Berlin Polizei in 2020: Some context
A music studio facility in Reinickendorf, Berlin was raided by approximately 30 police officers on 05.08.2020.
This thinkpiece is written anonymously on the behalf of the artists who use the space.
The intention of this piece is to provide context to the events of 05.08.20.
Police officers stormed the facility unannounced. A search warrant was reportedly obtained on the grounds of a tenant previously purchasing two grams each of cocaine and amphetamines from an undercover police officer.
Two musicians ‘A’ and ‘Z’ who were present describe the event:
A: It was a big surprise. Suddenly we heard police shout ‘get on the ground.’ They had their guns out, pointed at our face. So the first thing we did was get on the ground, get on our belly. They handcuffed us, some of us pretty hard and kept us on the ground for 30 minutes. Then when they understood that we had nothing to do with what they were searching for, they sat us in chairs still handcuffed. After 30 more minutes, they took off the handcuffs but made us stay in the studio for I think, two more hours? Then they told us that everyone in the studio building had to get out because they had to search for whatever they were searching for. We felt helpless and powerless, we couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t defend ourselves. They broke down doors on the way into the facility, that was unnecessary. They used guns. That was unnecessary.
Z: We were doing demolition so I was getting some scraps off the ground to bundle together. I literally go to the ground to pick up those few pieces of wood, I look up, there’s five cops in the room, three of them with guns pointed at us, telling us to get on the floor and get on the ground. Of course we instantly complied because what the hell else are we gonna do. I put my hands up, I get in the position, the cop comes from behind me, slams me to the ground, puts my hands behind my back, and puts the cuffs on way too fucking tight and leaves us there, chins on the floor. It was very uncomfortable, everything was just silent. Before we could sit up again, I was like, ‘yo do you mind if we sit up? This is extremely uncomfortable’, and they were like ‘yeah, ok, you can sit up.’ They were joking around and laughing.
The Berlin Polizei made the following press release regarding the event:
Image of artist Z’s hand shortly after being handcuffed
Damage caused by the police
Further damage caused by the police
The role of the police
Law enforcement in the US has rightfully come under intense scrutiny over the last few months, stimulated particularly by the murder of George Floyd. Calls to defund or abolish the police have circulated the internet, gaining traction amongst various communities, especially BIPOC, who have historically faced systemic oppression at the hands of law enforcement, as statistically proven here.
Organized policing in Germany however harks back to the era of Napoleonic occupation in the early 19th century. The idea of a gendarmerie nationale was applied, whose overarching responsibility was similar to nowadays, simply ‘the maintenance of law and order’. The infamous former Volkspolizei of the GDR was dissolved upon German reunification, and many of its officers were absorbed into the unified state police under the direction of former West Berlin chief George Schertz. Many GDR officers were first subject to investigation into their possible roles in the former Staatssicherheitsdienst (aka STASI; the highly political secret service of the DDR). We ought not to forget that the police force in Berlin today will still comprise some officers who worked during the era of the DDR.
Uniformed patrol police, to quote Thomas Feltes and Uwe Marquardt’s 2013 paper ‘Policing in Germany: Developments in the Last 20 Years’, serve to ‘establish and ensure public safety and security in general, deal with public order, patrol services, high risk operations, trafﬁc problems and accidents, and minor crimes’, whereas criminal investigation units deal with all other crimes.
Are the Deutsche Polizei accountable for their actions?
The African American History Society (AAHS) posted an illuminating article regarding police brutality and racism in Germany. The story of Oury Jalloh is raised, a man seeking asylum from Sierra Leone. He died in a particularly brutal fashion whilst in custody in Dessau, the inquest seemingly failing to properly investigate or explain exactly the series of events.
In fact a research paper published by the Ruhr University Bochum last year found that no criminal proceedings were initiated in 80% of criminal justice system investigations into instances of police violence in Germany. In just 7% of reported cases were charges upheld.
Indeed, the historical context of state intervention and power in Berlin is particularly volatile. In a country bound by military constraints under ‘The Treaty for the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany’, authorities ought to maintain a level of courtesy and tact when navigating the open wounds of a society still recovering from genocide.
Why target casual drug users?
The art community in Berlin represents an upholding of humanity - a celebration of the liberty and expression that were oppressed in the East for so long. From an economic perspective, the city relies heavily on art to attract tourism - especially club music. (A recent study by the Berlin Club Commission estimated that club tourism alone brings 1.5 billion euros to the city each year).
Artists come to the city to feel safe. Not to be assaulted by the police with guns in broad daylight whilst making music.
What has warranted such draconian intervention such as that witnessed on 05.07.20 in Reinickendorf? Enough artists have left the city over the course of the pandemic, why are more being scared off?
Especially based on evidence that, at worst, implies casual drug use.
Might the police have vested interests when performing such raids with so little evidence?
An unnecessary use of force
Feltes and Marquardt’s previously mentioned paper addresses the use of firearms by the police in Germany:
Firearms may only be used against persons if the success of police measures cannot be achieved by using them against objects. A ﬁrearm may not be used if there is a high probability of endangering innocent people. If using a ﬁrearm is the only means to avert a direct threat to life, this does not apply.
Firearms may only be used against an individual person:
(a) To prevent or to interrupt the commission of an offence which according to the circumstances appears to be a crime punishable by law with at least a year imprisonment, an offence that is to be committed or that is being committed by using or carrying along a ﬁrearm or explosives
(b) To apprehend a person trying to escape arrest or having his identity checked if this person is caught committing an act, which according to the circumstances appears to be a crime or an offence which is committed using or carrying along a ﬁrearm
(c) To prevent escape or to recapture a person that is being or was being detained as a result of being sentenced for committing a crime, in protective custody, because the person is suspected of having committed a crime, due to a judicial decision or because he is suspected of having committed a crime, if indications are that this person will use a ﬁrearm or explosives.
We must ask ourselves the question - are a bunch of musicians who buy an occasional bit of gear likely to be possessing firearms?
A waste of taxpayer’s money
The police budget in Berlin in 2019 was €1.545 billion (equating to a spend of €438 per citizen) with a ratio of 1 police officer to 201 citizens, the highest in Germany. This is a significant figure for every citizen - we have the right to question police spending.
The cost of this raid alone is unknown, but was surely in the five figures range. Armed police are highly qualified and demand higher wages. The courts charge extortionate fees to issue warrants.
Countries with a lower Human Development Index score, characterised by poverty (such as Sierra Leone) statistically have a significantly higher rate of criminal activity when compared to countries with the highest development indexes, such as Germany. The annual homicide rate in Germany is 0.95 per 100,000 inhabitants, making it one of the safest countries in the world to live.
This is a relevant statistic when tackling the role of the police in Germany. Surely the only justification for police using firearms is self-defense? Were the inhabitants of the studio space suspected of being dangerous? Does buying a couple of grams of speed make you dangerous?
A circumvention of democratic principles
The Montreal-based International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) is an NGO focused on crime prevention and community safety. One of its crucial roles is in supporting the UN Guidelines on the Prevention of Crime (1995 and 2002) and preventing victimisation.
‘Police ethics: Mechanism designed by the legislator to ensure that all members of a police force or service perform the duties assigned them by the law by protecting the public against violence, crime and other harmful acts. Police officers must act in accordance with the law, ensuring that it is respected and applied in a manner consistent with their level of responsibility. These rules governing police conduct are aimed at ensuring the integrity and impartiality of the police in promoting the rule of law and respect for democratic principles.’
The police are public servants, their position of power is entrusted to them by the public. Taxpayer’s money pays for their firearms - to protect us. Our trust in them is eroded by events like these, taking us one step closer to civil unrest, as seen in the US.
Perhaps the police ought to learn to bolster the intraorganisational accolades they issue themselves everyday with real respect from the public.
The ‘Da für Dich’ motto emblazoned on the back of police cars in the city ought to be practiced.
Speak up. We must strive to maintain solidarity amongst the music community.
If you’ve also had a bad experience with the Berlin polizei you can file a complaint here: