Us and Them

von Maximilian Steinbeis

(c) phil_k, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dear Friends of Verfassungsblog,

on new year’s eve, at the main station of Cologne, a curious scene took place: People were arriving en masse to celebrate on the vast open space between the station and the towering cathedral. To get there they had to pass a line of policemen positioned before the main entrance of the station who ordered them to take one of two exit doors. The right door was for ordinary people who could pass unhindered to the party. The left door was for young men suspected to belong to a mob of criminals of mostly North African descent, allegedly bent on repeating their deeds of mass-molesting women that had shaken up the whole German debate on welcome culture and migration so badly the year before. That door lead directly into a police kettle keeping all inside under tight control until midnight was over.

On the one side, thousands of "normal", happily celebrating Germans. On the other side, several hundreds of dark-skinned, dark-haired young men tightly corralled away for safety reasons. In between, the police saying who goes where.

Once again, Cologne on a new year’s eve had become the scene of a highly symbolic incident and the object of a passionate public debate. Did the Cologne police prove itself to be a paragon of effectiveness in protecting the safety of women and keeping criminal suspects at bay? Or was their two-door policy a prime example of racial discriminiation, segregating people by their outside appearance and color of skin, eyes and hair and sweeping up innocent, law-abiding people with the misfortune of looking insufficiently "German" along with the gropers and thieves?

The concept of racial profiling is no news to the German public debate, nor its unconstitutionality. There was no lack of legal and political experts to explain where police work ends and discrimination begins ...

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