Lower Saxony’s interior minister is concerned about hatred: “There is some hatred for the state and its representatives” – politics

Mr. Pistorius, after the riots in Stuttgart, many domestic politicians immediately called for video surveillance or a local alcohol ban. Does the law-and-order reflex break through there – before you look at what really led to the riots there?
The outrage over the riot is justified and I share it. The senseless violence against the police must scare you. This would not have been prevented by video surveillance. The alcohol ban would also question what could trigger this in a country that is rightly proud of its great individual rights of liberty. One thing is clear: the subject is too sensitive and comprehensive for premature conclusions. When in doubt, the causes are more complex. What really worries me is that for some time now, the police in Germany have apparently become a buffer for all that when frustration builds up somewhere.

You have been Minister of the Interior in Lower Saxony for seven years. Did that get worse during this period?
There has always been resistance to arrests. It has been new for some time, however, that police officers are attacked by third parties as part of their duties. That suddenly people show solidarity against the police who had nothing to do with the actual operation. It was the same in Stuttgart. Another new feature is that they are recognized in their free time, for example in the disco, and then attacked because of their profession. We had cases like this in Lower Saxony. On the other hand, this rejection is not a widespread phenomenon: 85 percent of the people have full confidence in the police. But in some groups there is downright hatred for the state and its representatives. We saw this before Corona, and it could have been reinforced by the restriction of personal freedoms in the pandemic.

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Some see a connection between George Floyd’s death in the United States and the police riots in Stuttgart. They also?
Not an immediate one. The group of perpetrators was too different for this. And I also doubt that many of them have read the bad article in the “taz” about the police. But we’ve seen occasionally since George Floyd’s death that people refer to it in operations through the US slogans and exclamations. Regardless, it is very good that George Floyd’s death has sparked a social debate in Germany about racism. In some cases, however, this leads to some putting the German police on a par with the United States. For all the mistakes – I am still angry about the catastrophic behavior of the security authorities in the NSU murders, for example – that cannot be compared. What happens regularly in police violence in the USA is in no way comparable to Germany.

What is different in Germany?
Police violence plays a significantly smaller role in Germany. If there is actually racially motivated misconduct, we take action. Such cases happen, much less with us than elsewhere, because we take up these questions early in education and training, take action against them in everyday life and we have university-level training with a bachelor’s degree. I believe that the undifferentiated debate, not least via social networks and similar channels, has unfortunately also contributed to the fact that the mood against the police has increased.

Your party leader Saskia Esken also pointed out latent racism in the police after George Floyd’s death. There was massive headwind and criticism from the own party for the statements. Why doesn’t the SPD speak with one voice when it comes to police?
The SPD members and voters have a completely unencumbered and trusting relationship with the police. SPD voters were always people who knew about the importance of the police for the hard-working, law-abiding population. It is not new that certain groups such as the Jusos have reservations about the police. Saskia Esken’s statements were not happy either. But I had invited her to visit the police academy with us in Nienburg – after that, I think she saw some things in a different light.

If you look at the polls, many SPD citizens don’t trust them to give the best answers on the subject of internal security. Why is that?
Traditionally, our political priorities are somewhere else. Still, I always say that internal security is not an issue to win elections, but you can lose it because of internal security if things go badly. And SPD can do “internal security”: I remember Otto Schily. In the countries where the SPD provides the interior minister, our competence values ​​in this area are very good. We should focus even more on the topic, because security is an existential need of the people. The SPD takes care of this regardless of the wallet.

The police are increasingly relying on de-escalation for delicate operations.Photo: Marc Gruber / imago

There were also discussions among the left because the left-wing faction leader Dietmar Bartsch demonstratively stood up to the police after the Stuttgart riots. Some party friends resented this very much. Why is it so difficult in the left political spectrum to deal with the police?
You can see from this that this does not generally apply to the left spectrum. Wherever it can be found, there are also historical reasons. The police in the Weimar Republic tended to be right. From 33 to 45, the police were the extended arm of the Nazis. Today’s police have nothing in common with the police from back then. But especially on the left edge, it is still so anchored in some minds that the police cannot be friends and are not trusted. The police guarantee freedom and democracy in our country. That is why I am so angry when police officers protect a right-wing demonstration and left-wing counter-demonstrators chant that the police are protecting fascists. The police protect freedom of assembly for everyone in this country! Such slogans produce hatred and aversion to police officers.

What does that do to the officials?
You feel misunderstood and wrongly suspected. Most of the young police officers with whom I speak are concerned with the joy of responsibility and helping. They are passionate about this job. It really hits them when they are generally suspected of racism or are thought to be right. The danger is, if this development is not slowed down, that they feel pushed away from the center of society. That mustn’t happen!

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Nevertheless, there are legitimate criticisms of the police and reports of right-wing radicalism in the security authorities. What has to change?
I think it’s important that there is a point of contact if you feel you have been treated unfairly. We have an independent complaints office in Lower Saxony – citizens and policemen can turn to it themselves. With our project “Police Protection for Democracy”, we also want to make the police immune to pandering from the far right. We employ 15 percent men and women with a history of migration and almost 40 percent women. A new generation of police officers has been growing up for years. And where the much-vaunted corps spirit still exists in the police force, it has to disappear. Also because the newcomers do not accept this and address them internally. They know that this harms the police.

But there are enough non-white people in Germany who have already had bad experiences with the police. How can this distrust be reduced?
Through dialogue, transparency and openness. And through consistency in the relevant cases. Nobody should have bad experiences with the police. Each case is one too many and must spur us on to prevent it. But we also have to ask ourselves: how successful is our integration policy and how ready are we as a receiving society? For example, if someone who lives here in the second generation still feels as if they are not one of them and are not recognized – then when in doubt they are more likely to feel that government bodies treat them differently. As a society, we still have a long way to go.

Boris Pistorius (60) has been Minister of the Interior and Sports in Lower Saxony since February 2013. The SPD politician was previously the mayor of Osnabrück.


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