The police practice of targeted control of non-white people, does not exist, according to Horst Seehofer. Everyday experience looks different.
Don’t always back down: protest in Frankfurt am Main in July against racial profiling Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa
The term originates from the U.S. and refers to otherwise warrantless checks on people based solely on their phenotypical appearance. There is no legal regulation of the practice in Germany, but it is illegal under the German Basic Law, the General Equal Treatment Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
How widespread racial profiling is can hardly be determined due to a lack of statistical surveys. Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer recently rejected a study on the practice, insisting that there is no structural problem. NGOs and those affected disagree. Berlin and Lower Saxony want to have the allegations investigated independently of the federal government and create an empirical basis for discussion.
We have logged three field reports.
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Lena Mariama Meinhold, 30 years old
Since I turned 18 and got my driver’s license, racial profiling has been part of my everyday life. I am regularly stopped in Nuremberg when I am driving. Despite normal and rule-compliant driving.
In February, for example, I was stopped at a red light in the city center. It was early evening, I had just come from a friend’s house, had nothing to drink and just wanted to drive home. On the left turn lane next to me was a police car. The two policemen looked into my car and immediately put it in reverse. They then drove behind my car and pulled me out.
The policeman who then came to my window asked me directly: And what drugs have we consumed today? So tried to put a joke on this racist stereotype that Black people always use, possess, or sell drugs. My experiences have taught me not to react stroppy even to such questions, but my look seems to have already conveyed to him that his question was not funny.
Such situations happen to me again and again. I am often treated from above, mostly it is about drugs that I have not consumed. More often, I’ve also had to take a breathalyzer test and even when it came up negative, walk on a line and empty my car. This is just pure harassment.
I have always been aware that as a black woman in Germany I am treated differently than white people. Again and again, I have gotten sayings or looks when I walk or drive through the streets with my Afro, for example. And still my experiences were not taken seriously. White friends, whom I told about it, then said: Oh, I was also pulled out by the police once. But my mother, for example, is white, 68 years old, and has only been pulled over once in her life. It happens to me, as a Black woman, four times a year.
That’s why I’m always concerned when I see police. Every time I think, What’s going to happen this time? Am I in for it again? For this reason, I have also developed a real compulsion that I never leave the house without my wallet and ID card. If I’m out and about and realize that I don’t have it with me, I turn around. Otherwise I will be accused of being a refugee and illegal in this country, as happened to my brother. As if it could not be that I was born as a black person in Nuremberg. I have not yet fought against racist police tactics. Most of the time I regretted not asking for the name and badge number of the police officer. But I want to change that now.
Many of those who did not listen to me before now understand that what I experience is racism. The anti-racist movement also motivates me that I will file a complaint in the future if I experience racial profiling. I don’t want to put up with it anymore.
Ayesha Khan, 35 years
As a child it seemed strange to me. Whenever we went by car from Hamburg to Denmark to visit our relatives, we were checked at the border. And we were always the only ones. We were pulled out every time we entered or left the country, even though the EU no longer has stationary border controls at internal borders. Often my father had to get out of the car, a sniffer dog searched it and all of us had our identity cards taken away. The whole thing was such a long procedure that it was not unusual for us to miss our pre-booked ferry to Denmark. So I had already noticed as a child that we were the only ones who were always stopped.
As a teenager, I took the train more often with my brother to visit my uncle. And already at Hamburg’s main station, police officers followed us into the train, secured the doors and then checked us both. Because we have black hair, we’re not white, and my brother had a beard at some point.
Personal checks can always take place, of course, but if we are the only ones being checked in a compartment full of white people, then that’s racial profiling. Especially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the controls have definitely become more blatant in my experience. Once, on the train to Copenhagen, we not only had to give our personal details, but our bags were also searched and my brother was patted down all over his body – without any suspicion. We were 15 or 16 years old at the time, didn’t know what our rights were and what the police were allowed to do. And no one ever intervened and helped us.
I now live in Frankfurt am Main, where racial profiling has increased since the events at Frankfurt’s Opernplatz. Together with friends, I have walked through the city a lot in recent weeks and have seen migrant people being checked, being banned or having personal things taken from them.
Fortunately, this has not happened to me recently, but it has happened to many of my acquaintances and friends, and I have also observed it among many young people. We now try to look closely in our circle of friends and intervene, have information material from Copwatch with us and give those affected our numbers and those of lawyers.
I used to drive a lot and was checked a lot by the police, they were always unpleasant experiences. But now some time had passed and I now live outside Berlin. So about a year and a half ago I rented a car2go on an early winter evening in Berlin.
It was my first ride in a Smart car. I had just pulled out of the parking space and had only advanced a few meters when I was already waved out by the police. By mistake, I had only the parking lights on. And there it was: the initial suspicion.
I had to show my driver’s license and was asked, "Do you drink alcohol?" This struck me as odd and I asked, "Generally or today?" The one officer then started laughing, which rattled me even more. And I’m always nervous when I’m in conversation with female police officers. I then honestly said that I had had a beer two hours ago.
They still let me blow, with the result: 0 per mille. Nevertheless, from then on, a procedure began, which felt to me like a game that I did not understand. It was one constant sexist and racist border crossing after another.
First, they wanted to check if I had used other drugs and asked if they could shine a light in my eye. The first comment in response was, "You sure have a nice eyeliner."
It felt like a flirting situation, except it was totally uncomfortable for me. Alone in the winter on a pitch black street with only male police officers complimenting me on my eyeliner. But then their second comment after shining a light on my eyes for several seconds was, "We have this problem more often, we can’t check their pupils, their eyes are too dark."
In retrospect, I thought of thousands of things I could have said in response, but at that moment I was speechless. More "experiments" by the police officers followed. One of them was that I should count off 30 seconds in my head. If you’re off by more than a few, that’s supposed to be an indication that you’ve used drugs. Of course, I was off the mark due to my nervousness. In the end, I had to go to the police station with the police officers and take a urine test. The result: I had not consumed any drugs.
I am aware that I got off pretty lightly that evening. Because I know the stories, especially from male relatives of mine, where such checks are much worse and more violent. But during the tests, many movies were running in my head: What’s next? And how do I get out of here in one piece?
I have a basic fear of the police because of all the stories I have in my head. Especially in traffic, the police quickly have an initial suspicion and can check you. Be it a few kilometers per hour too much or even a parking light. Drink a beer and drive hours later? I would never do that again. And anyway, I don’t drive alone at night now.
* The person is known to the editors