For the third consecutive year, New Year’s Eve festivities in Cologne become a matter for public debate. City police were accused of inaction in 2014 and 2015 when celebrations were accompanied by acts of sexual violence against women, and hundreds of thefts. In 2016 police banned single, dark-skinned men from the celebrations and were accused of employing racist practices in crime prevention. But objectors were in the minority – 13% against 79% who approved the police action, according to a Forsa poll1.
After the events of New Year’s Eve 2015, changes were made to the criminal law on violence. New offences were introduced in respect of harassment and group assault2.
In addition to the tightening of laws on harassment, all meetings and rallies on New Year’s Eve 2016 were banned. This included rallies by right-wing, ultra-nationalist parties – National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), Republicans (die Republikaner), and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) – and the number of police patrols was doubled. At Cologne railway station alone, there were 1,700 police staff on duty and a new video surveillance system was installed to monitor any violations3. Cologne police guarded the Cathedral Square and places of celebration and confiscated 225 kilograms of fireworks, which had been banned4. They also carried out security searches.
The searches proved to be the most controversial measure. Journalist Christophe Hervats5 in a report for the n-tv talks about “racial profiling”: decisions regarding document checks allegedly being based on skin colour. Hervats reported that only two doors were available as exits from the station into the Cathedral Square, with police separating the crowd into two streams: men accompanied by women and those of European appearance, or people described by the police on Twitter as Nafris – North Africans. The latter group then underwent extra checking and search.
A little over 1,000 people were barred from the square, with 650 of them being photographed and recorded for the police database. Almost all (98%) of them were from North Africa6. According to the police report of North Rhine-Westphalia, quoted in Die Zeit7, with 170 people, representating 23 nationalities being detained in the commission of unlawful acts. These included 56 Germans, 23 Syrians, 22 Algerians and 17 Moroccans.
Cologne Police President Jürgen Matthias denied using racial profiling8. The main criterion, he said, was not the men’s appearance, but their behaviour: “Yes, there [among those searched] were not any elderly men or young blondes. But in a situation where thousands of people are simultaneously at the station, the police must take decisions quickly.” Police also paid attention to football fans, rockers and representatives of the right-wing movements9.
The dispute about language
Accusations against the police might have been less justified, if not for a controversial police tweet10: “Hundreds of Nafris are inspected in the central train station. Details will follow.” The use of the word Nafris was criticised, but according to supporters of the police, such as the actor Til Schweiger11, Nafri is simply an abbreviation of Nordafrikaner – a native of North Africa. However, the police did not use this term on Facebook12.
And there were claims that Nafri was also police jargon for Nordafrikanische Intensivtäter – “North African jailbird”13.
However, even the use of the term “North Africans” to describe hundreds of people is in itself evidence that people were judged on the basis of their appearance, according to Christopher Lauer, former chairman of the Pirate faction in the state parliament of Berlin and now a member of the SPD14.
The Green Party has also criticised the use of the term. Volker Beck, a Green faction expert on migration policy in the Bundestag, says15: “Police action must be justified by the danger of the situation or person’s behaviour, not his identity. Everything else is contrary to the UN Convention to combat racism.”
It is hard to understand that Greens are calling successful precautions taken by the Cologne police, a racist actions, says Peter Tauber, Secretary General of the CDU16. ”It is absurd. Such behaviour shows once again that Greens are not ready to perceive reality, varnishing it with multiculturalism.“
Amnesty International has also criticised the practice of profiling and the use of the term Nafris17.
Jürgen Mathias, president of Cologne police, has since apologised for using the word “Nafris” – but not for the police actions, which he considered adequate to the situation: “The term was poorly used in this case18.”
How to prevent discrimination
Racial profiling as a term was first used in the USA, where African Americans are five times more likely than whites to be sent to prison19. “For a long time the country was a leader in racial discrimination of minorities (Mexicans, Afro- Americans and others) by the law enforcement bodies, says Olga Gulina, director of the independent Migration Policy Institute20. “In Europe the theme of racial discrimination by law enforcement agencies has appeared relatively recently,” she says. “However, the last fifty years of active disintegration of the colonial system and the influx of the population of the newly independent states to the former metropolises has already allowed us to gain some experience.”
However, Germany lacks specific legislation that would prevent racial profiling. According to Gulina, in the USA the situations where a law enforcement officer may perform his or her duties based on racial, ethnic, religious affiliation or sexual orientation of the individuals, are strictly regulated. In Germany, there is a general prohibition on discrimination under article of the basic law (Art 3-3 GG): “Nobody may be harmed or given preference because of sex, origin, race, language, birthplace and parentage, religion, religious or political beliefs. No one can be harmed as a result of existing inadequacies21.”
The actions of the Cologne police were in full compliance with the federal police act (§ 22 Abs. 1 a Bundespolizeigesetz)22, says Olga Gulina. According to this law, in trains, border areas, transportation hubs and airports the police have a right to “stop, interrogate and check the identity documents or documents of border crossing of each and every person”.
The authors of the German Institute for Human Rights study regarding racial profiling in Germany demanded the withdrawal of this article of the federal law23. In their opinion, it does not formulate the terms or conditions of check, i.e. the check can be conducted regardless of whether actions of the person under check carry some kind of threat to others or not. The declared objective of §22 of the federal law on police is the prevention of illegal migration. According to the authors of the study “Racial profiling”, the article fails in this.
“As a rule, racial profiling, or the racial discrimination by law enforcement agencies stems from a desire of the police to demonstrate to the population their willingness to protect their interests and guarantee their security,” says Gulina. But American research on this topic has proven that the “satisfaction with the police performance depends on demographics, crime rates, and personal and mediated experiences with police”.
[ + ]