As you might recall, I was promised more information on the case of policemen breaking into a flat and taking down Israeli flags during an anti-Gaza-war demonstration in Duisburg last January. I received a “final reply” by a representative of Duisburg’s police headqarters the other day, which leaves a few questions to be asked – final reply or whatnot.
The information given in square brackets might be too personal to give out, and I shall not do so without the respective person’s explicit permission. Round brackets + “,froylein” indicate additional information provided by me for easier understanding while keeping the translation as close as possible to the original text.
Here is my translation of the final reply:
Demonstration in Duisburg on 10/01/2009 – Taking-down of Israeli flags by police officers
Your complaint dating 11/01/2009
My intermediate reply 25/03/2009
Dear Ms [Froylein],
You have complained about the police operation and the behaviour of the operating police officers in connection with the registered and confirmed gathering with subsequent parade by Islamische Gemeinschaft Milli GÃ¶rÃ¼s (IGMG) on the subject of “Against the war in the Gaza-strip” in Duisburg on 10/01/2009 and the taking-down of Israeli flags from a flat in [street name and house number] during the further operation.
My following reply will consider the multitude of accusations out of more than 200 submissions and therefore is accordingly comprehensive.
The taking-down of Israeli flags stirred high – predominantly negative – media response immediadtely after the operation, and politicians in charge uttered their lack of understanding (i.e. a way of expressing disapprovalylein) of the police action.
The public and political reaction was so intense that I in particularly apologized to Jewish citizens for feelings hurt by the police taking action and assumed responsibility for the police operation.
The entire procedure also was subject of a parliamentary debate in Landtag (the parliament of the federal state of Northrhine-Westphalia, froylein) (Aktuelle Stunde on 15/01/2009). (Aktuelle Stunde = special session in parliament to address urgent issues, froylein) After the Aktuelle Stunde, the ministry of the interior of NRW mandated the Essen police headquarters, as a neutral instution, to revise the preparation and conduct of the police operation by the Duisburg police headquarters.
In parallel, an expertise on the juridical evaluation regarding the taking-down of the Israeli flags and the therefore needed breaking-in into two flats was requested from [professor of law at a German university].
All submissions containing indictable accusations against me, the police officer-in-charge and other police officers were passed on to the public prosecutor’s office in charge in Duisburg for juridical evaluation and further revision. Other (i.e. more, froylein) complaints were filed directly with the public prosecutor’s office.
Meanwhile, the results of the revision and the expertise have become available. Representatives of the ministry of the interior presented them during a public session of the interior committee on 30/04/2009.
With regards to my intermediate reply, I would now like to outline the essential results of the revision of the operation and the expertise:
Co-operation with the people registering the gathering went without problems during the preparation of the operation in the beginning of January 2009, leaders of the gathering and speakers were considered reliable by me. One had to expect up to 10,000 participants, a non-peaceful or even violent progress was not to be expected. So far there had not been any crimes in connection with gatherings on the subject of “war in the Gaza-strip” in Northrhine-Westphalia.
Because of the situation of understanding and further evaluation of the situation, the police officer-in-charge planned in about 300 officers for handling the operation. The Essen police headquarters judged the, criticised by the media in retrospect, planning of the operation as follows: (quote)
– “The revision of the situation by the Essen police headquarters used all sources of information available.”
– “There had been no indication for a violent progress of the parade.”
– “The evaluation of the situation of forces was consequent.”
The ministry of the interior deferred to the evaluation by the Essen police headquarters.
On the day of the operation, the predicted number of 10,000 participants showed to be realistic. Informing forces roamed and checked the route immediatedly ahead of the beginning of the parade without noticing any conspicuities.
Obviously, the Israeli flags had only just been mounted onto the house on [street name, house number] right before the arrival of the head of the parade. When the participants in the parade noticed the flags, the parade came to a standstill, and an irritated, aggressive atmosphere developed. Slogans were chanted vociferously, objects, scattered chunks of ice among other things, were thrown against the house.
14 officers in total tried to protect the hallway of the house against the outraged participants in the gathering, who wanted to intrude into the house. Therefore the officer in charge of that section together with the stewards tried to calm the highly emotional participants in the gathering with a handheld loudspeaker, which did not work out.
Because of this development, the police line could not be held by the available forces for a long time. Further reinforcement could not be expected for (another, froylein) 10 minutes. Proceeding against a multitude of interferers among a vast group of people would have been accompanied by incalcuable risks. It was also to be expected that the remaining participants in the gathering would declare their solidarity (i.e. follow suit, froylein) with the interferers.
Immediate police action was urgently mandated because of massive throwing (of objects, froylein) at the house and the dangers for people and objects connected with that, the aggressive pushing (forward, froylein) by a multitude of participants in the gathering, and the intention of some to forcefully intrude into the building.
Further delay, which would have occurred by waiting for the arrival of backup forces from the hundreds of officers on-call, was therefore unacceptable, particularly since it was questionable whether the already escalated situation could have been brought under control with further forces and proprtionate means.
I should like to clarify once more that in front of the house [street name, house number] there were about 1,000 upset participants in the demonstration and thousands were shoving forward.
After inhabitants of the house had opened the door to the police forces, first the door of an uninhabited flat was opened with force after futile (attempts of, froylein) knocking and ringing the doorbell, and a flag hanging from the upstairs balcony was pulled down. Since the second flag could not be removed that way, eventually the door of another flat was opened with force and the flag, mounted to a window, was removed.
Additionally I would like to note – even though this does not have any relevance for the following juridical statements – that the known-to-the-police (known for some minor offence & not because of a criminal record, froylein) occupant had left the flat after mounting up the flags, had been watching the police intervention from the opposite side of the street and had expressed his reservations towards the police action. At that, he did not reveal himself as the occupant of the flat.
It shall be pointed out for better understanding of the legal opinion quoted below:
The intrusion into the flat and the dismounting of the flags was not directed against an interferer within the meaning of police law. Self-evidently, the interferers were the upset and particularly aggressively behaving demonstrators.
Of course, any citizen possesses the right to freely express their views, also by hanging up a flag. Of course this right has to be protected in principle. Under the conditions explained above, police action on 10/01/2009 was directed against the occupant of the flat as a so-called non-interferer as an exception. Police utilisation of non-interferer (regulations, froylein) is permissible under the conditions normalised in police law NRW, paragraph 6 (police emergency).
[Law professor] states the following in his expertise (quote):
The obligation to protect non-interferers against aggressors is exceptionally omitted if such protective measures are indeed not possible and injuries or damages to the disadavantage of noninvolved third parties cannot effectively be prevented.
The forces present on the scene at the time in question could at best protect the hallway of the house on [street name, housenumber] for very little time against deomstrators willing to resort to violence. Such defence measures would have made for the impending danger of considerable escalation, which would have put the health and lives of the officers, participants in the gathering and noninvolved third parties at stake. Considering all that, one cannot claim heedless and hasty resorting to police emergency. There was a concrete situation that not only made escalation to be expected in less or more probability, but could be interpreted as the beginning of such. From the then-perspective of the police officer-in-charge valuable legally protected goods and third parties worthy of protection were seriously and inevitably at risk.
The public prosecutor’s office in Duisburg has come to the same conclusion, which has since then closed the proceedings for the same reason according to paragraph 170 (2) StPO.
I still understand that upon seeing the dismounting/taking-off of the Israeli flags on TV, on the internet and in printmedia horrible memories were conjured up among many fellow citizens, particularly those of Jewish faith. I also was instantly aware of the problematic nature (of the case, froylein) after the officer-in-charge had immediately let me know from the operation command post about the dismounting of the flags. I still greatly regret this and I am personally pained that such disturbances occurred. Due to the depicted situation, there were no alternative measures to prevent those hazards.
My co-workers and I of course are aware of the historic responsibility, particularly of the German police.
However, a constitutionally acting police has to display professional and deescalting behaviour in extreme situations, and such I would like to declare the concrete situation during the operation on 10/01/2009 on [street name, house number], even if this appears inconvenient and hard to comprehend for many.
The often-mentioned comparisons between the police of the NS-state (with the current German police, froylein) have deeply disconcerted me and my co-workers. I owe it to myself and my co-workers to reject those determinately and clearly.
[representative of Duisburg police headquarters]
I’m on my way out for now, but will add my thoughts / questions later today or tomorrow. For now, I’d like the thank the Duisburg police for taking the time to reply – even if not specifically to my inquiry – , but that alone should tell anybody with the tiniest sliver of knowledge about police in the NS-state that drawing parallels between current German police and NS-police is anything but apt and indeed rather offensive.