By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
BERLIN, Germany – A German court recently ruled that skin color alone is insufficient grounds for a police check. This decision overturned a previous ruling that determined certain police are allowed to carry out ID checks based on skin color.
In the lower court, the Koblenz court dismissed a complaint by a black German man who was asked to show his papers when he was on a train. When the man refused, he was taken to a police station and searched. Thereafter, two federal police officers alleged the man abused them while he was detained. During the court hearing, the officers said he checked the man’s ID on the train partially because of the man’s skin color.
Although the administrative court in Koblenz held that the police’s behavior was reasonable in order to catch illegal immigrants, the judges in a higher administrative court determined that racial profiling is a clear violation of the ban on discrimination.
The German constitution states, “No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions.”
Human rights activists applaud the high court’s decision. Alexander Bosch, an expert for police and human rights issues, said, “We welcome the ruling as an important signal against discrimination in identity checks.” He also commented that over the past couple of years, there has been an increase in complaints by people with an immigrant background who were exposed to discriminatory identity checks.
Tahir Della, from the Initiative of Black People in Germany, also favored the decision. He states, “We have been fighting for years for public recognition of this practice. Police checks of this kind are no one-off. They are the everyday experience of many black people and people of color in Germany. They are put under suspicion and criminalized by this police practice. We hope that this verdict will serve as a basic political signal.”
However, the German police do not agree with the recent decision. Rainer Wendt, chair of the German Police Union, states, “The courts deal with the law in an esthetically pleasing way, but they don’t make sure their judgments match practical requirements.”
Josef Scheuring, head of the union’s federal police division, commented, “A person should never be checked based solely on his or her skin color, and the federal police don’t do this as a rule, but particular situations and considerations could justify such measures.” He believes that this issue should be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
For further information, please see:
Deutsche Welle – Court Bans police Racial Profiling – 31 October 2012
Spiegel — Court Rules Against Police Checks Based on Skin Color – 31 October 2012
The Local — Police: sorry for racial profiling on ID checks – 30 October 2012
The Huffington Post — German Police ID Checks By Skin Color OK, Says Court – 27 March 2012