Tag Archives: police

Police violence is becoming surreal

8 Jul

Who is your favorite surrealist author? Breton? Hugnet?

Me? My favorite surrealist is the press officer for the Berliner Polizei.

For an example, how would the average joe describe the video above from last Saturday at Görlitzer Park?

I would say: A bunch of police ask a guy with a clown nose for his ID. Then they beat him mercilessly. Then more people come, then more police, and the beatings continue for several minutes.

But I’m not a surrealist. From the winged pen of Berlin’s police spokesman, this scene is described in an enthralling combination of dream and reality straight out of a film of Luis Buñuel:

… a 22-year-old got in the way of the officers and impeded their investigation. After the police had sent him off, in vain, and the impediments continued, an officer pulled the troublemaker to the side, at which point a group of up to 60 people interfered in the events … two bicycles were flung at the officers, and a policeman suffered a head injury that required out-patient care at a hospital. With the help of further police, the group of people was pushed away and two men (aged 32 and 46) and a 33-year-old women were arrested. They are being investigated for aggravated assault, attempted freeing of prisoners and serious breach of the peace.

Like in any great surrealist art, the absurdist elements predominate, but there’s tidbits of reality to connect the narrative back to our world. So around the 2:24 mark we do in fact see a bicycle enter the frame. But the police officer, far from being injured, flings it right back. Did he injure someone? This is where great art makes us think: What does it mean to claim that “six police were injured”, when all we can see are citizens screaming in pain? Do the police reside in a different dimension than normal people? Does the bicycle exist at all? Is any of this real?

Last Tuesday, it was reported that police attacked dozens of underage school students with pepper spray. Their laconic explanation – “we didn’t use pepper spray” – for me qualifies as great art. Eighty-five years ago, René Magritte shocked the world with his statement: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The Berlin police are going even further: “Dies ist kein Pfeffersprayeinsatz.” It’s up to the art critics to decide.

P.S. There’s lots of discussion in the press about what might have actually happened. We’ll sift through all the “evidence” in the comments.

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Hamburg on the Barricades

26 Dec

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As an Xmas treat, John Riceburg is taking the Berlin Blog on an Ausflug to Hamburg. What transpired there could have happened just as easily in Berlin.

Last Saturday, December 21 – one weekend before the holidays – Hamburg saw one of the biggest riots in recent years. The tabloid press has been repeating claims by the police that the disturbances were the work of a few thousand traveling hooligans (Reisechaoten) who enjoy violence for violence’s sake. Actual reporters, in contrast, using video material from the scene, have shown that it was the hooligans in white helmets who attacked a peaceful demonstration.

But let’s start at the beginning. The old Flora Theater in Hamburg’s Schanzenviertel was occupied in November of 1989 and turned into Die Rote Flora, a centre for non-commercial culture and left-wing politics in the harbour city. The property was sold to the realty speculator Klausmartin Kretschmer in 2001 – with a contract acknowledging the building was being used by squatters. In 2013, Kretschmer announced that he wants to evict the users and build a six-story concert hall. He set a deadline for December 20.

I’ve already shown what happens to former squats after evictions. Nothing better should be expected on the Elbe. “The city belongs to everyone!” was the motto for more than 7000 people demonstrating for the Rote Flora and the Lampedusa refugees on December 21. The police mobilized several thousand officers and declared the entire city centre to a “danger zone” where they could stop, search and expel anyone without reason.

The demonstration started at 3:10pm, along a route that had been approved by the city. After just a few meters it was stopped. Soon the police were attacking the front rows with fists, batons, pepper spray and giant water cannons. “Stones had been thrown at police from a bridge,” a police spokesperson explained to the media why a legal demonstration had been dissolved.

But video evidence shows no rocks in the air until after the demonstration had been violently blocked. So then the police claimed the demonstration had started off “too early” – even though it had been registered for 3pm and started late. Then they said it started moving “suddenly and without consultation with the police” – as if that would nullify the right to free assembly. After that, chaos broke out: the police sealed off entire neighbourhoods and so ensued cat-and-mouse street fighting well into the night.

The police later claimed that 120 officers were injured. I’ve argued before that one shouldn’t trust official numbers before seeing people in green uniforms and body casts. The numbers from the medics accompanying the demonstration – over 500 demonstrators injured, 20 of them seriously, mostly from pepper spray and cannons shooting water mixed with poisonous chemicals – appear far more compatible with the evidence and eyewitness reports.

But the real injury is to the right to demonstrate. While the city of Hamburg pulled out all the stops to guarantee Nazi groups their right to demonstrate in 2008 and 2012, there was clearly a political decision to block a left-wing demonstration without any legal justification. The 7000 demonstrators included a train full of Berliners – not because they like violence, but because they want to protect an emblematic cultural centre from gentrification. Instead of demonstrating as planned, they spent hours dashing through back alleys to escape marauding police.

The same thing could happen in Berlin. The Berlin senator for the interior Frank Henkel has set a new ultimatum for the eviction of the refugee camp at Oranienplatz for January 18 – even though any such attempt will undoubtedly lead to massive protests. And there are plenty of community centres in Berlin – both squatted and rented – in the cross-hairs of realty speculators. You can use your constitutional right to demonstrate against these evictions. But what if the police can criminalize any demonstration after just a few minutes? And what if the big media go along with this?

Guido Westerwelle, the former Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic, was in Kiev supporting demonstrators against the president Viktor Yanukovych. German politicians are happy to denounce police violence – as long as it’s directed against pro-Western demonstrators. But a protest in the Schanzelviertel or in Kreuzberg gets pretty much the same treatment as in Kiev. So could we get the Foreign Minister of the Ukraine to come to Hamburg and Berlin to support our right to demonstrate?

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/hamburg-on-the-barricades/

Picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/woerpel/11481549103/

The straight dope

1 Aug

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The ubiquitous presence of party drugs in clubs, the familiar sight of dealers in stations and parks, the signature whiff of cannabis in the streets, state-sponsored injection rooms… Is Berlin too lax on drugs? Berlin’s commissioner on narcotics, Christine Köhler-Azara, defends the city’s liberal policy.

What are the most popular drugs in Berlin right now?

Heroin is becoming less popular – it’s not really a drug that fits in with the zeitgeist. If you take it, you want to sit in a corner and be left alone. Today young people are looking for very different feelings. They want a kick, they want to be faster, more awake, more stimulated. They want “party drugs” like cocaine or amphetamines.

What do you tell youth about party drugs?

One example of our policy regarding party drugs is the informational campaign “Na klar” which advises young people about the risks they are taking when they decide to consume such drugs.

Your flyer about ecstasy contains some pretty surprising advice – for example, taking half a pill and then waiting half an hour before taking the second half. Should it be the government’s role to provide this kind of information?

[Laughs] It’s a different line than in the US. You can see that in Germany’s Federal Narcotics Law (Betäubungsmittelgesetz or BTMG). Paragraph 31A of this law says that criminal charges can be dropped in cases of small amounts of drugs for personal use. In Berlin, with up to 10 grams of cannabis, the public prosecutor has to drop charges. Between 10 and 15 grams, the prosecutor can choose whether to pursue a case or not.

So no one will be sent to jail for smoking a mega-joint, or being caught with a dime bag in their pocket…?

Well, it depends… If someone is caught consuming drugs ostentatiously near a school or a playground, there is always the possibility to press charges. Paragraph 35 of the BTMG also stipulates that a sentence of under two years can be spent in a therapeutic centre instead of a prison.

That all sounds very reasonable.

We want to be pragmatic. Our experience has shown that it’s not a good strategy to create too much hysteria; it’s important for the state to not lose credibility. Instead, we try to provide scientific information. That’s more successful than a simple policy of “Say no to drugs”. But we also have to say that cannabis can cause psychosis, even after consuming it once – not in every case, but it happens. So when we do prevention in schools, we explain that smoking cannabis is bad for health and contains a risk of addiction.

Judging by all the young people smoking pot in Berlin, that doesn’t seem to be a very successful approach…

Berlin is indeed at the very top if you compare the Länder in terms of cannabis consumption. But then in terms of alcohol intoxication among youths, Berlin is in the lowest third and the numbers are going down. That has something to do with the availability in big cities.

Where do the drugs come from?

Everywhere. The Netherlands, Eastern Europe, Spain, Portugal… Of course there are cannabis plantations and methamphetamine labs in Brandenburg, but Germany imports, rather than exports, illegal drugs.

Aren’t some drugs, like ecstasy, fairly safe?

But you never know if it’s really MDMA in the pills. They’re produced under black market conditions.

Isn’t that an argument for legalisation, or at least quality control? There are quality checks for drugs like alcohol and tobacco.

Yes, but they’re legal. Illegal drugs are illegal for a reason. We don’t want to create a false sense of security by providing checks. These drugs are dangerous even if they are pure. If people want to take drugs to go dancing, shouldn’t they take responsibility for all the consequences? The state is not like Mama and Papa to take you by the hand.

But then the state provides safe havens for clean consumption, the Fixerstuben (injection rooms)… What’s the difference?

These rooms offer the possibility to inject drugs under sanitary conditions. The staff also offer information: where you can get needles, how to get vaccine shots against hepatitis, where to get tested for HIV/AIDS. They try to get people into drug counselling and show them they have alternatives. We also have a mobile consumption room, a bus with two spaces for drug users. It parks in different places, for example at Stuttgarter Platz in Charlottenburg.

They’re not always popular with the locals, are they? You have had difficulties in the past, for example with the injection room at Kottbusser Tor…

Yes, they couldn’t find premises, so the district government decided to step in and provide them with a space in an unused school in Reichenberger Straße. When you want to open a drug consumption space in a neighborhood, no one is thrilled. It’s the same problem with mental hospitals or homes for asylum seekers: everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but nobody wants to have it in their neighbourhood. So, before we opened the space, we organised big public meetings and all the neighbours’ fears were addressed. Residents realised it is better for them if people use this room rather than taking drugs out on the street.

Are Berlin’s politicians all in agreement with this?

There is pretty much a consensus. There were fights about this when substitution treatments were introduced back in the 1980s, but most people are in agreement about the basic idea.

Many people who move to Berlin from abroad think drugs, especially cannabis, are decriminalised here.

That is a mistake. Cannabis is still illegal in Germany. We’ve signed a treaty against drugs with the World Health Organisation. Even if charges for drug possession in small amounts are dropped, there are still criminal charges. That means people still get their fingerprints and their pictures taken. Drugs are illegal. And the narcotics laws do also apply in Berlin!

Source: Exberliner #116, May 2013, http://www.exberliner.com/features/lifestyle/the-straight-dope/

Foto: Jarka Snajberk

Drugs from the Inside: The Cop

21 May

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Julia H.* has served in the Berlin police for more than 15 years and now works the beat around Görlitzer Bahnhof. In an exclusive off-the-record interview, the senior officer explains why the cops turn a blind eye to drug users and small-time dealers.

If no one pushed us, I don’t think any patrol officer would ever bother the small-time dealers. We know they’re just poor devils. They’re not a big deal – as long as they’re not hurting anyone. But then some press article comes out about Africans selling drugs at Görlitzer Park and people living in the area start saying, “The police don’t do anything!” Then our boss will say, “Do something.” So we have to show a presence in the park. But the dealers will only have a few grams each on them. They have larger amounts stashed away somewhere, but we would need to observe them for hours to find those.

The thing is, police officers have a duty to report crimes – if I catch someone with drugs, I have to write a complaint. But if I search someone and find two grams of weed, I don’t want to write five pages when I know that the prosecutor has to drop any case involving less than 10 grams. In a case like that, we would rather just throw it away, but we usually can’t because too many people are watching. We face a choice between useless paperwork and doing something illegal.

I remember getting calls about this one woman who was shooting up in banks around Kotti. We had to respond, but we were familiar with the woman, we knew she’d been to clinics a number of times and she just couldn’t get herself clean. Now: as long as there’s something in the syringe, that’s possession and we have to write a report. But once she’s done, there’s no more evidence of possession (it’s in her body) and therefore the charges have to be dropped.

So we have a choice. We can take away her drugs, but we know she’ll do anything to get more. Or we can drive around the block a few times until she’s done shooting up. Then we take away the (empty) needle and report, “Unfortunately, we arrived too late: there were no more drugs.”

Of course, there’s also the Bereitschaftspolizei (riot police), the ones who work at demonstrations and football matches… if there’s nothing else to do that day, they might organise a big raid at Görlitzer Park. But there’s no strategy there. That’s just a competition between the different units of the Bereitschaftspolizei to see how many criminal and misdemeanour charges you can get. “Oh, you got five charges today? Well I got seven!” But that isn’t real police work in my book.

Berlin’s drugs are moved by many different organised crime groups. The Hell’s Angels are active in neighbourhoods like Reinickendorf and Wedding. Neukölln is home to Arabic criminal families. They move the stuff you can buy on the street, marijuana and cocaine.

The motorcycle gangs also control the doors at a few clubs; they even did the doors at Berghain five or six years ago. But people don’t buy a lot of drugs at clubs – they bring them themselves. Bouncers usually know who is dealing and might get a kickback, but there’s not a lot of money involved. The Hell’s Angels withdrew from this kind of work because it wasn’t a good business for them.

There are sometimes raids at clubs, but those are just an alibi thing. In a club, it’s very difficult to prove anything. As soon as a police raid starts, the lights go on, word goes around and everyone throws their drugs on the floor – you find a lot of drugs, but nothing you can connect to any one person. No one gets charged with anything.

In Berlin, marijuana is already de facto legalised. Anyone who wants to smoke weed can smoke weed. Nothing will happen unless you act like a moron and light up a joint right next to a patrol officer – and even then, he’s only going to react because he’s worried he might get in trouble for not reacting.

All we can really do is try to frighten young people so they don’t start taking the drugs. But once they start, repression doesn’t help – no one has ever gone into therapy just because they were busted by police.

It is possible to push drugs out of one place, like Moritzplatz in Kreuzberg, but then you just push them into another: now the dealers are at Mierendorffplatz in Charlottenburg, where you’ll find used syringes at the playground. But it is good to keep up pressure on the distributors – without that, there would be more hard drugs and they would be extremely cheap.

Do we ever ‘confiscate’ drugs for ourselves? Not that I know of. I don’t think any police officer would want to take the shit they sell in the parks.

*Name changed

Quelle: http://www.exberliner.com/features/lifestyle/the-cop/

Foto: Adam Kahan