Right-wing extremist chat group in Berlin: Scary and liberating at the same time

The more known about the right-wing extremist filth, the better. The truth is bitter, but politics can no longer avoid it.

Right structures in the police: new “individual case” now also in Berlin Photo: dpa

BERLIN taz | So now Berlin also has its right-wing extremist chat group. Like the ARD magazine Monitor Reported on Thursday, 25 police officers from a Berlin police station wrote each other messages for over three years, sometimes with blatant racist agitation. The whole field of right-wing extremist clichés was apparently served: the “large population exchange” by refugees, unchecked hatred of the left, the most primitive violent fantasies against “foreigners”. To be frank: after North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and all the other police scandals of recent times, this should not surprise anyone. The “individual cases” are now so numerous that you can almost lose track of them.

On the one hand, this is deeply frightening: The nightmare in which people who visibly think and look different have always lived and in which the police are not your friends but the (armed and powerful) enemy is reality. And regularly. There is not just one police officer or two, so that one could legitimately speak of exceptions, as politics and police leaderships and unions always do. The error is “in the system”, as this case also shows. Even those who don’t think like their right-wing extremist colleagues shut up. Not even the chief of the troop, who apparently knew about it, has put an end to the hustle and bustle.

On the other hand, such revelations are also encouraging: after all, it was two Berlin police officers who stank the matter so much that they “leaked” the chat logs and Monitor willingly give information about the racist everyday life on their guard. So there are (after all) the democratically minded law enforcement officers – even if they wanted to remain anonymous for fear of the corps spirit of their colleagues.

And even if police scandals are usually not uncovered by internal whistleblowers but in the course of investigations: there is reason for hope. Because the more of the dirt that comes to light, the greater the willingness of people to speak about it – be they victims of racist police violence or witnesses.

Every scandal encourages those affected and witnesses to speak

At least that is how it is in the general debate about (everyday) racism and discrimination in society: The public awareness of the topic in recent months has encouraged more and more BPoC (Black and People of Color) to report on their experiences and no longer to put up with everything. And it encourages members of the white majority society to take a critical look at their own racisms and prejudices.

And with each new revelation about racist structures in the police, the moment inevitably draws nearer when politics and police leaders can no longer come up with excuses. The truth is ugly. But all of us – including the middle class, who has so far defended their law enforcement officers – must finally look their faces.

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Right-wing extremism in the police: Did not know anything about anything

North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Herbert Reul is shocked about Nazi symbols in the police. He himself uses the cliché of the “criminal migrant”.

How could that happen? Herbert Reul is taken by surprise Photo: Marcel Kusch / dpa

In the scandal surrounding right-wing extremist police officers, North Rhine-Westphalia’s CDU interior minister Herbert Reul is currently carrying out his typical crisis management program: swastikas, pictures of Hitler, depictions of a refugee in a gas chamber are chats from at least 29 officers from the police station in Essen Mülheim an der Ruhr found. Reul is promptly shocked, horrified, and does not skimp on strong words: the “most disgusting agitation” is “a shame for the NRW police”, asserts the 68-year-old.

“Yes, you have to stick together, you have to rely on each other in emergencies. But conversely, you all swore an oath to abide by the laws and the constitution. And if a colleague doesn’t do that, you have to report it, that’s also your duty, ”said Reul in a WDR2 interview on Thursday morning, September 17th.

When asked why the five right-wing extremist chat groups had not been noticed earlier in the police station and what explanation he had for this, Reul said: “At the moment, not a real one, if I’m honest.” There are attempts to explain. “I think that too often the police still think they have to cover everything through camaraderie,” said Reul.

As in the scandal about the massive child abuse in Lügde, where 155 DVDs with evidence simply disappeared from the police’s evidence room, the former college teacher promises relentless clarification by special investigators. The man from Leichlingen near Cologne is thus serving his image that has been cultivated for years: Reul wants to appear tough but fair – as Minister of the Interior who defends and enforces laws and which his voters can trust for precisely that reason.

Copyright on the term “clan crime”

This image is important for the entire state government. Because NRW Prime Minister Armin Laschet is considered too liberal by many in the CDU, the political professional Reul, as a former member of the state parliament, general secretary of the North Rhine-Westphalian Christian Democrats and European parliamentarian in the business for 35 years, should cover the right flank of his party against the AfD.

In the struggle for the Hambach Forest, which is threatened by lignite excavators, Reul identified among the occupiers as “chaos and those prone to violence from all over Europe”. In autumn 2018, the conservative, who has three grown daughters with his wife Gundula, had the tree houses of the climate protection activists evacuated by thousands of police officers for the lignite group RWE – today his boss Laschet prides himself on having “saved” the Hambach Forest.

Reul shows no consideration in integration policy either. The hardliner has the copyright on the term “clan crime” which he brought into the political debate. He was the first to take open action against “clans” of migrants who questioned the state’s monopoly of violence, and he was promoting the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia – and thus unspokenly strengthened the image of the “criminal foreigner”.

Because Reul irritates again and again with generalized, whole population groups discriminating slogans: “If we look at the Turkish fellow citizens, then we have crime problems with the third generation”, he explained on September 15 on ZDF in the talk show by Markus Lanz – one The day before the scandal surrounding the right-wing extremist officers of the Essen Police Department was discovered.

Others have known for a long time

Reul could have been warned: For years, anti-racist initiatives such as the “Bündnis Essen ist sich quer” (Essq) have been pointing out that parts of the local police clearly sympathize with right-wing vigilante groups like the “Steeler Jungs”. There have been several allegations that Essen police officers used excessive force against migrants. Essq spokesmen criticized as early as March that Reul’s strategy of “1,000 pinpricks”, which is primarily directed against migratory meeting places such as shisha bars, led to “institutional racism” and “racial profiling” not only in Essen.

Essen’s police chief Frank Richter, who did not want to hear anything from the right-wing radical chats of his officers for eight years, responded promptly – with a lawsuit for libel against the initiative. Reul is likely to be just as innocent today: around 1 p.m. he wants to make a statement in the state parliament about the swastikas and Hitler pictures of his police officers. He shouldn’t even mention that he himself strongly supports the cliché of the “criminal migrant”.

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Excavator squatters free again: Drank toilet water

Activists who had occupied excavators in the Garzweiler opencast coal mine sat six days in custody. They report bizarre experiences.

Police operation on the sidelines of the protests for the preservation of various villages in the lignite area Photo: David Young / dpa

AACHEN taz | Sven, student from Hamburg (Information changed), has learned “the effect of isolation without daylight”, he tells the taz. The 24-year-old is one of ten arrested last Sunday who refused to give their personal details after the half-day excavation occupation in the Garzweiler II opencast mine and were therefore locked up in six different police stations for six days. They went on a hunger strike to protest. Sven was housed in a cell in Mönchengladbach.

Everyone has been out again since Friday evening, all unscathed. “Hunger strike”, Sven now says, “is a fundamental, self-empowering feeling.” There were disgusting and touching moments. In some places the detainees had to “almost beg for every sip of water,” reports Lukas Schnermann from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) group, which looked after the detained from outside.

The only thirst striker sat in Krefeld. When he wanted to drink again after 36 hours because he was feeling increasingly uncomfortable, no one responded to his ringing for an hour and a half, according to Schnermann. The person concerned drank water from the toilet flush, then went to the hospital.

A woman had tinkered a chess game out of little paper balls and it was confiscated. Some were allowed to make phone calls, others had their books taken away. Some had permanent light at night, others were handcuffed for a short walk in the courtyard. A prisoner lost six kilos.

“Almost all of them said that they sang a lot against boredom,” says Schnermann, “and one of them rapped very loudly.” According to XR, none of the detainees were seriously researched into their identity. Contrary to what had previously been suspected, young people were apparently not there: “A woman who looked really very young,” says Schnermann, “has now told me she was 19”.

Sven experienced “how helpless police officers are when dealing with other non-German-speaking prisoners”. Some officers could hardly speak English, there were no interpreters, “and the officers responded to screams with louder shouts”. There were also strange dialogues: “Where are you going?” Asked an officer. “To a world without a climate crisis.” Answer: “That could be close.” No, that was probably not meant cynically.

Sven was happy about the solidarity from outside. A good 30 people, “including whole families”, would have expected him when he was released. As a farewell police officer said: “Respect what you did, didn’t eat anything for six days. I never could. You and the others have to be very convinced. “

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Police violence in Germany: good cop, bad cop?

Videos of police acts showed cases of police violence in the past few days. Those in charge often weigh it down.

Location of the brutal police operation in Düsseldorf Photo: Martin Gerten / dpa

In Frankfurt, three police officers are suspended after two videos became known of an incident on August 15 in the Sachsenhausen district. The footage shows how several police officers hit the young arrested man. He crouched down and tried to protect his head with his arms. An officer kicks the man who is bound.

In Düsseldorf it is filmed how an officer pressed the head of a 15-year-old with his knee on the ground last Saturday. Thereupon various reports are received by the public prosecutor. On Thursday, the responsible state office declared that the deployment corresponds to “the permissible techniques taught in the training”.

A police operation against a 15-year-old was also filmed in Hamburg in the past few days. He is said to have driven an e-scooter on the sidewalk. The video shows seven or eight officers bringing him down. It happens in front of a wall with the graffiti writing “I can’t breathe” (I can’t breathe) – based on police violence in the USA. When the police hold him on the ground, he apparently yells: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

And in Ingelheim, demonstrators are huddled in a tunnel with batons and pepper spray in such a way that panic breaks out.

These are scenes that have all happened in the past few days, documented on private videos, shared a lot on social media. And that re-ignite a debate: is there a problem with police violence in Germany too?

There have been debates

The debate was already held a few weeks ago. In June, after violent police operations in the USA, SPD leader Saskia Esken stated that there was also “latent racism” among German officials – and thus attracted widespread criticism.

This text comes from the taz on the weekend. Always from Saturday at the kiosk, in the eKiosk or with a weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.

After a taz column about police violence, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer even threatened with a complaint. After that everyone had holed up in their camps: the police and interior ministers closed their ranks, as did the police critics.

This time too, the reactions are similar. While the police are heavily criticized on the Internet, the right-wing German police union called for the police to “have their backs”. Even at the more liberal police union (GdP), their vice-president, Jörg Radek, explains that the officers need “no digital thrashing, but real support”. Criticism of the police is allowed, but too often in social media this becomes “hysteria” and the context of the operations is not taken into account.

This time, however, there are other tones as well. North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Herbert Reul (CDU) initially commented on the police incident in Düsseldorf as “shocked”. Hesse’s interior minister Peter Beuth (CDU) called the attack in Frankfurt “completely unacceptable” and “urgent misconduct”. In this case, police officers took action against their colleagues on site. Six officials are also being investigated in Ingelheim. So this time there are indeed consequences.

It is uncertain whether these will last. The number of police officers convicted of acts of violence remains negligible. According to police crime statistics, there were 1,500 physical injuries in office in 2019 – roughly as many as in previous years. But: Only around two percent of them recently led to charges – and less than one percent to convictions.

The Bochum criminologist Tobias Singelnstein recently presented one of the so far rare studies on police violence. He interviewed 3,350 victims of violence directly. The result: The suspected cases are five times larger than the official figures. Many of those affected refrained from reporting because they considered it unsuccessful – or feared contraindications. Singelnstein demands recognizable service numbers for all civil servants and independent complaints offices.

Armin Schuster, CDU politician and police officer

“What is currently going on here is a completely exaggerated campaign against the police”

Martin Herrnkind was a police officer for 38 years and a member of the Amnesty International Police Research Group. Today he teaches in the Police Department at the University of Applied Sciences for Administration and Services in Schleswig-Holstein. He doesn’t believe the videos show any increased police violence. Rather, he sees in it the increased sensitivity to violence. “In the past, children were beaten more often, there was a brawl at every folk festival. That’s why no one reported to the police. ”Today violence tends to be outlawed. “You don’t put up with so much from the police anymore, you classify things as attacks and then report them,” says Herrnkind.

Empiricism beats feeling

Conversely, the same applies to the police themselves: “30 years ago none of my colleagues would have had the idea of ​​founding a self-help group.” The interior ministers kept lamenting that society was brutalized and that police officers were objectively exposed to ever stronger attacks the empiricism covered.

Germany is a special case among Western countries when it comes to the perception of violence, says Herrnkind. “If there are riots in France and 60 cars go up in flames, the interior minister says the next morning that the situation has been brought under control.” In Germany that is unthinkable. “As a German society, we perceive violence much more quickly than threatening, and that is perhaps a good thing.”

Herrnkind believes that two other factors play a role in the perception of violence. One is related to the growing inequality in society. If the gap between rich and poor keeps widening, there will also be more social conflicts that the police should pacify.

The other factor is technology: “It started with the attack on the black Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991. It was filmed by chance and after that there was the biggest riot of all time. “Films have a completely different effect” than if someone just talks about them who is not believed – and who also tends not to be believed by the public prosecutor. “

An empty street with houses on one side

Location of the brutal police operation in Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen Photo: rheinmainfoto / imago-images

Ultimately, he believes, development offers the opportunity for further civilization. Fired by the George Floyd case, minority groups have come together and thus gained more influence in the fight against police violence.

There is also discussion in the Bundestag. It is good if people look more closely, says Irene Mihalic, Green Party politician and police officer. “Because unfortunately the interior ministers and, above all, the conservative political spectrum have so far rejected all criticism of police action according to the motto: The police are always right.” But that is just as absurd as a general condemnation of the officials. She advocates independent police officers in the federal and state levels, to whom citizens and officials could turn.

On the other side is Armin Schuster, CDU internal politician, also a police officer. Schuster is currently in a rage. “What is going on right now is a completely exaggerated campaign against the police, which can end badly,” he says.

For Schuster it is clear: even the police made mistakes. “But that is processed systematically and transparently, corresponding sanctions are standard.” However, it is “quite adventurous” when “laymen” fundamentally criticize police work based on video snippets. A blanket mistrust against the police is being fueled, and “that will take their lifeblood”: the work ethic of the police could suffer.

One of them is silent: Horst Seehofer. Most recently, the Minister of the Interior presented himself unreservedly to the police and rejected a study on racial profiling as superfluous. Instead, the CSU man pleaded for a study on violence against police officers. And one about police violence? That is “not an issue,” says a spokesman. The cases now being discussed are being investigated and there can be no question of a widespread phenomenon of illegal police violence.

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