Riot Police Redux

Lots of interesting comments to my Riot Police post from a few days back. Let me clarify my point.

The problem I’d like to see addressed is very limited. It’s not peaceful political demonstrations. It’s not even not-very-peaceful political demonstrations. Both of those can, and should, be handled with the minimum amount of force necessary to keep order. Which, in most cases, would be none at all. Even if the protesters throw a few molotov cocktails or burn a few SUVs, that would not necessarily justify an aggressive police reaction — although people who willfully destroy property should, ideally, be located, prosecuted, and required to recompense the damage they cause.

My suggestion is limited to situations in which crowds of people target isolated individuals with the threat of potentially lethal violence. It happens primarily in the east, but also, recently, at a wine festival in the Rhineland-Palatinate (G), where a group of skinheads severely beat two Africans while chanting (roughly): "We’re going to beat the crap out of the niggers." One of the victims had a finger severed with a broken wine bottle. Taking the position of the man whose finger was cut off his hand, I’d say that incidents such as this are a serious threat to human life. As was the incident in Muegeln. The mob there was working on breaking into the pizza parlor in which the eight Indians had taken refuge when police reinforcements arrived. If things had gone slightly differently, people might have been murdered.

It should go without saying that I’m talking about any mob, targeting any individuals, for any reason. These incidents required a swift and aggressive police reaction because they represent a direct threat to human life. This doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable demand to place on the state. There are fire departments all over Germany who are ready to respond quickly to fires. Because fires represent a direct threat to human life and must be combated immediately. I see no reason why a similar quick-response mechanism could not be set up for situations in which a mob of people has targeted isolated, helpless individuals for beatings and/or death.

These incidents can be hard to predict. But these days, everybody has cellphones and can place anonymous calls to a police hotline within seconds. News agencies gather and show footage from people using their cellphones to record newsworthy events seconds after they occur. The state has plenty of resources to monitor and track potentially dangerous groups. For instance, the left-wing militante gruppe, which I posted about recently. The police authorities were listening to conversations, tracing cellphones, and searching apartments (G) of people suspected of being affiliated with this group, which has so far burned cars and offices in non-fatal arson attacks. The way is there, all that’s needed is the will (and yes, I’m well aware that German police agencies closely monitor right-wing groups already).

Should we also address the root causes of these incidents? (Racial prejudice, social alienation, etc.) Well, sure, as far as that goes. But root causes are not particularly relevant to someone bandaging a a bloody stump where his finger used to be, running through a small town in the western part of Germany, desperately looking for somewhere, anywhere to escape a drunken mob threatening to kill him. In that situation, a state as all-encompassing and strong as Germany’s (which, by the way, is running a budget surplus) should be able to show up within minutes, break up the mob with as much force as necessary, and track down, arrest, and punish the criminals. That’s what I pay my German taxes for. And I do pay German taxes.

21 thoughts on “Riot Police Redux

  1. You may rehash the subject as often as you like, but I still don’t get it. First the Muegelners put a lot of effort into beating the crap out of some unwanted guests in their town and then you are asking that they form some sort of police to protect the very people that they are trying to get rid of? Chasing brownskins is already exhausting enough, no point in making your life more difficult by artificially erecting obstacles in your own way. Must be that patented Hammel Logic(TM) at work here.

  2. These fire departments rely heavily on voluntary work, I somehow doubt that would be a good thing for the police.
    And the German state can’t do much either, because police is handled by the
    respective Länder. The state has no say in the matter, but I agree with you something has to be done about this and there is much the state can do and should do. I hope that our politician will wake up before it’s too late.

  3. The problem lies exactly with the people’s civil courage. That’s what it all depends on. Yes, everyone has cellphones. But there are, unfortunately, a large number of idiots, losers and cowards out there that don’t call the police immediately. The police normally does a good job once they arrive. But they can’t and will never be the ever-ready good-doing force we would like them to be. And I don’t expect them to always be anywhere near potential conflicts. I would like to be able to enjoy a Volksfest without police guards around although if it turns out that you can’t protect people at certain events anymore without police at the scene, you probably have no choice but to send them from the beginning. CCTV is another option but hard to install in any goddamn province town’s main squares.

  4. You mention “interesting comments” but since no one seemed to have taken note of my comment, let me repeat it:

    Before you start calling for special police squads to intervene with such incidents, please put things in some proper perspective!

    Germany, in spite of what extensive reporting might suggest, is a lot less dangerous than most other countries in Europe and North America!

    In 2006 there were 1300 hate crimes in California alone, that is three times as many as in Germany in a state with a population of about 40% of Germany.

    Philadelphia, for example, is a city of 1.5 million people, and had around 400 murders last year – more than the entire country of Germany in the same period.

    Would you seriously say that you’d rather live in, say, Newark, New Jersey, or Gary, Indiana, than in Muegeln?

  5. Everything you say is true, Stefan. However, nowhere in these posts have I drawn any comparison, either explicit or implicit, to the United States. I don’t see much value in such a comparison, since violence patterns in the U.S. and in Europe are different, and the U.S. is — to put it very mildly indeed — hardly a model of effective violence-reduction. For a variety of reasons (including demographic factors and sound policies such as strict gun control) European cities are safer than the United States — especially when it comes to homicide.

    But the fact that European cities are so safe (one of the things I appreciate about living here) hardly means that they can’t, or shouldn’t be made safer. Especially when the type of violence in question is so threatening to Germany’s international reputation.

  6. Difficult subject. I don’t know what I would I have done If I was there. I don’t have a cellphone (hate the things) and I don’t think it would have helped (there already where two policemen there). Help them by myself and hope someone else joins me? I actually look like the people those right-wing assholes hate so they probably would have chased me as well.

    I don’t really like the idea of having lots of riot squads all around the country either. They cost tax money, and certain politicians (that think a lot like mob that did the actual chasing) will want them to be used against people they don’t like, since they (the riot squads) are already there and are eating precious tax money (and I don’t like the idea of lots of bored volunteers in full body armor).

    Maybe the best thing would be if Schäuble would try to stop decreasing the funding of the normal police and the decreasing number of policemen instead of chasing virtual terrorists with online searches of computers, targeted killings, abolishment of the presumption of innocence for suspected terrorists, use of the Bundeswehr or whatever that madman is talking about right now.

  7. Andrew,

    your proposal simply won’t work. Just look at the facts in the case of the Guntersblum wine festival incident and bear in mind that it took place at 3.45 a.m! As Karl Raab, a first-hand witness, reported, the attackers suddenly and without forewarning attacked the two Africans (“Plötzlich sei gegen 3.45 Uhr eine Horde junger Männer aus Richtung Julianenbrunnen gekommen und habe sich praktisch ohne Vorwarnung sofort auf die beiden Männer gestürzt.”). Raab called for help and Henning Knaack together with five friends immediately helped the two Africans. Because of their apperance the attackers stopped and run away. But within only a few seconds the police arrived. (“Nach Angaben von Knaack war innerhalb weniger Sekunden eine Fußstreife der Polizei am Tatort. Henning Knaack: “Die Polizisten waren in Rufweite und hörten unsere Hilfe-Schreie.”)

  8. A remarkably refreshing benefit, besides clean air and water, an excuse not to say a mumbling word, and paucity of advertisement — narry a sign for days telling me to “buy and save,” “eat, eat, eat,” etc. — is the astoundingly low police presence in Sweden whenever I visit.

    As for taking the victims’ perspective at the height of their travails in order to decide policy, well, those still mired in Houston, TX have to draw back a tad.

    Bucking up police force while Europe slides right, partly on slippery fears of crime, is the wrong recipe. Folks better put some grass in their hats come springtime in Paris.

  9. The most interesting thing about this report is the following statement :
    “Die Polizei machte den Vorfall erst jetzt öffentlich.”
    Why are the poice controlling the flow of information ? Is that not one of the definitions of a police state ? How many other instances have they kept quiet and why wasn’t this reported in ALL the mass media.

  10. tim,

    after the incident, the six Germans – five men and a woman – were identified but two of them went into hiding. To not comprose the findings the police informed the public only after three of them, who probably are the persons responsible for the violent attacks, were arrested five days later.

  11. @Andrew

    Especially when the type of violence in question is so threatening to Germany’s international reputation.

    As anyone knows, it’s outlawing Nazi symbolism and denying Holocaust deniers their constitutional right to free speech that have been chosen to show the international community that Germany is attacking Nazism at its very roots and will undoubtedly restore the Reputation of the Nation to its Proper Glory.

  12. Lately, in the course of an investigation on right wing violence, reporters from Der Spiegel told of Thor Steinar leaflets on display in an East German police station. Thor Steinar is a fashion brand popular among right wing extremists. East German police are part of East German society, their children attend schools where dissent from prevailing right wing youth culture is not advisable, while their parents need to get along with the neighbours. Passivity and victimisation of the targets, not the perpetrators of right wing violence is common. Quite often victims have to endure extensive questioning, while the perps are soon released. As long as harsh disciplinary action against conniving authorities is not enforced, as long as denial is eastern Bürgermeisters preferred method to deal with a reality, they don’t overly disagree with, technical solutions will only help so much, short of military occupation.

  13. @ martin:

    “[blah] …their constitutional right to free speech… [blah]…”

    And which constitution should this right be derived from? Last time I checked, the first amendment didn’t apply outside the US.

  14. “Would you seriously say that you’d rather live in, say, Newark, New Jersey, or Gary, Indiana, than in Muegeln?”

    No, because I personally would not ‘stick out’ in Muegeln unless I opened my mouth and revealed myself as an auslander.

    But if I had a dark skin arguably I’d prefer Gary or Newark, because they are not noted for racist mobs out for blood….

  15. Let’s have Müggeln’s Bürgermeister have the last word on the issue, ok? Which are, incidentally: “Ich […] bin stolz darauf, Deutscher zu sein […]”, answering empathetic questioning by right wing rag Junge Freiheit, who has been busy afterwards distributing the issue to Müggeln residents for free. Quite perspicacious, how a former SED aligned Blockflöte equates post unification society and its media with …SED rule, of all things – the interview is well worth reading. Riot police is not even a hotfix to the problem.

  16. “Would you seriously say that you’d rather live in, say, Newark, New Jersey, or Gary, Indiana, than in Muegeln?”

    No, because I personally would not ‘stick out’ in Muegeln unless I opened my mouth and revealed myself as an auslander.

    I’d seriously say I’d prefer living almost anywhere besides Mügeln or any other village or small town in the east, especially Brandenburg. As Marek said: “Riot police is not even a hotfix to the problem.”

  17. @Junger Gott, our resident genius here

    Last time I checked, the first amendment didn’t apply outside the US.

    Ah right, and here, see, in my boundless naivete, I went and thought that Germany at least formally had some sort of protection of free speech. Well, I guess you must be glad that Germans so far have managed to keep that bit of American bullshit from arriving at their shores.

  18. @Alex:

    I’d seriously say I’d prefer living almost anywhere besides Mügeln or any other village or small town in the east, especially Brandenburg.

    I would say that the – uuuhh – security that Mügeln would be able to offer me isn’t enough to make up for … well, to give an example, its insufferable mayor 😉

  19. “No, because I personally would not ‘stick out’ in Muegeln unless I opened my mouth and revealed myself as an auslander.

    But if I had a dark skin arguably I’d prefer Gary or Newark, because they are not noted for racist mobs out for blood….”

    You guys have no clue. While I sure wouldn’t want to live in Muegeln myself, mostly because I wouldn’t know what to do there and I’m a big city person: I mentioned Newark for a reason! Google “gang killings” and you will find a recent event where a whole bunch of “Latino” people were killed with all the same racist overtones and even including the initially-defiant-mayor bit.

    And the incident in Muegeln, while deplorable, doesn’t seem like a part of a pattern to me. The Indian people implicated in this were LIVING there.

    I don’t want to sugarcoat or to condone anything, but guys, get some perspective! In Newark alone more people are muredered every year than in ALL of East Germany, and many of them with racist overtones.

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