• Germany's news in English

'Germany must face up to racist institutions'

The Local · 2 Jul 2013, 16:27

Published: 02 Jul 2013 16:27 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Last week's report by the German Institute for Human Rights left no doubt as to its views on racism in the police force. Rules which allow police to stop and search people on the basis of their appearance are not only against EU law, said the institute, but "compromise human dignity."

In the aftermath of the report, journalist Darnbach wrote that Germany must stop feeling offended and come to terms with persistent institutionalised racism:

The human rights agency has thrown light once again on to a dark corner of political culture, which is the persistence of racism in the actions of the state.

The institute examined the Federal Police Act – which regulates the force's remit and actions – and established that at least one paragraph illegally allows police to observe and watch people on the basis of their appearance. It is only a couple of words in a whole law. But it is illustrative.

It can be controversial to accuse a democratic country of racism, especially Germany of all countries. Not least because the wording of the law in question looks so harmless: In the text it only says that officers should rely on their “experience” - or rather their gut feeling.

No police officer is explicitly told that they should concentrate on stopping and searching black people. But that appears to have been the result.

German officialdom always likes to see itself as the model pupil of its own history, the story of how murderous race hate ended in genocide. To admit that even seventy years later the country is not completely finished with that process means that perhaps we have not learned our lessons quite as properly as we should have.

Racism also exists in democracies

But why? If we were talking about another issue, nobody would deny that even democracies which, on the whole, function very well are not immune to unsavoury developments more characteristic of dictatorships. The lively global debate about the USA's spying program proves exactly that point.

But perhaps it is equality – always brutally destroyed by racism – which is so fundamentally a democratic principle, but one that democrats find can hardly bear being presented with the glaring reality so far from the ideal.

That's what happens with racism, even more so when it's not individual racism that's the issue, but official, “institutional” racism on the state's account.

Those who do not want to put a name to abuses are certainly not able to remedy them. The NSU murders could have almost certainly been prevented if racist bias by the investigating authorities hadn't prevented racism from being recognised as the motive.

Story continues below…

Instead racism continues to be routinely trivialised, even though it's a danger for the whole society. And it weighs down on the lives of individuals: people who have to explain to their children why they are always asked to show their IDs, or why they cannot get a flat because of their skin colour or why they are always pulled off the train in full view of everyone.

Racism may be a serious accusation. But it's much worse to do nothing about it.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd