FRANKFURT, June 5 — German city-state Berlin has triggered nationwide controversy with a new law that puts the burden on authorities to disprove allegations of discrimination, with opponents decrying “general suspicion” of police.
“Experiences of discrimination are part of daily life for far too many people” Social Democratic Party (SPD) lawmaker Susanne Kitschun said during yesterday’s debate in the capital, which is also one of Germany’s 16 federal states.
Under the new law, people could be entitled to compensation if officials discriminate against them based on ethnic origins, religion, political worldview, disabilities or a slew of other criteria.
It also opens the way to mass lawsuits if multiple people are affected.
But criticism has hailed down on city hall from across town in the federal government district.
“We have to stand behind our police and ought not place them under general suspicion,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said last week.
Seehofer’s conservative colleagues in parliament urged that police not be sent from other states to support officers in Berlin if it meant the reinforcements would be subjected to the new legislation.
The capital’s controversy recalls a 2017 political battle in Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia.
An incoming conservative-led government abolished a requirement for police officers to display identification on their uniforms less than a year after it was introduced.
Opponents’ criticism of the new Berlin law centres on the rule that if allegations are judged “credible”, it will be up to the public authority concerned to disprove them.
Dirk Behrendt, a Green party politician in charge of Berlin’s justice system, said that the eased burden of proof was a “tried and tested tool” in anti-discrimination law, calling criticisms “overblown”.
“The vast majority” of police and other public servants had nothing to fear as they did not perpetrate discrimination, he added.
Some critics contrasted the situation in the capital to police violence seen in the United States, after a black man, George Floyd, died during a May 25 arrest by a white officer in Minneapolis.
“Berlin is not Minneapolis,” wrote one commentator for regional public broadcaster RBB.
“Of course there are inhumane people in the police, in isolated cases even far-right extremists. But they have never been pursued more intensively than in recent times.”
Germany is on high alert after a string of extreme-right crimes over the past year, including the killing of a pro-refugee politician, a failed attack on a synagogue that left two dead and a gunman who killed nine people of migrant background. — AFP