The US is currently being shaken by severe unrest. The background is the death of George Floyd, who was the victim of police violence in front of a running camera, begging for his life in an infinite lyane 46 seconds and repeating: “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.”
Now the leader of the SPD, Saskia Esken, had said that there was also “latent racism in the ranks of the security forces” in Germany and that there was a potential loss of trust. Immediately, a storm of indignation and outrage broke its course.
Bavarian Interior Minister Herrmann immediately attested to her that she had “just pretty little idea of the police in Germany.” And he added that we “in Germany are far from the brutal excesses in parts of the American police.” The general secretary of the CDU, Paul Ziemiak, commented on police officers should not “Pre-sentence and be pilloried on a blanket basis.” Dietmar Schilff, the federal chairman of the Police Union (GdP), also defended the officers: “But to accuse the police and their employees of such a basic attitude is absurd and carries populist characteristics.” The public outrage was so great that some SPD MPs also frantically distanced themselves. ‘We strongly reject this insinuation and urge Ms Esken to apologise publicly” reads a joint press release by the MdBs Claudia Moll and Ulla Schmidt, as well as three members of the state parliament. These reactions are not surprising, since police officers are ranked 5th in the most trusted professions. A ranking in which politicians, by the way (unjustly) regularly take the last place.
So has Esken defamed and pilloried an entire profession? At first glance, this impression may arise. If you take a closer look at the interview, she has also made it clear and stressed that the vast majority of police officers are very critical of such tendencies and would suffer from the possible loss of confidence. A general suspicion looks different. She said there was a latent racism that needs to be recognised and combated by internal leadership measures – and called for an independent complaints body.
If one looks in the Duden under “latent“, there is “present, but [noch] not appearing; not immediately visible or to capture“. According to Esken, there is therefore an existing but not immediately visible racism in the ranks of the security forces. This is something that must necessarily be assumed. If, for example, the mid-study of the FES concludes that almost one in five people have a xenophobic attitude and about eight percent even have a racist attitude, why should the security forces of all be completely free of this? We want our armed forces (“citizens in uniform”) and our police to represent the widest possible cross-section of the population. This also has to do with trust, anchoring and acceptance. As a result, there must be almost even undesirable attitudes in this sensitive area as well.
The fact that they exist must be read again and again: One of the twelve members of the “Group S.”, who wanted to shake the social order in our country through targeted attacks, is an administrative officer of the police headquarters Hamm. Longer signals, such as an imperial war flag on the balcony, were“not seriously appreciated enough,”according to Interior Minister Reul. Other officials are suspected of being involved in right-wing terrorist acts. In Potsdam, two police officers from the allegedfar-right association Uniter abused their access to police databases. A long-time LKA official was sentenced to probation in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He was accused of having founded the chat group NORDKREUZ, whose 60 members – including other policemen and soldiers – were supposed to have prepared for a “Day X”. They even planned to get fire-fighting lime and corpse bags. During house searches, weapons, ammunition and enemy lists with several thousand names were seized. In total, Deutschlandfunk has researched around 200 cases – without claiming to be complete.
If you compare the approximately 260,000 civil servants, these cases are marginal. But they must, without a doubt, make their explosiveness audible. These 200 cases are a visible part of what is simmering in the authorities here. The extent to which (everyday) racism is present in everyday service “latent” – i.e. not visible – is another question. Answering them is difficult. As part of the majority society, I do not think I will experience it myself. As a German with a migrant background or a refugee, I might have a different perception.
This makes it all the more important to take a closer look. This is important not only for social coexistence, but also in the very best interests of the vast majority of security forces, policemen and soldiers who take the oath of office they take seriously. Day by day – often under heavy workload and with insufficient equipment – “the Basic Law and all laws in force in the Federal Republic of Germany and [ihre] conscientiously [… ] “I’m not about that.”
We are a long way from the state of American police violence. We almost invariably have dedicated and well-trained security forces. But we too have incidents that cannot simply be ignored. From this point of view, Esken is right in terms of content – even if the timing might have been better chosen. However, the upset reactions do not help: neither the police nor our society.