Lena Spickermann, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Racial Profiling as an integral part of police routine?!
Racial profiling is a controversial practice used by the police and other security authorities and services (the latter will not be subject of this paper). For a long time, there was a consensus that this was an external phenomenon that did not affect people in Germany. In debates regarding racial profiling, the attention was usually drawn to the police context in the USA. It was not until the international discussion about the violent murder of George Floyd by a US police officer that triggered a debate about racist policing in Germany, which also covered the practice of racial profiling (Hunold & Wegner, 2020). As part of general crime prevention, this term is used to describe the categorisation used by police officers that result in measures such as “[…] identity checks, questioning, surveillance, searching […]” [translated by PP] (Thompson, 2020, n.p.), along the ascribed line of ‘race’, origin, ethnicity and/or religion. They differ from purely cognitive labelling processes when the behaviour of the persons in doubt does not give reason to police control, and the ascription via the characteristics mentioned above is used as a basis for control and further measures (Humanrights.ch). Restricted to public interaction, the term racial profiling is mainly aimed at the “[…] precarious operational areas of the first contact of police officers with the population” [translated by PP] (Behr, 2019, p.35): hence, at minor pre-structured fields of practice that increase simplistic suspicion strategies (Behr, 2019). As an executive government agency, the police are subject to judicial and parliamentary control. It acts in the ‘name of the law’, i.e. also the constitution, which with Article 3 (paragraph 3) designates exclusionary discrimination based on ‘race’, origin and religion, among others, as unconstitutional. Moreover, it is on the same level as the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ibid., p.28; Cremer, 2017, pp.406-411; Thompson, 2020). Therefore, racial profiling should be regarded as an illegal practice, which should not be applied at all or be sanctioned in the police service. Among others, Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer neglected on a political sphere a national performance of the practice: “Neither the police laws of the Federation nor the relevant regulations and decrees permit such unequal treatment of persons.” (Anonymous., 2020). However, the potentially discriminatory orientation of the legislation relevant to policing is levelled in this context. The general mandate of maintaining public order is specified by the police laws of the 16 federal states and the general federal police law and applies to uniformed police officers and federal police officers. The former allows police officers to check others without concrete suspicion at designated places and under the legal requirement of ‘abstract danger’, and sometimes also to carry out further measures (e.g. searching personal belongings) (Autor*innenkollektiv der Kampagne Ban! Racial Profiling, 2018, p.187; Belina, 2016, p.140-141, e.g. §12 para. 1 no. 2 PolG NRW). The latter requires federal police officers to prevent unauthorised entry into the federal territory at railway stations, trains and airports and to control persons who may be illegally on German state territory (§22 para 1a, BPolG;§23, para 1 no 3, BPolG). Hence, it is a mandate that implicitly presupposes a discriminatory control strategy based on phenotypical characteristics (Belina, 2016, p.135-140). Ultimately, it is up to the federal and uniformed police officers to assess potential dangers and take appropriate steps since they are enabled with situational interpretive sovereignty (Pichl, 2018, p.111). Aiming to reveal the extraordinary quality of the practice of selective identity checks concerning people with a so-called ‘migration background’, its concrete components will be first examined, without claiming completeness. The effects on the subjects affected by these controls will then be highlighted. Finally, the extent to which this is a violent practice and the notion of racial profiling can capture the phenomenon described will be accentuated.
“Where did you hide it?” [translated by PP] (DiscussYou!?, 2020, 00:11:06) – Police prevention work in relation to migrant people.
The main focus will be here on uniformed police officers, which task is to prevent crimes in general and carry out ‘suspicion – independent’ checks on persons – “[…] through constant patrols, whether on foot, on bicycles, in patrol cars or on helicopters” [translated by PP] (Polizei Hessen, 2016). Crime prevention requires proactive differentiation between the ‘normal’ and the ‘deviant’. Regardless of a given threat, police officers are requested to track down individuals willing to commit crimes and prevent them from committing an actual crime. In police duty, this is initially based on visible indicators specific to the person and the environment. Mediated via fictitious or actual knowledge, these are reconciled with existing crime classifications in the next step. A particular appearance is thus an indication of a potential offence (Belina, 2016, p.131; Behr, 2019, p.29). The often referred practical knowledge in the relevant literature and by the police themselves occupies a prominent position on the ‘street’, as it is repeatedly called upon as a measure relevant to action, limiting and making further investigations superfluous and above all legitimises it (Interviewee III). The knowledge is more comparable to a heuristic bundle that is not primarily fed by verified data but rather arises from one’s own or handed-down experiences. In everyday police life, it reinforces itself through its high practicality: “It is part of a “‘secret curriculum’, as [it] is taught at the police station or in the patrol car or otherwise at a place where the state force […] is put into practice” [translated by PP] (Behr, 2006, p.78). In accessing this knowledge, which can be generalised beyond individual control situations, police officers invoke an institutionally prescribed scope of discretion, which gives them the possibility to interpret legal requirements flexibly and context-specifically (Belina, 2018, p.120).
They occupy a unique role at the lower end of the police organisation, as they are in daily contact with their ‘clientele’, who are subject to different laws than, for example, the criminal police and presuppose a certain habituated feeling, which is called up predominantly unconsciously (Behr, 2006, p.87; ibid., 2019, p.30). The primacy of entrenched practical knowledge, which promises ‘success’ and differs from theoretical university knowledge, is illustrated by interviewee I by referring to a phenomenon that he describes elsewhere as “practice shock”: “the practitioners [senior staff] [tell] the students at first […]: ‘Listen, you can forget everything you learned at university, real life takes place with us” [translated by PP].
The strategies to justify a selective approach are derived from this practical knowledge and brought into line with assessing the given environment. (DiskutierDICH!?, 2020). Accordingly, it is not only phenotypical identification features and associated criminal characteristics that can lead to a ‘suspicion- independent’ control of persons, but also public spaces that are assigned the status of a ‘dangerous’ or ‘crime-ridden’ place (see above). However, these are not two independently existing influencing factors but rather interdependent, interacting variables. The people who gather in a majority in these places deviate from the police conception of an ‘orderly cityscape’ and thus draw special attention in the first place (Belina, 2018, p.128). However, who is suspected of endangering social order and on what grounds? Is it possible to interrogate this so rarely researched practical knowledge for its components? To answer these questions, a holistic perspective is needed that includes physical characteristics and other environmental and personal indicators and traces the heuristic type formations that thus arise in police prevention work. This can be outlined first with an example from an interview:
A young man in his early 20s is on his way home late at night after sports. He usually cycles both ways. The path leads directly through the city centre. In the past, he has often been stopped and checked by the police. Although he has German citizenship and was born in Germany, his parents are from Iran, he has black hair and brown eyes and is often mistaken for a migrant in his everyday life. Today he also has a bicycle with him, but he is too exhausted to ride home and instead decides to take the bus. Near the bus stop is an area where drugs are sold and consumed. At the bus stop, three black men talk in a non-German language and wear work clothes, so-called boilersuits. Suddenly a police car drives up. Seven uniformed policemen get out of the car. The young man who is observing this situation is not even glanced at by the police officers. Instead, the three dark-skinned men next to him are targeted by the police [translated by PP].
The case reconstruction was written based on an experience of interviewee II and represents an intersectional composition of overlapping, interactively reinforcing or weakening components that make the selection style of the police at least partially comprehensible (Sofsky, 2005):
- Skin colour: The young man on his way home has regularly been the subject of police checks in the past. At the bus stop, three men with darker skin colour than him are checked instead. This seems to override all other situational markers that could indicate potential crime. It becomes a “‘master signifier'” (Plümecke & Wilopo, 2019, p.143), as it leads in combination with other control-relevant characteristics to a crime-specific association.
- Gender: The relevant suspects in the described constellation are all male. Consequently, the choice of the police officers involved cannot be explained along with this distinction category and must nevertheless be considered a control-relevant variable since it is predominantly men who are disproportionately exposed to police suspicion (Belina, 2016, p.131; Plümecke & Wilopo, 2019, 144).
- Language: The men suspected had previously spoken in a non-German language. It is uncertain whether and to what extent this is a control-relevant element, as the police officers were in the patrol car at the time of inspection. Nevertheless, auditory recognition features can be a decisive criterion in the selection process, since, for instance, a conversation in Arabic attracted the police’s attention and confirmed the overall picture held by the police (Ban! Racial Profiling, 2017; Collaborative Racial Profiling Research Group, 2019, 41).
- Clothing: The men are dressed in ‘bluesuits’ – garments that initially make a criminal threat seem far-fetched and indicate more likely the return home after work. However, Chakkarath draws attention to the control-enhancing or mitigating power of clothing, which, together with other sensually perceptible characteristics, influence the police ‘feeling’ and hence the assessment of the potential ‘clientele’. Accordingly, clothing like bluesuits can suggest a low socio-economic status or, according to an interviewed police officer, reveals a left-wing political attitude, making a presumption of criminality more likely (Interview Chakkarath; Interviewee I; Plümecke & Wilopo, 2019, p.149). Conversely, young people with migration history who wear branded clothing are often suspected of having stolen it (Khan, 2020).
- Group context: The three men form a group with some observable personal characteristics (skin colour, language, and clothing). This circumstance increases the pressure to check, as one interviewed police officer states about the police chains of association, according to which “migrant groups […] tend more often to gather in groups” (interviewee III).
- Place: ‘Dangerous’ or ‘crime-ridden’ places do not only form legal environments for ‘suspicionless’ police access (see above). They
also promote certain types of people suspected or encountered at these locations and are brought into line with particular fields of crime. Accordingly, dark-skinned persons are suspected of selling drugs (Golian, 2019, p.190). Assumably this also applies to the three men assigned to the profile of classic drug dealers, who moreover are in the vicinity of a place known for the sale of drugs.
This case reconstruction gives an impression of the complex interdependency of various person-, place-, time- and situation-specific markers, of which only a few could be mentioned here. Other relevant categories include (presumed) religious affiliation, residence status and sexual identity (Collaborative Research Group on Racial Profiling, 2019, pp.41-42). Furthermore, there are clear ideas about crime-typical person profiles derived by assumed national and/or ethnic affiliations. In addition to the stereotype of black drug dealers, as mentioned above, one police officer draws attention to trick thefts, which are more likely to look like people who “[…] could come from North Africa […]” [translated by PP] (interviewee III). Siegfried Lorek, a member of the Baden-Württemberg state parliament and former police officer, reports a typical offender profile for home burglaries with an Eastern European appearance (DiskutierDICH!?, 2020). Since the standardised crime figure of the drug dealer seems to rely on black skin, it seems more challenging to comprehend the criteria used to assess an appearance typical for a particular origin. Hence, the assumption becomes more comprehensible that it is a matter of a preconscious, incorporated and collectively shared knowledge, captured by the “feeling” already cited after Behr (cited after Behr, 2019, pp.29-30). It is a general, professionalised ‘gut feeling’ that can be flexibly retrieved. It activates preconceived associations and subsequently a routine procedure that does not allow situation-adapted considerations (ibid., pp.35-41; ibid., 2006, p.83; see below on the context of the origin of these associations and attributions).
The selection process of persons who do not correspond to the ‘common city image’, i.e., those assumed with some crime potential, is followed by the actual control process. How police prevention is practiced on the street, at the station or on the train is often determined by the type of suspected offence, the environmental factors and the behaviour of the controlled ‘clientele’, similar to what has already been described for the selection process. In this context, the individual control elements and the peculiarities that emerge in the process must be illuminated:
- Approach: Controlled persons with a so-called ‘migrant’ appearance or a different marginal status (homeless people, sex workers, etc.) report that even the approach is different.
Typical patterns are, for instance, to address the persons by their first name (Schweer et al., 2008, p.25) or to ask what one is actually looking for at this (in this case late) time or place (Michel, 2019, p.90; Grundrechte Kampagne, 2013). Leading questions implying certain suspicion are also used: “Ah, where did you hide it?” [translated by PP] is a question asked to e.g. the black student Faisal Osman during a police check (DiskutierDICH!?, 2020, 00:11:07). The question was aimed to imply drug possession, but the police could only assume it at that time. The way how the police approach the ‘clientele’ shapes the further course of the control process. It ranges from an encounter announced by an approaching police car or police officers approaching on foot to a random, unforeseeable confrontation. The latter was experienced by a black nurse in spring 2020 while visiting his clients by bicycle. Three police officers pulled him off his bike and fixed his hands behind his back when he went home. Moreover, he was charged with drug traffic because he moved fast among his patients’ homes (Eli, 2020)
Procedure and forms of checks: If police officers meet one or several persons who correspond to their grids or appear suspicious in some other way, they usually ask them to show some identification. Personal details are compared with the police database to see whether a complaint or similar has already been filed against the suspected person (interviewee III). This standardized procedure is a core component of police checks but is also omitted in some cases (interviewee II). This check is always carried out by at least two police officers, who take on different roles during the process. One of the officers checks the personal details, while the others stand behind the person in question to prevent a potential escape. These police officers often fold their arms behind their backs (interviewee II). However, further steps can follow, which are not detemined in their order or choice: bags are checked for illegal substances and/or ‘suspicious’ objects (e.g. allegedly stolen goods) and confiscated under certain circumstances, but physical searches are also used for this purpose. The persons checked are, in some cases, forced to stand against a wall, position their legs wide apart and put their hands and arms spread apart against the wall while they are searched (Khan, 2020; Interview partner II; WDR Aktuelle Stunde 2020). A request to take off their shoes to check them for illegal substances may follow (interviewee II). In some cases, suspected persons are escorted to the nearest police station if the search was ‘successful’, or suspicious substances and/or objects could be confiscated. Nevertheless, even without actual clues, a visit to the police station is not excluded. For example, a man who migrated from Morocco with problematic residency status reported that he regularly gave his fingerprints at the police station. He even had to spend the night there ocassionally (Interviewee II; Ban! Racial Profiling #3).
Interactional particularities: The selectivity of preventive policing objectifies in the experiences of controlled subjects when the actual or assumed migration status is opposed diametrically to a notional ‘native’ society. For instance, when exclusively they get checked in the presence of non-migrant perceived subjects and criticised for behaviour that the others also exhibit, such as alcohol consumption. Clearly identifiable double standards are established here. For example, when police officers who are checking people with a (supposed) ‘migration background’ refer to them as “guests” (interviewee II) to whom different standards of behaviour would apply (ibid.; Khan, 2020). The unilateral control habit of the police can also be seen in such experience reports, in which they suddenly lose interest in the person being controlled with an answer in standard German and/or a reference to a high socio-economic status such as an academic education (Interview Chakkarath).
These microscopic descriptions provide an initial insight into some of the elements of police prevention work labeled as racial profiling. However, to tap into the special quality of this complex of practices, a further perspective is needed that captures the impact on the persons regularly checked by the police who are attributed a migration background. The following section will examine these in more detail.
“[…] every time I see a policeman around, [I] feel a bit more insecure […]” (interviewee II) – effects on the controlled subjects
The ‘know-how’ of the police is contrasted by a distinct collective consciousness of people perceived as migrants, who experience police checks regularly. The ‘public’ gaze they feel exposed to is multilateral: displaced from the inconspicuousness of everyday life, they facilitate the divergent constructions of perpetrators. This does not only result in selection patterns of police officers. Rather, the criminalised construction of a ‘non-native’ Other is offered to the uninvolved ‘native’ population (Collaborative Research Group on Racial Profiling, 2019, pp.41-42.). Due to the strong authority and trust of the police by ‘natives’, preventive policing is more likely not questioned (Nico Weinmann, DiskutierDICH!?, 2020; Interview partner II; Autor*innenkollektiv Ban! Racial Profiling 2018, p.189). This can be seen in the experience of the black nurse mentioned above. While he was being held on the ground by police officers, the event received the attention of some “confused” (Eli, 2020) passers-by.
However, possibly convinced by the symbolic power of the police label, they decided not to intervene (ibid.). Vice versa, it is sometimes parts of the civilian population that actively influence prevention policing practices. According to an interviewed police officer, they take the role of “professional informers” (interviewee III) and report to the police as they feel insecure by the ‘criminal other’. Thus, unilateral control measures ultimately manifest themselves (ibid.) The checked persons with attributed ‘migration background’ are consequently dominated by the feeling of public humiliation, which is actively evoked or confirmed by policing practice (Faisal Osman, DiskutierDICH!?, 2020). (Faisal Osman, DiskutierDICH!?, 2020). This impression is accompanied by a feeling of alienation, particularly prevalent among people with assumed migrant appearance, who are troubled by police checks despite being German citizens (Grundrechte Kampagne, 2013; Plümecke & Wilopo, 2019, p.151). The psychological consequences of public exposure are accompanied by a systematic fear of possible police encounter: “[…] every time I see a policeman around , [I] feel a bit more insecure […]” [translated by PP] (interviewee II) states an interviewed young man whose parents originate from Iran and who has often been exposed to police checks (see above). It is not only the public criminalisation that those affected perceive as degrading, but equally the inferior position that they inhabit a priori, both legally and physically, when encountering police. Thus, police officers always have “[…] the factual possibility of using coercion and […] the fact that they can do so on a daily and immediate basis [translated by PP]” (Behr, 2006, p.126). This power imbalance is conveyed through visible artefacts such as guns, handcuffs, pepper sprays etc. Moreover, police officers appear disembodied of personal identity by dressing in identical uniforms as a self-contained body, which ultimately emphasises the former impression. Additionally used gestures during the control situation, such as having the hand on the weapon (interviewee II), a linguistically conveyed superiority such as “You listen to me now” [translated by PP] (DiskutierDICH!?, 2020, 00:11:15) or offensive gestures – e.g. when several torches dazzle the face of the persons in question (Grundrechte Kampagne, 2013) – convey the constant feeling of absolute defencelessness.
The regularity of these encounters creates the impression of unequal police control standards in those perceived as migrants. The initial irritation about the frequent confrontations with the police, which people with a so-called ‘migration background’ cannot recognise to a comparable extent in people without one, are usually replaced with a political awareness that places the frequent experiences with the police in a general context of discrimination (Interview Chakkarath; Interviewee II). The example of an interviewee illustrates this: while his girlfriend, who is registered as a native, wears an ACAB (‘All Cops Are Bastards’) T-shirt in public without hesitation, but only receives an irritated look from two police officers, it is inconceivable for the young (interviewed) man, who is registered as a ‘foreigner’, to carry left-wing political messages on his body.
In his experience, these can make, in combination with his appearance, an immediate encounter with the police more likely (interviewee II). The unequal control experiences with police officers, which many ‘migrant’ people share, are contrasted by a perceived arbitrariness in checks, the measures taken, and the control behaviour. From the general construct of a migrant appearance and/or behaviour, a shared experience arises among the members of a highly diverse group, while – as already described in detail – their individual experiences can differ and thus do not seem to follow any discernible pattern. Will they just check my details, or can I expect a physical search this time? “Is it me who will get checked, or is there perhaps another person in the immediate vicinity who seems more suspicious?” [translated by PP] Orientation is only provided by the police’s assessment of ‘dangerous’ or ‘crime-ridden’ places, which is often difficult to comprehend for outsiders and does not provide any clues about the reason for the checks (interviewee II; Faisal Osman, DiskutierDICH!?, 2020; interview Chakkarath). The impression of imponderability is completed because the control measures are usually omitted or kept general. Many young men, especially those with an assumed migration background, are connected by a sense of powerlessness and a loss of control that develops through individual encounters with the police, which, on the other hand, does not always lead to complete resignation but also opens up counter- strategies. They permanently exert an (in)indirect influence on the bodies of the (potentially) controlled:
- Precautionary measures: Having your ID ready as soon as police officers enter the train, choosing costly clothing before going out in public or planning extra time at train stations in case of a police check since experience shows that they can take quite some time (Interview Chakkarath; Interview partner II); these are all common strategies of people who are assigned a migration background, to avoid a possible (one-sided) encounter with the police. Moreover, the avoidance of specific neighbourhoods, where experiences with the police have often occurred, is a protective measure people affected report. Automatically, often unconsciously, these ‘tricks’ are integrated into everyday life (Interview Chakkarath; Interviewee II; Ban! Racial Profiling #1, 2017; Plümecke& Wilopo, 2019, p.150).
- During the control: “[…] in the meantime I stopped asking why I am being controlled […], in most situations I am simply quiet. I just don’t want to say anything, because everything you say is usually used against you somehow […]” (interviewee II); the interviewee states and thus refers to a personal development process in dealing with police officers. He initially felt a paralysing panic when he was stopped by police officers, which was eventually replaced by an attitude of indifference that he now (self-)consciously adopts, to neither give cause for further measures nor to affirm the submissive position demanded by them (ibid). Other persons with assigned migrant status consciously question the check’s
legitimacy, as e.g. the experience of a black man with dreadlocks walking fast to the bakery in casual clothes illustrates. He asks for the police officer’s badge number and even resists individual requests, such as positioning himself against the wall for a physical search since he considers it inadmissible. By addressing passers-by directly, he tries to involve them as witnesses and draw attention, even though legal action against police officers has little success chances (Night, 2021; author collective of the Ban! Racial Profiling, 2018, pp.184-185).
An institutionalised practice of slow violence
The mediation of police work under the aspect of violence against people labeled with the inconsistent logo of ‘foreignness’ initially let us think of cases such as those of Christy Schwundeck, Oury Jalloh, Amad Ahmad and many others. All of them died and were thus accompanied by massive physical violence (Eiseler, 2020). The subject of this article is a practice that builds a constitutive part of everyday police life under the abstract label of “danger prevention”, superficially oriented on the law. This procedure, described initially under the controversial term of racial profiling, has complex consequences on those affected. The violent aspect of this preventive practice is not immediately apparent but becomes evident by closer examination. Under the “[…] premise […] that one must examine violence where violence takes place in the eyes of those involved” (Hoebel & Knöbl, 2019, p.185), one happens to think of Rob Nixon’s term of “slow violence” (Nixon, 2013), which emphasises the lasting effects, especially the controlled persons are exposed to (Thompson, 2019, p.319). They leave no enduring marks on their bodies, and yet, with the insights gained from previous descriptions, they are not limited to psychological impairment. The described feelings of fear, alienation, powerlessness and anger solidify in the bodies of those considered migrants in the form of affective moods. They incorporate it and express it abruptly through specific postures, gaits, facial expressions and gestures, and avoid certain places and/or clothing styles (see also Plümecke & Wilopo, 2019, pp. 149-151). The impression of being under permanent observation (Grundrechte Kampagne, 2013) must sometimes also be explained by the internalisation of the ‘police gaze’. The Foucaultian expression of “[…] practised[d] bodies, docile[d] and docile bodies” (2020 , p.176) takes on a particular character here. Thus, the fear of being checked again at any time is omnipresent and results in an alert awareness (interviewee II).
Although the shallow position of uniformed police officers within the police organisation allows or even encourages discriminatory behaviour, it is not enough to detect the origin of the violence. Above all, however, psychologising explanations that focus on personality types prone to racist discrimination and place them in the context of individual pathologies seem insufficient here (Mecheril & Scherschel, 2007, p.557; Michel, 2019, p.90). The practice known as racial profiling rather originates from general ideas of a (Western) community that is to be delimited from the outside, which is only constituted through the contrasting juxtaposition with the ‘foreigner’ (Belina, 2016, pp.130-131). The differentiation and interpretation schemes derived from an imperial history of thought. They “[have] become engrained in our psyche and express themselves in feelings of sympathy and antipathy, of interest and ignorance […]” [translated by PP] (Rommelspacher, 1998, p.154). Protection from the dangerous ‘stranger’ – constituted along colonial lines of progression (Rommelspacher, 1998; interview Chakkarath) – is thus not merely the object of individual attitudes but becomes the obligation of (state) institutions. Anchored in laws (Federal Police and Asylum Procedure Act), media representations (the coverage of the New Year’s Eve in Cologne 2015/2016), political demands and public perceptions of security, the protection against the ‘dangerous’ stranger thus forms an integral part of danger prevention; and hence actively influences the course of uniformed and federal police officers (authors’ collective Ban! Racial Profiling, 2018, p.183; Rommelspacher, 1998, p.136). Even though cultural racisms have replaced biological racisms, the focus on the incompatibility of cultural values and traditions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, also relies on differentiation of a priori phenotypes, as illustrated in the practice of racial profiling (Hall, 2000; Belina, 2016, p.131). Nevertheless, the racism embedded in the structures and practices of the police is of particular significance: it is not – as is so often claimed – a reflection of society; only a small part of the socio-demographic range of the population is represented in it. Even if its executive function is endowed with exceptionally high interpretative and decision-making power, it is nevertheless only partially under judicial control (Behr, 2006, pp.127-128; interviewee I; Pichl, 2018, pp.111-115). Hence, there must be the possibility to reflect on police work critically. We have to ask how they protect the population and which violent potentials they could expose in their everyday activities.
The legal figure of dangerous places can be considered as the foundation for the police’s potential violence. It isolates danger prevention to separate spaces, highlights legal freedom and relies on its own assessments of prevailing crime loads. At the same time, the criteria on which these are based are often not visible to outsiders. The police crime statistics cannot be used as an objective instrument here either, since they are explicitly collected and can be influenced accordingly (authors’ collective Ban! Racial Profiling, 2018, p.187; Belina, 2018, p.121). Consequently, entire places are stigmatised and more likely to evoke police access. Accordingly, they get a criminalised impregnation passed on to many people involved, who ultimately melt into a homogenous collective from which a permanent danger emanates. This specific understanding of those places is bidirectional and functions reciprocally, since it is precisely those people who constitute and
fill it in the first place; people who do not correspond to the common image of the ‘native citizen’ (Pichl, 2018, pp.113-114; Belina, 2018, pp.125-128). Successfully’ conducted identity checks that result in the identification, arrest or registration in the police database are regarded as confirmation of a selective approach and consequently reinforce racist bias and prevention practices (Behr, 2019, p.20). A former police officer states:
So, when you’re in a bubble like that, you don’t notice it. [When you drive on the patrol car, you actually already know exactly where you are going […]. So […] you drive into a typical immigrant neighbourhood, for example, and if […] the police carry out more checks and patrol more, you also generate more crimes. […] Crimes occur in every population group, there is no difference […] so from a criminological point of view it is quite clear that there are no differences. However, if the police carry out more controls in certain population groups, then this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy [translated by PP] (interviewee I).
Consequently, experiences of slow violence arise, intensified by the inability of those affected to express themselves in a society in which racism is marginalised as an individual problem and ‘race’ is understood as a National Socialist specialty that has no more influence on human realities due to its apparent scientific flaw (Michel, 2018; Bruce-Jones, 2015, p.2). It becomes evident since police unions and the Federal Ministry of the Interior constantly refuse to allow to research on (possible) racist practices in the police.
Reflecting upon these insights, Belina’s observation is confirmed when he notes that the term racial profiling gives the impression of an individually exercised practice that focuses purely on biological characteristics and is unable to grasp the intersectional interplay of divergent control-inducing characteristics. The social connectivity of the practice complex thus named is hence not taken into account and fails to recognise that it is more like a “[…] social exclusion phenomenon” „ […]whose logic originates from the way political command is organised and which, mediated by the police, affects the everyday lives of millions of people” (Belina, 2016, p.125).
Further study needs to examine the concrete effects of divergent forms of discrimination and their intersections (besides racism, for example, sexism and classism) on police prevention work. In this context, the role of social, changeable characteristics to identify potential delinquents, and differences in police checks on different group members (e.g. people who are identified as having a migration background as well as people who are identified as homeless or sex workers) must be examined in more detail.
Lena Spickermann studies in the master program Social Science (Culture & Person) at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (September 2021)
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This work is based on four qualitative interviews:
Expert interview with Dr Pradeep Chakkarath.
Guided interviews with a former police officer (interviewee I), a victim of racial profiling (interviewee II) and a police officer in duty (interviewee III).
Slight linguistic changes were carried out in all interviews, however this was not accompanied by changes in the content of individual statement.