Clausnitz without the black and white

If you haven’t heard about the events at Clausnitz involving a bus of refugees and an angry group of 100 protesters, then first take a look at e.g. this, which should give you an idea. (There are plenty of articles to be found with a simple Web search if you want to dive deeper.)

After this incident, the usual black and white accusations started up in the German press and in the few online comment sections which are not yet closed for any refugee-related articles. There was hate against the police for failing to control the situation, personal accusations against individual policemen for dragging refugees from the bus, massive blame on the refugees for not staying calm throughout, and even the always regrettable accusation against all protesters of being “non-human”.

From what I’ve read about the incident, most of this lacks balance, and a lot of it is just plain wrong.

There seem to have been too few police there on the ground to disperse the mob. So getting the refugees out of the bus and into their assigned housing looks like a sensible idea. This greatly reduced the interface surface and increased the refugees safety. If some force had to be used to get them out of there, then so be it. I was not in the situation, and I will not judge any police personnel in the situation about how specifically they did this if there do not appear to have been any obvious excesses (which there do not seem to have been). Criticism at the police for doing the correct thing, but not doing it as well as they might have are valid, but do not warrant the hate, and should not be the focus in this situation. They certainly don’t warrant personal attacks on any personnel involved. I do not expect our police to be perfect. I do expect them to act reasonably. This seems to have been the case here.

Where criticism towards the police is due are two areas, and in both cases these are towards the police leadership, not people on the ground.

The first is that there was not enough backup sent to bring the situation under control earlier. A large group of protesters blocking the way of a legal and necessary transport of refugees and refusing to follow police orders to desist in their actions is not something that can be accepted. It certainly isn’t in the case of the regular transports of nuclear waste, which was rightfully brought up often in the discussions I read. In those cases matter is transported, and passive resistance is dealt with swiftly and, nowadays, mostly calmly and professionally. The costs are huge, but it is done every time. Here people were transported, and the protest situation obviously was one where the police expected that escalation to violence against these people was possible. This also requires bringing in any amount of personnel necessary to resolve the situation. Not doing so and capitulating to a hundred protesters (one hundred!) shows a deep lack of judgement of the leadership. If it was not possible to bring in the necessary amount of personnel, then this calls for a statement to this effect by the police leadership, and for efforts to remedy the underlying problems. (Calling for more security and downsizing the police at the same time has always been nonsensical. It is time to end this. I am a strong supporter of civil liberties, and firmly convinced that these are better protected by a police force which has the personnel to enforce the laws than by indiscriminate automated surveillance and data collection which has little real effect but a huge potential for abuse!)

Secondly, the official assignation of blame in the situation and the announced criminal proceedings are way off.

The people who assembled to protest did not have a right to block the way of the bus. They did not have a right to stay assembled after the police told them to disperse. To be clear, these are minor infractions, and I generally support the moral rights to a peaceful protest irrespective of such minor infractions. I certainly do not want to see anybody prosecuted for showing up there. Blocking a bus with innocent people in it for hours, constant angry shouting, threatening behavior, on the other hand, are not acceptable. People have a right to their opinion about the German government’s handling of the refugee crisis. They have a right to express this in protest. They do not have a right to threaten individual refugees. Not dispersing after it became clear that this was not a peaceful protest and that there was a risk of escalation is not acceptable morally as well as legally. The ringleaders here should be prosecuted. That may only be a few people, and I do not expect any heavy punishments to come out of it, but there should be an investigation as a signal that these are not acceptable actions.

Unlike the protesters, the refugees on the bus were not there voluntarily. They did not have the possibility to leave and end the situation at any time. They should not have made insulting gestures at the protesters (one never should insult anybody, really), but there is a lot less blame on them. Losing patience in a situation you’ve been trapped in for a long time and that you cannot escape is understandable. Blaming a ten year old child in this situation is plain ridiculous. Announcing on the day after the incident that there will be further investigation who to assign blame to on the side of the refugees, with possible criminal punishment as a consequence, while not stating anything about investigating the other side is absurd and inexcusable.

tl;dr: The blame here lies not with the police on the ground, but with the leadership for its utter failure of action during the situation and ridiculous reaction afterward. Focusing blame on the refugees in this situation is just wrong.



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