Racial profiling by police to be debated in Bundestag committee, following petition

Growing concerns around systemic racism have led some to reconsider the conduct of Germany’s police force and demand a study of racial profiling in policing. With more than 67,000 signatures, the petition calling for such a study must be debated in the Bundestag’s Petition Committee. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The petition 113349 on the Bundestag website callS on the government to conduct a study on racial profiling in the Germany’s federal and state police forces, which it claims would “provide a basis based on facts, not opinions, to determine whether action is needed.”

Filed the day after the Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) claimed he saw “no need” for such a study, the petition has spread rapidly via social media in the past week. As of Monday (17 August), more than 67,000 have signed on, surpassing the 50,000-signature threshold to take up deliberations in the Bundestag Petitions Committee. If approved by the committee, it could be taken up by the entire body, but this does not guarantee that Bundestag will commission the study. In 2018, only 11% of all Bundestag petitions were successful.

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A planned–and then cancelled–study

As the Black Lives Matter movement has picked up steam in the United States, a similar discussion of systemic racism has come to the forefront of German politics. While many were outraged at the events in the US, there has also been an effort to highlight Germany’s under-acknowledged history of colonialism and the discrimination that people of colour experience in Germany.

One particular concern has been the use of racial profiling by police, which the European Council against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) defines as “the use by the police, with no objective and reasonable justification, on grounds such as ‘race,’ colour, language, religion, citizenship or national or ethnic origin in control, surveillance or investigation activities.”

Currently, there is no concrete data on the practice in Germany. However, an ECRI report published in March found that there is “strong evidence for extensive racial profiling [but] numerous police services and representatives are aware of or do not admit it exists.”

Given this disconnect, the ECRI called for a study into the practice, and in the wake of the protests in early June, the Interior and Justice Ministries announced that they would be developing the methodology.

However, by 5 July, Seehofer changed his mind, claiming that racial profiling was already against the law. At the time, the spokesperson for the ministry claimed that cases of discrimination are “mercilessly investigated and promptly sanctioned.”

There are exceptions to the ban on racial profiling. In so-called “crime-ridden areas,” which include Berlin’s Alexanderplatz and Görlitzer Park, police can carry out random inspections without cause.

The decision against commissioning the report prompted swift criticism from the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and Die Linke. The Greens’ expert for interior policy and long-time police officer, Irene Mihalic, called it a mistake, saying “it is undisputed that there are cases of racial profiling in the police force. We need to know how big the problem is to develop solutions.”

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