states that online, it also mainly revolves around a particular image of oneself: “Young people live in a hybrid world. There is a constant interaction between what happens online and offline. Often, they present themselves on social media as big hash dealers, while in reality, they engage in small-scale dealing. They are mainly concerned with being taken seriously by others, appearing credible as gangsters”, Van den Broek explains to De Volkskrant.
From his research on street culture and juvenile delinquency, Van den Broek knows examples where online actions led to offline escalations: “I know examples of boys who have pulled too big of a role online and paid the price for it in real life. If you act so tough, for example, as a drill rapper, others will test you at some point: prove that you are that crazy. This can get you involved in incidents that end badly.”
Executors, no masterminds
Van den Broek emphasises not jumping to conclusions too quickly after the recent explosions: “I understand the horror of the actions of such young boys. But they are executors, not masterminds. And most suspects are adults. Let's first investigate who is behind this and their motives.”