Videos of police violence spark debate about German cops

Film footage showing German cops kicking and punching a suspect in Frankfurt last weekend has fuelled a debate about whether violence and racism are problems in German policing.

Videos of police violence spark debate about German cops
A protest against police violence in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

The footage filmed in Frankfurt on August 15th shows two officers punching and kicking a suspect as he lies pinned on the ground. One of the officers is eventually moved away by his commanding officer, but returns to kick the man once he has been put in a police vehicle.

One of the officers has been moved to a desk job in response to the video. Hessen’s state interior minister described the incident as “completely unacceptable.”

It follows on from footage filmed in Düsseldorf, where an officer can be seen with his knee on the head and neck of a detained 15-year-old suspect. The police officer there has been suspended pending an investigation.

Critics say the scene is reminiscent of the death of George Floyd in the US. The officer's lawyer has defended it as being in line with police training methods.

A further video from Hamburg shows a group of police officers using pepper spray to detain a 15-year-old boy. Another video which has gone viral shows a police operation at a mall in Hannover where two men are pinned to the ground and an officer pushed a woman in the face.

What all the videos have in common is that the suspects are from ethnic minorities. While details of their heritage have not been confirmed, the suspects’ appearance is Turkish or Middle Eastern.

This has fired a debate about racism in the ranks of the police force. Critics on social media claim there is systemic racism in the German police. 

A reaction that has drawn particular attention is a comedy sketch by satirist Aurel which shows police trying to decide whether a man fiddling with the lock on a bike is black before deciding to shoot him.

Aurel justified the provocative video by saying that “as long as images emerge like those in Frankfurt and Düsseldorf we need to keep hitting the police where it hurts.”

The comedian added that German states have refused to open investigations into racial profiling despite complaints from minority groups that his takes place.

A hysterical debate’

Police unions have called on the public not to put the whole police force under general suspicion.

They point to incidents that immediately preceded the video footage that they say puts them into a different context.

The Düsseldorf footage was preceded by the suspect attacking officers who were involved in an operation that had nothing to do with him, the German Police Union (GdP) says.

The full video of the Hamburg incident meanwhile, which was shortened before being put on social media, shows the large-framed teenager throwing himself aggressively at police officers who try vainly to subdue him.

One of the suspects in Hanover was being sought after spitting in the face of a 62-year-old man who asked him to put a face mask on.

Those who support the police argue that it is too simplistic to accuse them of racism. Aggressive attitudes towards officers have risen in recent years.

During an outburst of violence in Opernplatz in Frankfurt in July young men attacked officers with bottles and other heavy objects. This followed riots in Stuttgart in June.

Rainer Wendt, head of the police union, has said that the rise in violence towards police by young immigrant men has been fuelled by the racism debate.

“As long as some politicians continue to  accuse our police of racism it is going to give these criminals an excuse to use violence against us,” he said.

The GdP complains that “one-sided and hysterical debates” about police violence are endangering their officers.

“Since the start of this debate hardly a day goes by when our officers are not confronted with resistance and insults from those who think they know better,” the GdP says.

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Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!