Before I begin my discussion, I want to first mention that a vulgar word is used once, but is not used for my own personal expression. Rather, it is used to define a term that is very real and representative of sentiments that exist in different kinds of societies and situations. In this blog post, I aim to reflect on my observations.
Police brutality in the United States remains a contentious issue. The recent media coverage and surging public attention surrounding Philando Castille’s death and Officer Jeromino Yanez’s vindication have resurfaced the tensions that exist between people and law, the subordinates and the enforcers. In a controversy that has spanned the second decade of the 21st century, police brutality propagated movements such as Black Lives Matter and the counter Blue Lives Matter in a socio-political debate about the justness of human lives propped up against an accused unjust law enforcement system. Talks about racism began to emerge in this clash, and the link that formed between color and causality remain bounded to this day. In the United States, many African Americans have been killed by police officers in the past. Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and Philando Castille are among many who have been considered victims of racial profiling. To this day, racial profiling and law enforcement remain very heated topics.
Police brutality and its claimed ties to race is an occurrence not only confined within the United States. My trip to Hannover nearly a month ago to visit my host family exposed me to the acronym “ACAB”. This word sprawls throughout the town of Osterwald and Hannover city and is graffiti-ed on electricity generators, fences, walls, and the like. ACAB is an anti-police acronym meaning “All cops are bastards” and is ubiquitous in the area I visited. While I spent significantly more time in Berlin, ACAB graffiti was rarely seen, if at all, in public Berlin.
While there are considerably many reasons that can cause anti-police sentiments, I did some research and discovered some noteworthy situations in Hannover that were analogous to some situations in the United States.
In March 2014, a 19-year old Afghan male was arrested at Hannover’s railway station after officers discovered that he had no legal permission to stay in Germany. He was dragged with his feet shackled and apparently had fingers stuck up his nose by policeman Thorsten S. The officer reportedly wrote on his WhatsApp, “it was great”. Thorsten S. was involved with another incident of a 19-year old Moroccan who was arrested for not providing a valid train ticket. In the exchange of WhatsApp messages with his colleagues, Thorsten S. reportedly forced the teenager to eat rancid pork ‘off the floor’’—Islam prohibits the consumption of pork. Additionally, explicit photos of both incidents were shared by the police officer on the messaging system.
The incident was revealed by two of Thorsten S.’ colleagues; subsequently, a complaint was filed on May 7th. The local court approved a search warrant for Thorsten S.’ home, one of the reasons being under the suspicion that he had committed bodily harm while on duty. Revelation after another with regards to his tumultuous past and unwarranted behaviors, Thorsten S. was ultimately suspended, stripped of his uniform and weapon.
There was a lot of backlash from communities and humanitarian organizations regarding the treatment of the two individuals. Even more, police reputation deteriorated through the eyes of many Germans. Just back in January, three individuals were arrested in Hannover at a soccer game for holding a banner that read “We love teens! ACAB!” I am not familiar with the history of the police force in Hannover or Germany in general; I cannot claim that the two incidents in Hannover were the direct cause of anti-police sentiments. I’m sure there are other confounding factors. However, I do believe that these incidents have added fuel to the flame–a flame that may have existed long before the two incidents. Many people stand on different positions and a sound, unanimous answer rarely exists. The two incidents in Hannover raises the question: to what extent does race play a role and to what extent does aggression and failure to comply play a role?
A brief insight into racism in Germany:
Perhaps one of the most politically influential topics in Germany right now deals with immigration and the refugee crisis. Germany is known for its open-border policy on refugees. In 2016, German states have spent more than €20 billion on refugees. Berlin spent around €1.3 billion for accommodation, unaccompanied minors, integration programs, healthcare, language lessons, and other projects—an amount almost double the initial budget. More than a million refugees have arrived into Germany since the start of the refugee crisis in 2015. Angela Merkel continues to come under pressure for her policy on migration: anti-immigration and far-right groups have accused Merkel of instigating ISIS-led attacks in Germany. I live just a few bus stations away from Brietscheidplatz, the site of the 2016 Christmas market truck massacre that killed 12 and injured 56. The perpetrator of the attack, Anis Amri, was influenced by ISIS. Like France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, Germany’s anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiments have risen from these incidents. Islamophobia has put Germany’s Muslim population under criticism as many Germans associate Islam with religiously motivated violence. Plans to erect mosques in some German cities have been met with resistance from local communities. Islamophobia is one of the reasons for anti-immigrant sentiments since many refugees are Muslims. Yet, internal conflicts within refugee camps have lowered the credibility of refugee camps in the eyes of pro-immigration skeptics. A huge chunk of the immigration population also consist of non-Muslims. As a result, intersectionality, or the oppression and discrimination resulting from the overlap of an individual’s various social identities, has has emerged as well. Internal conflicts between different groups of people have led the governor of Thuringia to carry through with proposal of separating and housing refugees based on their religion. Conflicts externally and internally have made immigration and the refugee crisis an inevitably controversial topic. On the political platform, the National Democratic Party of Germany is largely considered a neo-nazi party, advocating for anti-immigration and closed borders.
How do the incidents in Hannover mean for the whole of Germany?
There is a struggle that will always exist for immigrants and refugees. Even if they are allowed entry into the country, they will face opposition from established political parties and people who do not want them within the borders. The adolescents are Afghan and Moroccan and whether or not they were immigrants, they are part of groups of people who face discrimination in Germany—Afghans and Moroccans are very much part of the refugee and immigrant communities in Germany as well. There is a long way to go for immigrants who are taken in by a country who gives them a home, but with many people that can be neither welcoming nor friendly. The justification Thorsten S.’ actions continue to be disputed, but the treatment of the two individuals in Hannover are real, and they are just as real for the immigrants who suffer discrimination and violence because of their status. For these immigrants and refugees, they may see their family or friends in the two adolescents. For the oppositions, immigrants and refugees may just be another Christmas market attacker, another Ansbach bomber, or another Dortmund bomber. I’ve met people who were in favor of refugees and immigrants and I’ve met those who were not. The relentless tug of war has cost a lot of economic, political, and social losses. It is an issue that requires more effort and care.