Photo: dpa / Jonas Walzberg

One afternoon in November 2017, Barakat H. (35) and Rasmus L. (35) were in the fitness center and shopping. Now they wanted to go home to Hamburg’s Hafenstrasse, which has been made famous by squatting since the 1980s. Their way led them to the Baldwin staircase, one of several squares in the Hanseatic city, where drugs have been traded for years and where the police hold and control mainly Africans. Two policemen came towards the two of them from a side street. “They definitely want to control us,” said Barakat H. to his neighbor and friend. H., who was born in Togo, is now used to being targeted by the police because of his skin color. But he doesn’t want to put up with it. With the support of the “European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights”, he initiated a second trial against the City of Hamburg for “racial profiling”. In 2017, the administrative court ruled that the police had acted unlawfully during a suspicion-independent inspection of Barakat H. The lawsuit has been expanded to include three cases for the new procedure.

That afternoon, the friends were asked to identify themselves. A reason was not given, they refused. The police report will later state that they made a move to quicken their pace when the officers approached them and “made frantic movements with their gym bags.” Bakarat H. was nervous. In November 2016, on his way home from a German course, he was stopped by a civil servant at a traffic light. When he refused to show his ID, he was handcuffed to the legendary Davidwache and detained for half an hour.

Barakat H. voluntarily opened his sports bag, which also contained fruit. “Oh, bananas,” one of the policemen commented. Meanwhile four more officers had arrived to reinforce the situation. An older woman joined them and spoke up for her neighbor H. He and Rasmus L. gave in and showed their papers. When the two men in turn asked the police officers for names or service numbers, they did not respond. Barakat H. asked the friend to take photos. He shouldn’t do that, a police officer warned him, “otherwise the cell phone is gone.”

Rasmus L. is now asked by the presiding judge whether he himself has been checked more often. Only when he “was in contact with black people,” he replies.

The area around the port street houses is considered a “dangerous place”. The police can inspect without cause. However, this is not a complete license for police action. In 2016, the Higher Administrative Court of Rhineland-Palatinate found that an inspection independent of suspicion is not legal if the skin color is the only or decisive criterion. A “Task Force Drugs” is supposed to take action against dealers in St. Pauli, in the red-light district of St. Georg and in the “left-alternative” Schanzenviertel.

At one point it got loud in the hearing before the administrative court when the lawyer for the city of Hamburg wanted to hear from Rasmus L. whether, in his estimation as a local resident, most of the drug dealers were black. That brings the lawyers Carsten Gericke and Cornelia Ganten-Lange, who represent Barakat H., into armor. To do this, you have to kindly submit separate evidence requests and consult experts.

The court explicitly attached political importance to the trial. For groups like “Copwatch Hamburg” the “Task Force Drugs” promotes racial discrimination. With banners such as “Stop racist controls” they protested against “racial profiling” based on characteristics such as skin color. The trial will continue on November 10th.