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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German police under fire for using tracing app to find witnesses

German police drew criticism Tuesday for using an app to trace contacts from bars and restaurants in the fight against the pandemic as part of an investigation.

A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant.
A barcode used for the Luca check-in app to trace possible Covid contacts at a Stuttgart restaurant. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The case stemming from November last year began after the fatal fall of a man while leaving a restaurant in the western city of Mainz.

Police seeking possible witnesses made use of data from an app known as Luca, which was designed for patrons to register time spent in restaurants and taverns to track the possible spread of coronavirus.

Luca records the length of time spent at an establishment along with the patron’s full name, address and telephone number – all subject to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

However the police and local prosecutors in the case in Mainz successfully appealed to the municipal health authorities to gain access to information about 21 people who visited the restaurant at the same time as the man who died.

After an outcry, prosecutors apologised to the people involved and the local data protection authority has opened an inquiry into the affair.

“We condemn the abuse of Luca data collected to protect against infections,” said the company that developed the Luca app, culture4life, in a statement.

It added that it had received frequent requests for its data from the authorities which it routinely rejected.

Konstantin von Notz, a senior politician from the Greens, junior partners in the federal coalition, warned that abuse of the app could undermine public trust.

“We must not allow faith in digital apps, which are an important tool in the fight against Covid-19, to disappear,” he told Tuesday’s edition of Handelsblatt business daily.