Activists protest in Bremen against racist police violence, especially racial profiling. They demand a complaints office.
"Stop racist police violence" is written on the umbrellas: Demo in the neighborhood Photo: Sebastian Heidelberger
With a flash mob on the occasion of the International Day Against Police Violence, activists* disrupted the evening traffic in Bremen’s neighborhood on Friday. "Stop Racist Police Violence" was written on the umbrellas with which they had set up in front of the Sparkasse on Sielwall. They showed solidarity with those "marked as different", it sounded from the megaphone.
This year, the protest of the participants is directed primarily against racist police violence. The activists were particularly critical of so-called racial profiling, explains Dennis Brandt of the Campaign for Victims of Racist Police Violence (KOP), which initiated the action in Bremen. "Among other things, we demand an independent complaints office for victims of this practice."
Racial profiling is an investigation by the police based on external or attributed characteristics of a person, explains criminologist Martin Herrnkind of Amnesty International: "People are marked as different, these attributions lead to investigations that tend not to be carried out in the majority society."
The location of the protest is no coincidence, Brandt says. By setting up so-called danger spots, which in Bremen include the station and Steintor districts, the police are creating places where they can legally carry out checks regardless of the reason. "Non-white looking people can be checked so easily without police accountability," the activist criticizes. Another demand of KOP is therefore the abolition of such danger spots in their current extent. An inquiry by the parliamentary group of the Left Party in 2014 had shown that a large part of Bremen was a danger area, Brandt recalls.
"So far, no complaints have become known on this subject".
Herrnkind also sees problems in the conception of these places: "Because of this logic, it automatically happens that minorities are disproportionately controlled." In that case, he says, it is a structural racist problem, not individual cases.
In a statement, the Bremen police speak out against racial profiling and emphasize that their people are sensitized to "interact with citizens in a fair and unbiased manner in their work and approach." Regarding allegations of racial investigative practices, the statement goes on to say, "To date, no complaints have been reported or filed on this issue."
Any criminal investigations would be conducted independently of the police in the "Internal Investigations" department at the Senator of the Interior. An independent complaints office for victims of racist police violence, as KOP demands, is not planned. Bremen’s police chief Lutz Muller had already spoken out in favor of this after a symposium on racial profiling in 2015.
Bremen’s police see themselves as pioneers
Herrnkind was also present at the time as a representative for Amnesty International. "I think such an investigative body with independent investigators is a logical demand," says Herrnkind. This should not be subordinate to either the police or the Ministry of the Interior, because "discriminated groups generally do not have much trust in the police."
Despite the absence of this step, the Bremen police force credits itself in its statement with playing a pioneering role nationwide. At the end of 2017, a field study was initiated, among other things, on the "possibly different expectations of a culturally heterogeneous population to the police work". This was supervised by the integration officer and a research assistant from the Bremen police, as well as an expert from the Institute for Ethnology and Cultural Studies at the university. The results are currently being compiled.
In contrast to the police, however, Brandt and KOP see an acute problem. "The police should prove for once that racial profiling doesn’t happen, not the other way around," Brandt demands. Nationwide, he says, police are resisting recognition of this structural problem. "That would otherwise be racist and incompatible with the Basic Law." A supposed experience knowledge is basis for the occasion-independent controls. "What actually happens there exactly is not documented," Brandt criticizes. KOP therefore also calls for more transparency, for example through control receipts.
"No friend, no helper," is the reproach on one of the activists’ banners directed at the police.