German police study will focus on ‘daily work’ instead of structural racism

Whether the police have a structural racism problem is no longer the focus of the study. [EPA-EFE | Sascha Steinbach]

After public pressure and national debate, a study of German police forces is on the way. The Social Democrat’s (SPD) proposal to specifically investigate racism within the German authorities will only be one of many topics, as the study will instead be focusing on the ‘daily work’ of officers. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) seem to be able to live with this compromise.

It has been a long road: Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU), who often is protective of the police, had vehemently opposed the SPD’s calls for a study into structural racism in the police in July.

“A study that deals exclusively with the police and the accusation of structural racism within the police force will not exist with me,” Seehofer told the tabloid Bild as recently as September.

This position has not changed today, he confirmed at a federal press conference on Tuesday (20 October). He continued to be against “a study of insinuations to the police” and did not want to raise “general suspicion,” because more than 99% of the civil servants “stand on the ground of the Basic Law.”

Every case of racism is “a disgrace,” but no one is infallible. One should not “infer a structural problem from the misconduct of individuals,” Seehofer said.

Racism and extremism in Germany’s police

Twenty-nine German police officers have been suspended after they were found to have taken part in a series of chat groups filled with neo-Nazi and racist messages. But this is not the first time that authorities have discovered right-wing extremism in the police.  EURACTIV Germany reports.

Also focussing on violence against police

The study will examine the relationship between the police and society as a whole. Seehofer focuses on the “new framework conditions” under which police work takes place. This begins with the motives that lead young people to join the police.

In addition to the question of whether police always live up to the claim of zero tolerance for racism and extremism, Seehofer also wants to have the “increasing violence against police officers” investigated.

His goal is to have no cases of right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and racism in the authorities at all, and “nobody will rest” in the government until this goal is achieved.

Police association head: 'Zero tolerance' for right-wing extremism

The recent discovery of right-wing police chat groups has led many to ask how these tendencies in the police force can be counteracted. Oliver von Dobrowolski, head of the PolizeiGrün, discussed potential ideas for reform.

Right-wing extremist police chat groups

In recent weeks and months, there have been several discoveries of right-wing extremism in German security agencies.

In both North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and Berlin, chat groups were uncovered in which officials exchanged racist content. In NRW, 30 officials were suspended for participation in the group. The case in Berlin involves seven police students who are now being investigated by the public prosecutor’s office for hate speech.

“Some of these messages are said to have been directed against asylum seekers, among others, in a racist or otherwise contemptuous manner, sometimes using swastikas. Others are said to have played down the genocide of the Jews in a way that is likely to disturb the public peace,” the public prosecutor’s office said in a press release.

Police violence more problematic in France than in Germany, says police expert

Amnesty International has pointed to the “illegal use of force” by French police officers during demonstrations in a recent report. In an interview with EURACTIV France, sociologist Jérémie Gauthier discusses why this is a recurrent issue in France.

Unsuitable issue for the election campaign

Depending on when the study is to be published, it could become an issue in the 2021 federal election campaign. The proposal alone disturbed the grand coalition’s peace.

Saskia Esken, SPD co-chair, accused the police in June of “latent racism.” This came after the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations in the US triggered debates on police violence in Europe. For that, Esken received criticism, also from within her own party.

Some SPD interior ministers contradicted her, including Lower Saxony’s Interior Minister Boris Pistorius. “To accuse the police of having a bigger problem with racism than other areas of life is wrong and exposes the more than 300,000 police officers in Germany to unjustified general suspicion,” he said after Esken’s statement.

Whether SPD’s Olaf Scholz would now dare to use the results of the study on police violence in his election campaign is questionable. As Hamburg’s mayor, he himself defended the police when there were violent clashes with demonstrators at the G20 summit in 2017.

It is also open whether the study in its current compromise form will provide enough fodder for the election campaign.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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