Personal experiences with the police: no collective pillorying

Our author knows racism and police violence well. Here he explains why he nevertheless does not want to condemn the entire profession.

Genoa 2001: The police and the demonstrator Carlo Giuliani, who was shot by them Photo: Charles Rosseau/Ropi

This text is part of a series of internal editorial debates at the taz, triggered by the column "All cops are professionally unfit". As a pluralistic publication, we are not hiding this controversy about police work and our different perspectives on it. More contrarian writing will follow. You can read the articles on our website:

In August 1999 I participated as an activist in the Antiracist Border Camp in Zittau, Saxony. We wanted to set a sign against the refugee policy in the border region to Poland and the Czech Republic. The border fences still existed at that time. Anyone who tried to cross the Neisse as a refugee was arrested, put in camps and deported. "No human being is illegal," was our protest slogan.

Two friends from my group had been injured in a traffic accident. I wanted to drive them to the hospital. But at a barrier, a policeman stopped me. "Let us through, this is a medical emergency," I shouted to him. The policeman’s reply, "I won’t take any advice from a Fiji." I felt angry and helpless at the same time at that moment. Only when a second officer joined in was I allowed through.

Another scene, this time in the western part of the republic, in Gottingen. The neo-Nazis were marching, and the police were watching. But when we gathered for the counter-demonstration, the task forces blocked us. I, too, shouted "F** the police" at the top of my lungs.

And when the student Carlo Guiliani was shot by a carabiniere during the protests against the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, and police units stormed a school where we activists had our media center the following night, I too angrily shouted: "Assassini!" – Assassins. Like everyone who was there, I demanded punishment for the police officers involved and their leaders.

Discriminatory thinking exists everywhere

But I also had other experiences. As a local reporter, I had to report on a neo-Nazi march in 2001. After the march, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a group of neo-Nazis. One of them hit me on the side of the head with his fist. A policewoman who had seen this immediately rushed over and intervened. She had put herself in danger, because reinforcements arrived only a short time later. If it hadn’t been for her – I wouldn’t have gotten off with just a black eye.

Racism and police violence – I’ve been there. Nevertheless, I think it’s wrong to pillory an entire profession. Because then you would have to do that with pretty much all professions, not least journalists. How often do newspapers write disparagingly about entire groups of people? It’s a truism: prejudice, racism and discriminatory thinking exist everywhere.

Just the other day, I had to listen to the saying "Tsching, Tschang, Tschung – Chinese are not stupid" in a sauna. It was certainly not meant in a bad way, at best as a bad joke, which I then tried to overlook with a coaxed smile. More unpleasantly I found, how I was eyed some years ago in a pretty village in the Allgau by the residents suspiciously.

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I took an evening stroll through the neighborhood because I liked the ornate houses so much. Judging by the number of hostels, they should be used to tourists. But apparently not foreign-looking ones. With their looks they visibly gave me to understand: Strangers like me are not wanted.

Even in my own environment, I am not immune to expectations in connection with my origin: I was accused of unsolidaristic behavior because I called Hengameh Yaghoobifarah’s column "All cops are professionally unfit" "unspeakable" and "bad. Yet I was also a PoC (person of color).

Efforts to raise awareness

Sometimes I get upset about racism in everyday life, most of the time I overlook it because I find it idle to get upset about every sentence that reduces me to my appearance or my origin. This is how I experience racism: rarely funny, almost always annoying, sometimes hurtful.

Still, I consider myself reasonably fortunate to live in a state where there are civic and institutional opportunities to address discrimination. In some areas, such as executive suites, I would like to see more diversity. But awareness is being raised in many places. In the police, too.

The red-red-green senate in Berlin passed a new anti-discrimination law just last week. If a person believes that he or she is being discriminated against by a state agency, it is up to the state to prove otherwise. This law will not per se protect you from not encountering a racist police officer after all. But it does give you the feeling that you are not helplessly exposed to the authorities when it comes to racism.

I feel that the police in this country are no less, but also no more racist than other professions. So why should everyone be collectively pilloried? That would not help anyone. That’s my experience as well.

Felix Lee is an editor for economics and the environment. Until 2019, he was China correspondent for the taz for eight years. There, he witnessed how Chinese police officers took action against people simply because they belonged to the Uyghur Muslim minority. Those affected had no legal means against this police arbitrariness.