Measures against racial profiling: approaching racism

In Berlin, the Senate is not implementing measures against racial profiling. The Greens now want a study on racial profiling, the SPD does not.

At the Gorli, police carry out suspicionless checks – to the chagrin of people of color Photo: dpa

In the coalition poker about a reform of the police law, the Greens have raised the stakes: MPs Sebastian Walter and Benedikt Lux, spokespersons for anti-discrimination and domestic policy, recently presented a bill to combat racial profiling in the police. Walter told the site: "While the SPD and the interior administration are tightening the thumbscrews on the police law, we want to strengthen civil rights."

Actually, there are firm agreements in the coalition agreement on the subject of racist police checks. Among other things, these provide for the deletion of a controversial passage in the police law, officially the General Security and Order Law (Asog). The passage in Section 21 allows police to check people in crime-ridden locations because they may be violating residency laws. This very passage is particularly suspected by critics of encouraging racist controls.

But after two and a half years in government, the red-red-green coalition has not yet managed this simple stroke of the pen. As with the independent police commissioner, which was also agreed upon by the coalition, the SPD is putting the brakes on. It is linking implementation to further (unagreed) changes to the Asog. Just a few days ago, the SPD presented its draft bill, which includes the repeal of the above-mentioned passage, but also gives the police new powers, some of which are far-reaching (taz reported).

To have something to play poker with, the Greens, for their part, have now formulated more far-reaching demands to combat racial profiling. Deleting the section in question in the Asog is no longer enough for them. "We have talked to affected people’s initiatives and gained the feeling that you have to go further," says Walter.

With receipts against racist controls

In their view, one important measure could be, for example, to set up an independent office for discrimination cases at the future police commissioner’s office, to which citizens affected by racial profiling can turn. "In addition, the police commissioner should develop a community policing concept so that a basis of trust develops between police and communities potentially affected by racial profiling," Walter explains. "This would also facilitate police work."

Another demand of the Greens: an independent scientific study should be conducted to examine whether and how racial profiling occurs during suspicionless checks at crime-ridden locations. The Asog allows the police to control anyone, i.e. without suspicion, at such places, which they can determine themselves.

Martin Pallgen, Interior Administration

"We do not see a structural problem of the police"

For initiatives like the "Campaign for Victims of Racist Police Violence" (KOP Berlin), the sheer existence of such places favors police arbitrariness towards certain groups of people, such as people of color. For years, they have therefore been calling for the complete abolition of the category of crime-ridden places – something that is not up for debate in the coalition, however.

There are currently seven such places in Berlin, including Alexanderplatz, Kottbusser Tor and Warschauer Brucke. The innovation under the red-red-green coalition was that the police now make these locations public, after all. "The study is also to examine whether such suspicion-independent checks have any police benefit at all," Walter explains. In addition, he says, a "ticket system" is to be tested there: "Black Berliners who live near such places are often checked, but cannot prove it," says the Green. If they were given receipts, it would be easier to prove racist controls.

The SPD-led interior administration is not particularly enthusiastic about the proposals. A study on racial profiling, explains spokesman Martin Pallgen in response to a question from the taz, is "currently not considered necessary," since the topic has already been the subject of two studies. However, according to Pallgen, both studies did not deal explicitly with racial profiling in practical police work, but in general with "dealing with diversity and its respective dimensions" or "the effects of immigration.

The topic is not urgent for the interior administration anyway. "We do not see a structural problem in the Berlin police with regard to discrimination by the police," Pallgen explains – even if there may be "individual cases of misconduct by police officers in the sense of racial profiling."

Daily checks and resignation

A police spokesman, Thilo Cablitz, also explained in response to a taz query that his colleagues do not practice racial profiling as a matter of principle – even if in individual cases it can look as if a person is being arbitrarily checked on the basis of their skin color. "Skin color is not a central element for investigations."

When people are controlled without suspicion in Gorlitzer Park, for example, several pieces of circumstantial evidence are usually brought together to identify suspects – such as clandestine behavior, a person standing guard apart from another group and warning them. "Physical characteristics, such as height, stature, but also skin color, are basically used to describe the perpetrator and thus to apprehend him as quickly as possible," Cablitz said.

Biplab Basu of KOP thinks this is a sham. "No one is checked without suspicion because of their height; that only exists with skin color." His organization receives at least one complaint a week from non-white people who are checked by the police for no apparent reason.

Many did not even complain because they had already resigned. At a recent event in the Kreuzberg Duttmann housing estate on Urbanstrabe, a social worker told him that the Arab-Turkish youths there are checked every day, Basu said. "So the police should not stonewall all the time. Everyone knows there is racial profiling."

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