Germany debates racial profiling after controversial police action targeting North Africans

Mass sexual assaults in Cologne a year ago

During the 2015/2016 New Year’s Eve celebrations, hundreds of women were sexually assaulted and robbed on the plaza outside Cologne’s main railway station opposite the city’s Gothic cathedral. Victims consistently described the perpetrators as men of Arab and/ or North African origin.

One year later, very few of these men have been convicted of any crimes, mainly due to the difficulty of identifying any particular individual and his actions in a teeming crowd caught on grainy CCTV footage. Yet the political ramifications of the mass sexual assaults have been momentous, with the events in Cologne constituting one of the turning points in Germany’s move towards a more restrictive immigration policy over the past year.

Political fallout

The sexual assaults in Cologne were not only followed by a harshened discourse on immigration, however. They also gave rise to renewed discussions about the presumed cultural or civilizational incompatibility of Arab Muslims with European or German values; a debate that was more often than not marked by the recycling of old Orientalist stereotypes.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/19/new-year%E2%80%B2s-eve-assaults-on-women-the-cologne-outcry/ ))

The events of Cologne were also grist to the mill of the populist AfD in another sense: since the sexual assaults were not reported in the national media for days, it appeared that the mainstream media and the political establishment were covering up the offences of immigrants out of a misguided impulse of political correctness. This accusation was also directed at Cologne’s police, who were lambasted from the right for failing to immediately and explicitly identify the perpetrators as Arabs and North Africans.

Learning from past mistakes?

This year, the Cologne police department appears to have been eager to prevent any conduct that could lead to renewed accusations of intransparency or political correctness. Ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebrations, police presence was also further augmented against the backdrop of the truck attack against a Berlin Christmas market on December 19.

Subsequently, on New Year’s Eve the police stopped and surrounded up to 1,300 men of North African origin while they were trying to reach the central plaza in front of the Cathedral. Police asserted that the men resembled “last year’s clientele”. They were said to stand out by a heightened “basic aggressiveness”. Police expelled 190 men from the premises, detained 92 and provisionally arrested 27. 10 cases of sexual assault were reported.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/koelner-silvesternacht-polizei-verteidigt-kontrollen-von.1818.de.html?dram:article_id=375275&utm_campaign=buffer&utm_content=buffer2fe62&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com ))

Questionable terminology

These measures have ignited a fierce debate on questions of race and racism. One of the communications made by Cologne’s police department proved particularly controversial: in a since-deleted tweet designed to keep the population up to date, police had announced that “several hundred Nafris are being checked at the central station.”(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-01/koeln-silvesternacht-polizei-nafris-vorwuerfe ))

The term “Nafri”, as police subsequently explained, serves as an abbreviation for ‘North African Intensive Criminal Offender’. The co-chair of the Green Party, Simone Peters, criticised such language as a “degrading group label” that was “completely inacceptable” due to its racist connotations.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/koeln-polizei-faengt-in-der-silvesternacht-hunderte-nordafrikaner-ab-aid-1.6497990 ))

While Cologne’s chief of police subsequently apologised for the usage of the term ‘Nafri’, he still defended the overall police operation as legitimate and proportionate. “It is simply the case”, he asserted, “that based on experiences of the last New Year’s Eve, and based on experiences gained through police operations more generally, we got a clear picture of which individuals had to be checked.” And these, he added, “were not grey-haired old men or blonde young women.”(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-01/koeln-silvesternacht-polizei-nafris-vorwuerfe ))

Public opinion supportive

Public opinion as well as leading politicians from virtually all parties have been very supportive of this stance taken by the police. Simone Peter was disparaged in Germany’s top-selling daily newspaper, Bild, as “green-fundamentalist intensive windbag out of touch with reality”.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-01/cem-oezdemir-koeln-polizeieinsatz-simone-peter?utm_content=zeitde_redpost_zon_link_sf&utm_campaign=ref&utm_source=facebook_zonaudev_int&utm_term=facebook_zonaudev_int&utm_medium=sm&wt_zmc=sm.int.zonaudev.facebook.ref.zeitde.redpost_zon.link.sf ))

Beyond glib assertions and facile insults, however, the events of New Year’s Eve highlight that the Cologne police was caught in a real bind. The political fallout from a failure to prevent a repetition of mass sexual assaults would have been uncontrollable. Consequently, the police already announced prior to December 31 that it had lowered its “threshold of intervention” in order to guarantee a maximum of security.

And indeed, from a purely operational logic focused on the prevention of crimes, it is difficult to argue with the police’s observation that based on past experience it was not unreasonable to direct special attention to large groups of young men of North African descent. The balance between racism and discrimination on the one hand and security and necessary police work on the other hand appears exceedingly difficult to strike.

Questions of racial profiling

Nevertheless, all of this leaves behind an unsavoury aftertaste of racial profiling. The AfD Hamburg was, in fact, quick to assert that the Cologne police action showcased the need for precisely such profiling: “living in an open society means having to decide between racial profiling and mass assaults”. In a string of tweets, the AfD also gleefully picked up on the term ‘Nafri’, now using it as a racially charged catch-all phrase designating North African men in general.(( https://twitter.com/afd_hamburg?lang=en ))

Amnesty International has criticised the conduct of the police as a form of racial profiling violating human rights and likely to entrench stereotypes and prejudices. The organisation questioned whether the police had possessed enough individualised evidence against the hundreds of young men controlled.(( http://amnesty-polizei.de/massives-racial-profiling-durch-die-koelner-polizei-in-der-silvesternacht-massnahme-muss-kritisch-aufgearbeitet-werden/ ))

Tahir Dellar, chair of the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD) noted that, in contrast to its usual practice of categorically denying any racial profiling, this time the Cologne police openly admitted to stopping individuals purely on the basis of ethnic criteria. Dellar assumed that this unusual openness about discriminatory police action was due to the fact that the police expected majority society to support discriminatory policies, as long as they were directed against North Africans.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/silvesternacht-in-koeln-wie-deutschland-mit-racial-profiling-umgeht-1.3317987 ))

Need for a broader public debate

Germany has witnessed periodic court cases on racial profiling, as well as occasional parliamentary debates on this subject matter.(( http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/18/004/1800453.pdf )) However, in contrast to the UK or the US, there is limited public awareness of issues of race and ethnicity in connection with police work.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/silvesternacht-in-koeln-wie-deutschland-mit-racial-profiling-umgeht-1.3317987 ))

German police and security services have struggled to attract immigrants or their children to their forces. A 2011 study highlighted that high-school graduates of Turkish descent were not convinced that they would be welcome in the ranks of the police. The collective failure of police and intelligence services to uncover the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terrorist group that killed above all immigrants, has further entrenched the perception that the police is unconcerned with racism at best and itself institutionally racist at worst.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2013-03/migranten-polizei-fremdenfeindlichkeit ))

The conduct of police operations in Cologne has prompted some – not just Arab Muslims – to share their stories of what they deem to be unwarranted racial profiling.(( https://correctiv.org/recherchen/flucht/artikel/2017/01/03/racial-profiling-neun-monaten-hat-mich-die-berliner-polizei-23-mal-kontrolliert/?utm_content=buffer7436b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer )) This is an important development: questions of race and racial profiling need to be openly addressed; and the police itself must become more representative of an increasingly diverse society. Only then can the police claim that its – perhaps well-meaning and necessary – actions on New Year’s Eve were also legitimate.

Judge urged to nix NYC law on profiling claims

NEW YORK — A New York City law easing the way for racial profiling claims against police could entangle them in lawsuits over elusive questions about what they were thinking when stopping someone, police unions told a judge Tuesday.

The unions faced off in a Manhattan court against lawyers for the city — now including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which has joined in defending a law that his predecessor sued to try to stop.

The 2013 law relaxes some legal standards for claims that the stop and frisk tactic or other police techniques were used in a discriminatory way. The measure reflected concerns about NYPD’s use of stop and frisk tactic its extensive surveillance of Muslims, spying disclosed in stories by The Associated Press.

The city says that the law is valid and valuable.

“The suggestion that the statute was passed to instill fear in the heart of the New York City police department is laughable. It’s ridiculous,” said Andrew Celli, a lawyer representing the City Council. “Good cops have nothing to fear from (the law).”

State Supreme Court Justice Anil Singh didn’t indicate when he would rule.

Mayor Says New York City Will Settle Suits on Stop-and-Frisk Tactics

January 30, 2014

 

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today welcomed an agreement proposed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for the city to reach a settlement in its legal battle over the controversial NYPD “stop-and-frisk” policy.
That policy involved stopping, questioning and frisking people in primarily African-American and Latino neighborhoods. Last year, a federal judge found that the police tactic was unconstitutional, calling it “a policy of indirect racial profiling.”

The mayor and the Center for Constitutional Rights announced a deal to drop the city’s appeal of a court ruling and that would accept the remedies ordered by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin including the appointment of outside monitor, Peter L. Zimroth, to oversee reforms.
In making the announcement, which he said he hoped would end a turbulent chapter in the city’s racial history, Mr. de Blasio offered a sweeping repudiation of the aggressive policing practices that had been a hallmark of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, but that had stoked anger and resentment in many black and Latino neighborhoods. He essentially reversed the course set by Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had appealed the judge’s ruling.

“We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We believe in ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.”
The judge, Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, found that the department’s stop-and-frisk tactics were unconstitutional, and that it had resorted to “a policy of indirect racial profiling.” At the height of the program, in the first quarter of 2012, the police stopped people — mostly black and Latino men — on more than 200,000 occasions. A vast majority of those stopped were found to have done nothing wrong.

Judge Scheindlin had ordered the appointment of a monitor to develop, in consultation with the parties, widespread reforms of the department’s “policies, training, supervision, monitoring and discipline regarding stop-and-frisk.” That process will go forward as part of the agreement.

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/nyregion/de-blasio-stop-and-frisk.html?_r=0
Cair.com: http://cair.com/press-center/press-releases/12351-cair-ny-welcomes-mayors-deal-to-end-nypd-stop-and-frisk.html

U.S. to Expand Rules Limiting Use of Profiling by Federal Agents

January 16, 2014

 

The Justice Department will significantly expand its definition of racial profiling to prohibit federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations, a government official said Wednesday.

The move addresses a decade of criticism from civil rights groups that say federal authorities have in particular singled out Muslims in counterterrorism investigations and Latinos for immigration investigations.

The Bush administration banned profiling in 2003, but with two caveats: It did not apply to national security cases, and it covered only race, not religion, ancestry or other factors.
Since taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been under pressure from Democrats in Congress to eliminate those provisions. “These exceptions are a license to profile American Muslims and Hispanic-Americans,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said in 2012.

It is not clear whether Mr. Holder also intends to make the rules apply to national security investigations, which would further respond to complaints from Muslim groups.

“Adding religion and national origin is huge,” said Linda Sarsour, advocacy director for the National Network for Arab American Communities. “But if they don’t close the national security loophole, then it’s really irrelevant.” Ms. Sarsour said she also hoped that Mr. Holder would declare that surveillance, not just traffic stops and arrests, was prohibited based on religion.

While the rules directly control only federal law enforcement activities, their indirect effect is much broader, said Fahd Ahmed, the legal director of the Queens-based South Asian immigrant advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving. For instance, he said, immigration bills in Congress have copied the Justice Department profiling language. And civil rights groups can use the rules to pressure state and local agencies to change their policies. “Federal guidelines definitely have an impact,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Local organizers can say, ‘These policies are not in line with what’s coming from the federal level.’ ”
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/16/us/politics/us-to-expand-rules-limiting-use-of-profiling-by-federal-agents.html?_r=0

LAPD gets new guidelines for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’

The L.A. Police Commission has approved rules for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’ that offer some safeguards against racial profiling and reporting of activity protected by the 1st Amendment.

 

In Los Angeles, as elsewhere in this country, fear of enemies in our midst — be they Communists, trade unionists or foreign terrorists — too often has led to violations of the privacy of law-abiding Americans. Given that history, civil libertarians and members of the Muslim community were right to press the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that a program designed to detect possible terrorist activity doesn’t cast suspicion on individuals whose only “offense” is to exercise their right to free speech or belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.

 

The result is an amended set of guidelines approved by the city Police Commission for the handling of “Suspicious Activity Reports.” Though the new guidelines don’t go as far as the American Civil Liberties Union would like, they make it less likely that police will record the identities of persons whose conduct is neither criminal nor reasonably suggestive of possible terrorist connections. That’s an important step forward.

 

So-called SARs are controversial because they are not limited to criminal activity; they can also be filed if a person behaves in a manner that, while legal, may be suspicious — such as abandoning luggage in a railway station or taking photographs of a power plant.

 

The new policy reaffirms that racial profiling has no place in documenting suspicious activity, provides for regular audits of the SARs program and proposes a community advisory board to help ensure against abuse. The policy advises officers against reporting activity generally protected by the 1st Amendment “unless additional facts and circumstances can be clearly articulated that support an officer’s or agency’s determination that the behavior observed is reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism or other criminal activity.”

A Post-9/11 Registration Effort Ends, but Not Its Effects

In the jittery months after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government created a program that required thousands of Arab and Muslim men to register with the authorities, in an effort to uncover terror links and immigration violations.

After complaints that the practice, known as special registration, amounted to racial profiling, the Homeland Security Department scaled back the program in 2003, and ended it late last month, saying it “no longer provides a unique security value.”

But for Mohammed G. Azam, a 26-year-old Bangladeshi native who came to the United States when he was 9, its legacy lives on. When he registered in Manhattan in 2003, officials began deportation proceedings, and now, eight years and numerous hearings later, his case has outlasted the program.

Mr. Azam is one of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people still caught in the program’s net, immigration experts say.

Report shows racial profiling pervasive across America

On Oct. 7, OneAmerica, along with Rights Working Group, released a report, “Faces of Racial Profiling: A Report from Communities Across America.” The report demonstrated that there is a need to address racial, ethnic, religious, and national origin profiling.

The report featured testimonies from the six of Face the Truth hearings held by OneAmerica and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington (CAIR-WA).

“Research shows racial profiling hasn’t kept Americans any safer,” said CAIR-WA Youth Civil Rights Coordinator Jennifer Gist. “If the goal is to strengthen national security, we should focus on using intelligence more effectively and look out for suspicious behavior. Profiling individuals on the basis of their skin color or religious expression is counterproductive to national security.”

Somali Muslims are calling FBI outreach ‘coercion’

Concerns about racial profiling and other questionable tactics used to investigate the possible terrorist recruitment of Somalis living in the United States are prompting some Muslim leaders in Saint Louis and elsewhere to limit their cooperation with the FBI.

Federal agents are intensifying their efforts to make connections and conduct investigations within the Somali community across the US, as concerns grow that some are being recruited to radicalization and association with al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists. About two dozen teenagers and young men have disappeared from the Minneapolis area, and returned to the Horn of Africa over the past two years, according to the FBI. Some critics say that what the FBI calls community outreach to bridge closer ties to US-Somali communities, actually involved the use of coercion, threats, and intimidation. “The Somali Muslim community in particular feels they are under siege by law enforcement,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Riots Point to Racially Divided France

Hundreds of French riot police were deployed on Wednesday night to help quell the violence in tense Paris suburb of Villiers Le Bel, after the death of two boys in a motorcycle accident triggered violent clashes last week. Despite isolated incidents of a few burning cars, the suburb returned to a general calm as security and law enforcement increased their presence. French officials pointed to a host of causes in the eruption – including poverty, unemployment, the influence of criminal gangs, and racism. Most of the rioters come from immigrant and Muslim backgrounds, and while most of them are simply described as youth, their vulnerability to poor living conditions is of significant concern. Anger and distrust over racial profiling fuel already brewing tensions in many of Paris’ suburbs.

Us Muslims Sue Gov’t Over Border Detentions

US Muslims sued the US Department of Homeland Security, accusing the US border agents of rights violation and racial profiling. The suit, filed in US District Court on Wednesday, April 20, named Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff among four defendants in what the New York Civil Liberties Union called a case of profiling, according to Reuters on Thursday, April 21. The three men and two women said the agents who detained them as they returned from an Islamic conference in Canada violated their rights, held them, along with dozens of other US Muslims. They added that they were interrogated, photographed and fingerprinted against their will in December 2004. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs, who were later released without charge, were singled out after telling customs officials they had attended a “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” conference in Toronto. The suit does not seek monetary damages, but asks for a declaration that the government action was unlawful, an injunction against further enforcement of such policies and practices and erasing from all federal databases of information obtained from the plaintiffs, Reuters reported. The annual conference draws thousands of Muslims from Canada, the United States and overseas, AFP said. A May 2004 report released by the US Senate Office Of Research concluded that Arab Americans and the Muslim community in the US have taken the brunt of the Patriot Act and other federal powers applied in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Amnesty International said that racial profiling by US law enforcement agencies had grown over the past years to cover one in nine Americans, mostly targeting Muslims. ‘Most Humiliating’ Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union which is helping represent the plaintiffs, condemned what she described as the “over-zealous and counter-productive ethnic and religious profiling” encouraged by government security policies in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “They are engaging in profiling,” said Lieberman, adding that “the government detained people because they attended a conference that was perfectly legal, exercising their basic rights.” None of the citizens who were detained had done anything unlawful, nor were they charged with any unlawful act,” Lieberman told reporters. “You don’t lose your rights when you’re a Muslim. You don’t lose your rights when you cross a border, and you certainly don’t lose your rights by attending a religious conference,” she added. One of the plaintiffs, Sawsaan Tabbaa, an orthodontist from Buffalo in New York, said the experience at the border crossing “was the most humiliating I have ever gone through.” “It was unbelievable. I am proud of being American but I couldn’t believe my eyes something like this could happen.” Tabbaa said she had refused to be digitally fingerprinted on the grounds that she had done nothing wrong, but was physically forced into compliance. “I started sobbing like a kid,” she said. At the time of the incident, numerous press reports quoted Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokeswoman Kristie Clemens as claiming the government had “credible information” that Islamic conferences were being used to promote and fund terrorist activities. On Wednesday, Clemens said she was unable to comment on a specific case that was the subject of a lawsuit, but added that the “priority mission” of the CBP was to “prevent terrorists” and their weapons entering the country. “As we continue to pursue this mission, we will continue to work with all communities to protect the freedoms of all Americans,” she said. Islamic Leaders Vehemently Deny The Charges. Tabbaa’s son, Hassan Shibley, 18, said the border guards had initially insisted they were picked “at random”, but when he entered the processing room he saw that all the occupants were Muslim. “It was like I was walking into my local mosque,” Shibley said. Lieberman, whose organization filed the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there was nothing about the RIS conference to raise suspicions. “If the government has suspicions about criminal activities they have every right and indeed the obligation to go after those suspicions,” Lieberman said. “This is a case of rounding up the usual suspects in derogation of their rights and in derogation of all of our liberties.” A recent nation-wide poll, conducted by the Cornell University, showed that at least 44 percent of the Americans backs curbing Muslims’ civil rights and monitoring their places of worship.