Racial Profiling in Germany
On the 30th of October, an appeal court in Koblenz made a landmark decision making racial profiling illegal, after a case that resulted in skin colour being admitted as an acceptable ground for suspicion for stopping and searching a suspect.
In 2010, a young black German man was asked for his ID on a train from Kassel to Frankfurt. The architecture student told the officers that he had already been checked and asked why he was being checked again. The officers did not give a reason and the young man refused to show his ID. He was pushed off the train and a minor altercation occurred. The officers called him 'du' (the impolite form of you), his mobile phone was broken and the police asked whether the two chocolate bars in his bag had been stolen. The young man compared his treatment to SS methods and later took his case to court in Koblenz.
When asked in court why they had asked the 25 year old for ID, the officers replied that it was indeed because he was black. Shockingly, the court accepted this as a legitimate reason to ask the man for identification; ruling that on train routes known to be used by illegal immigrants as well as in areas near the border, 'foreign appearance' or 'skin colour' constitutes an acceptable ground for stopping, searching, questioning and asking someone for their ID. This is an extension of the law that allows police to stop and search people without reasonable grounds for suspicion in areas classified as dangerous by the police like well known drug markets, a tactic known by the German compound word 'Schleierfahndung' ('fog-manhunts'). According to the Koblenz ruling, Schleierfahndung operations were made legal in the service of fighting illegal immigration. The police were given a lot of discretion in this; on the route between Kassel and Frankfurt only 10 people were caught without papers per quarter, but it was considered a zone of engagement serious enough to waive the rights of people to be free from racial profiling. Since the implementation of the Schengen agreement, 2.44 million people have been stopped without cause in Germany.
In October 2012, the Higher Administrative Court of Rhineland-Palatinate in Koblenz overturned the ruling, based on Article 3 of the German Constitution, which states that ‘No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions’.
It is an important ruling because racial profiling, though prohibited under constitutional law, was regarded as an open secret in Germany. A TAZ article describes racially motivated stops and searches as a daily reality in Berlin. The campaign for victims of racist police violence (KOP) has recorded hundreds of incidents, and Biplab Basu, co-founder of KOP, estimates that their chronicle just scratches the surface, as many people do not complain. Police often threaten prosecution under libel laws when they are accused of being racist, as they did in the case of the architecture student who took his case to Koblenz. It is to be hoped that these unofficial manifestations of racial profiling are combated by the Koblenz higher court’s upholding of constitutional protections against it.
Where Angela Merkel described multiculturalism as having utterly failed, arguments rage in Germany about the perceived lack of integration of immigrant communities. The original Koblenz judgement completely undermined any commitment to integration. If foreign appearance constitutes reasonable grounds for suspicion, the 15 million people with immigration backgrounds living legally in Germany are all deemed by the state as suspicious. When people with migration backgrounds are stigmatised for the failure of multiculturalism, the gulf between ‘Germans’ and ‘foreigners’ widens.