A couple of weeks ago, the Koblenz’ administrative court has handed down an interesting decision:
“Officers of germany’s federal police are allowed to inspect travellers without suspicion, at least on rail routes that serve foreigners for unauthorized entry or serve violations of the Residence Act. In sampling, they are not prohibited from also selecting people due to their outward appearance.” [“Beamte der Bundespolizei dürfen Reisende jedenfalls auf Bahnstrecken, die Ausländern zur unerlaubten Einreise oder zu Verstößen gegen das Aufenthaltsgesetz dienen, verdachtsunabhängig kontrollieren. Es ist ihnen bei Stichprobenkontrollen nicht verwehrt, die Auswahl der anzusprechenden Personen auch nach dem äußeren Erscheinungsbild vorzunehmen.”]
What happened? An Afro-german student travelled by train in Hesse, from Kassel to Frankfurt am Main (…and let me just add: having grown up in Hesse as an Afro-German person, why does that not come as a surprise…). Federal police officers entered his compartment and, unerringly, chose him as the one to ask to prove his identity. He, however, refused to, and repeatedly asked the federal officers why they singled him out. I presume this was done in german. Since that is no proof of someone’s “real identity”, of course, at least not when they look brown, eventually, the officers seized his backpack and searched it for identification papers. Having found none, they took him to the police station where, thanks to a personal search, they did find his (german) drivers license.
Obviously, having been challenged by someone who, in their view, does not look german and is german nonetheless (…dammit…), the police had to go one step further in humiliation, if only to deflect that suit the Afro-german student brought against them for discrimination: in the trial the student had to face due to a police man’s lawsuit for defamation (note: he was accused of defaming the police officer – not the other way around…), one of the officers finally admitted publicly why the student was singled out for inspection. And what usually is denied by police officers and many other white germans and, yet, counters the lived reality of so many people of color in this country has been said out loud for a change: the officer testified that he chose the student because he singles out people who “look like foreigners” to him. And one of his criteria is “skin color”.
And what happened then? The administrative court the student had asked to rule whether this was discriminatory behavior or not, decided that it is actually quite alright, and justified their ruling as follows:
“The respective provisions oblige federal police officers to base inspections on their relevant situational knowledge (“Lageerkenntnis”) and respective experiences as border police. Thus, arbitrary proceedings are precluded.” [“Die einschlägigen Vorschriften verpflichteten die Beamten der Bundespolizei, bei einer Kontrolle entsprechende Lageerkenntnisse und einschlägige grenzpolizeiliche Erfahrung zugrunde zu legen. Hierdurch werde willkürliches Vorgehen ausgeschlossen.”]
Racial profiling it is.
What people of color not only experience as infuriating, humiliating and constantly “othering” harassment in their lives, is now not only the long-standing practice of public authorities, it has officially been condoned by a court of law. Apparently, “situational knowledge” and “relevant experiences” by federal police officers on the lookout for illegal immigrants* [sic!] trump not only german anti-discrimination laws that prohibit the discrimination due to skin color (…not that anyone cares), but seem to invalidate certain provisions of germany’s constitution. I do, therefore, wonder if this is not a case that has to eventually be settled in germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, since it seems to violate paragraph 3 of germany’s constitution (that entails that no one shall be discriminated against because of his/her “race” or “descent” [sic!] ) so blatantly…?
What this court ruling and, of course, the testimony of the police officer, do, is to at least admit what has been going on all along: people of color are being singled out to “prove” their actual “germanness” and the formal right to inclusion in an imagined community thanks to a piece of paper. It is a constant reminder that people who don’t look what some imagine as “german” are being considered a strange presence that can never fully claim their civil rights, and whose presence is constantly disturbing to “actual” germans [sic] who see it as their right to define who is part of their supposedly homogeneous people and who is not.
I think it is important to note here that this is not a mere police/racism within this organisation issue alone: police officers seem to have a disturbingly disproportionate amount of wiggle room within laws (or rather: they just claim it), and some of them do love to wear that uniform to hide a lack of human decency behind formal power. However, as the ruling has shown, they are, after all, executors of laws they do not personally put on the books, and the mind-set and behavior of police officers seems to be a good indicator or mirror for the mind-set of the society they are working in. Despite many politicians’ lip service to equality and anti-racism, they way “germanness” is still defined, the demeaning way “immigrants” are being treated in this country (and this, obviously, includes people who have been born and lived here all their lives), the way right-wing movements are being consciously underestimated, and the way a continuously “othering” and/or denying discourse is ruling this country when it comes to people of color and germany’s colonial past (…not to forget the periodically repeated “let’s finally draw a line here and not talk about it anymore” debates about the Shoah), all showcase the frame federal police officers act within.
In a specific sense, I am even thankful for this police officer saying out loud what others have been denying or only whispering all along: racial profiling is an established part of police work in this country, as it is in daily politics and interactions. There’s no pretending anymore. Alas, what people of color have been saying for decades is now, magically, validated through the words of a group of white german law enforcers and judges, of course; it is only now that people are clutching their pearls.
Racial profiling, no doubt about it, is an outrage. And I would be quite curious to hear more about it by all the people who are very indignant towards the reactionary politics of Kristina Schröder and her proclaimed end of gender equality politics. Surely, they all recognize that the enforced stereotypization of people of color is just as bad? So far, not so much. It might be a start to make this petition, initiated by ISD, ADEFRA and Arbeitskreis Panafrikanismus e.V., as much of a success and as much of a media topic as Not My Minister.
I won’t hold my breath.