Part 1: I Just Saw this Picture and I’m So Disturbed. Because it’s Me.

13653430_1070638483027630_2650636656912865440_o-1 This morning The Love Life of an Asian Guy posted this picture on facebook with the following commentary:

This is one of the most powerful images I’ve seen in years.

You’re peeking directly into the laboratory of white supremacy. A system that will send TWO men in full riot gear to arrest ONE Black woman for one purpose: give her a criminal record.

If she is charged (most Black protestors are) for participating in a peaceful protest, she’ll be forced to disclose her new criminal record on ALL job applications and applications for rent.

That one small change can limit where she works, how much she can get paid, and where she can rent.

The implications are LIFE CHANGING. This act of arresting peaceful Black protestors is SYSTEMATIC RACISM AT WORK, BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES.

“You’re a Harvard Law graduate? 7 years of experience? Nice! Ooh, it looks like you have a criminal record… Sorry!”

I was immediately triggered. Germany. I was back in the park. A few weeks ago. It was the final day of shooting and I was glad because I’m not a model and only agreed to help out a friend, and while I was grateful to wear cool vintage clothes and feel “pretty”, after three long days I was ready to be done.

We had chosen the park because the pictures were for the summer collection, and we worked for about 2 1/2 hours. There were a number of people in the park, mostly white men who gawked. There was an older white druggie-looking man on a bench away from us. In German, you can use the word “Penner”. It’s not a nice term (it means literally “bum”), but the guy was dirty and had all his shit with him and was clearly a drug user.

Despite the climate, we ignored everyone and kept taking our pictures.

A few minutes into the shoot, a Black man sat down across from us. He was the only other Black person in the park aside from me, and it was clear that he was continental.

We kept working.

Then, about a half hour in, the police came around on bikes.

Now, the park is a known place for police checks. They claim it’s to crack down on drug dealers. Well, clearly there was a suspect. But they circled through and left.

As we continued the shoot, I kept an eye on my brother, but he wasn’t bothered with me. He glanced a few times, but mostly played on his phone, made a couple calls, and chilled. I was glad the police left him alone. I was glad the police left the Penner alone too. Police, just leave us *all* alone and let us enjoy the park, dammit.

So, we finished up. 2 1/2 hours later, I changed back into my clothes. The photographer packed up her camera and we were right about to leave when the police circled through again. My heart stopped. The fuck?

They went straight past the Penner to the Black guy.

I was frozen.

They were aggressive as soon as they approached him. I couldn’t hear their words, but I could see their body language.

How would you like to chill in a park for two hours and suddenly have two strangers who clearly don’t like you, in uniforms with guns, suddenly all up in your face?

Well, the African man didn’t like it either. I watched how his body language changed too. He slouched back on the bench. I could see his eyes rolling. I could see him slowly pull out his ID. I could see the white officers, hands on hips, demanding more of him. I could see the African man scoff. Shake his head. I could see the police switch their weight back and forth between feet, agitated, and feeding off the agitation of the African man’s. The gestures grew bigger on both sides.

I was worried.

I watched the police take the man’s bag and go through it. And when I say I watched, I mean we all did. Everyone in that park who had also been chillin the whole time. All I could think is: We’ve all seen this guy do nothing except chill like the rest of us. Why are they humiliating him? Why are we letting them?

Except I knew why.

I stayed because I was waiting for it to be over. But it didn’t end. I watched them put on gloves and make this man take off his shoes. I watched them touch his feet. And then, I watched them move their grubby gloved hands to his hair and start going through each of his dreadlocks.

I don’t know what images hit me first. Images of police brutality in the United States, Images of TSA “randomly” checking Black people at the airport (cough* me), but to be honest I think it wasn’t either.

As I’ve said, I’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand. In Thailand there is a very, very strong culture around the head and the feet. The head is seen as a sacred place, the feet (furthest from the head, and often bare over there) are seen as dirty. You never put your feet near a Thai person, especially their head. You never even touch their head. Not even to be affectionate, not even to children.

To do so would justify aggression.

So to watch white men violate a Black man like this, in front of everyone, from a social place where the Black man can do nothing sent an eruption through my body and I….

screamed.

An aching, angry, hopeless, vengeful scream.

And once it came out, all respectability melted. I grabbed my phone, turned on the camera, and walked over.

At first the officers didn’t get it. They didn’t connect that I could have screamed because of them. Typical white thinking. Typical “It’s not happening to her. Why should she– or anyone else– care about this Black man?”

It was only when I started talking to him. Telling him, loudly, for everyone else too: I am sorry this is happening to you. This should not be happening to you. We should not be allowing this to happen to you, or anyone. We have all seen you sitting here enjoying your day in the park like the rest of us. We know why they chose you. I am sorry.

The man said back to me: It isn’t the first time. Thank you.

The police were angry. “You are not allowed to record! Give us your phone NOW!”

I said: I am not doing anything illegal. I am just making sure that my brother remains unharmed.

One of the officers tried to snatch my phone, but I avoided it. “If this goes online, you will be charged! It is illegal to record us!”

A white man walked up, “Why are you telling her that? That’s a lie! That’s a lie! She has the right to record you. Why are you lying?”

Other white people were getting upset too. I sat down beside my brother. The truth is, my phone had run out of storage and I wasn’t recording anything after the first minute. But it was power. The only power we had.

They walked away to run his information. I just stayed with him. Tried to make the moment a little lighter. I asked him if he ate breakfast. Yes. I asked him where he was from.

The Gambia.

I had another appointment and needed to go. But I feared for him. Especially now that a “real scene” had been made aka white people got involved. Because I got involved. That proximity to whiteness. I watched it play out.

I asked him for his phone number. As he tried to give it to me, the police came back. “No! No!” They screamed. “You better not exchange information! Give us your phone right now!”

I said, “I just want to be able to check in with my brother later and make sure he is safe. We die out here.” They laughed, “This is Germany, not America.”
I said, “It’s not just in America. Oury Jalloh.”

They ignored me. One of the officers kept trying to snatch our phones. What were we supposed to do? What could we have done? Run? Leaving the scene. Pushed his hand away? Assaulting an officer. So here we are cowering on this bench trying to avoid his hands. It was crazy.

Finally The Gambian just gave me his phone. “Take it. I will call you from it later.”

“You better not take his phone!” The officer yelled, “It’s evidence!”

“Evidence of what?” We argued back and forth for a bit, the location of the phone growing ambiguous.

Then I got up, and left. The photographer — a Person of Color — and I talked about what we’d just witnessed.

She said, “You know… I just got my citizenship. Today.”

And that was when it hit me: I am up against immigration right now.

I turned back around. At this point, we were far enough away that I felt a little safer. I watched a van pull up to the bench where The Gambian sat. I thought about Freddie Gray. I felt panic.

But as I watched, the officers were not after him anymore. They were climbing onto their bikes. They were heading towards… us!

Fuck!

The one officer who had tried to snatch our phones was biking hard, red-faced. I’d never seen intention so clearly on an officer’s face — to get me. And that’s what he said as his bike skidded in front of me. In a thick German accent he screamed, “Now you’re getting a kontrolle!”

Now, I write this out including my emotions, but through the whole ordeal I took the poise approach. I was calm and played up my Cuteness. My Americanness. My privilege.

“Why are you controlling me?” I asked them, “What did I do wrong?”
“Disorderly conduct and stealing evidence!”
“He gave me his phone from his hand. That’s not evidence.” I looked at the other officer, “You know what he’s saying isn’t even real.” The officer nodded. “Yeah, but it’s what he wants. He’s the one doing this.”

I wish I was kidding. I think if I wasn’t dealing with all this shit from the Immigration Office based on rules they’ve just made up, I wouldn’t believe that institutions just make up rules and then charge you for breaking them. But I’ve been dealing with it from so many sides… I’m still processing how chaotic this system is. Remember, this post is one story. I haven’t really blogged in almost two months. It’s because this is just one story. Of many.

Continuing…

I don’t walk around with my passport. I told them that. I gave them my student ID. I let them “control” me, and the whole time I talked about racism. Why did you choose that man instead of The Penner? How many Black people do you stop every day? Why?

And, uniform or not, these are men. White men. Who want nothing more than to talk to a pretty girl. And talk they did. So the photographer and I got strategic and she took Hot Head and I talked with the others. At this point, we’d gone from two officers, to five.

The photographer later told me that the officer in charge of the kontrolle told her he was charging me with disorderly conduct because I “didn’t respect him.” Boiled down, he was using his power to humiliate me and possibly fuck up my visa status because I scratched his overblown ego. That’s what Love Life of an Asian Guy is talking about in his fb post.

On my end, I learned more general facts about the power of the police here. I learned that they get their orders from the city and the city allows them to stop anyone— at random — and they need no reason at all. Let me repeat that: The police do not need any reason to stop someone. They can pick anyone. And the person must comply. Non-compliance is an offense.

I asked them how many people they picked that looked like them? They refused to answer.

In America, we have a major problem. But on the books, we at least bullshit. Here there is no cover. They are open about it:  We don’t need a reason, we pick, and we’re the police. So ha!

It truly felt like I was talking to giant children.

As they ran my information, I asked them what the alternative thing to do was. For “next time”.

“What should I do? I can’t call the police on the police! What should I do?”

This was their genuine response:

“If you see us harassing someone — just scream! Don’t you see everyone in this park? If we are really harassing someone, just scream, and everyone will come and stop us.”

It was incredulous. I waited a moment to see if it was a joke, but they were serious. At this point, I am staring back at four Aryan officers.

I looked around. “These people? These people? You do know this is the same place where the holocaust happened.”

Their jaws dropped. There was a split-second where I thought they’d kill me. But they knew it was true, so they replied with “Oh come on!”

Eventually, a friend with a lawyer-bro arrived on the scene and they gave me back my ID while she de-escalated the situation. They told my friend that they will write an internal report because “the public got involved. We will receive calls about this disturbance.” The report reads that I interrupted a kontrolle and refused to follow orders.

It will not talk about their aggressive manner. It will not talk about how just *picked* the only Black person in the park to harass. It will not talk about how the only thing, I, the Ausländerin, interrupted was them from inflicting humiliation on another human being. It will not say how they refused to give me any names or badge numbers so that I could file my own report.

The whole point of the ordeal was to “teach me a lesson”. To give me so much shit for standing up that I will think twice next time before “challenging” them. Or that it fucks me over and there is no next time for me to decide to stand up or keep my head low to survive.

In short, the implications of the kontrolle could be life changing, and the act of kontrolling me (and my Brother) in itself was systematic racism at work.

The image that Love Life of an Asian Guy posted is a reflection of *Western* culture, The United States is simply the archetype.

Like I said in the beginning, this was three days into an intense photo shoot, and I was tired. This is the last picture before the police came back around.

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When I look at it now, I see all the other layers of exhaustion I felt that day and continue to feel. Tired of wondering if I’m going to witness harassment or be the victim of it. Tired of being the only one to stand in a world full of people sitting on the bench while the person next to them lives an existence of uncertainty. Tired of oppressive systems perpetuated by intellectual laziness and apathy.

 

But it’s not over.

Part 2: The Sacredness of the Safe Space

156 thoughts on “Part 1: I Just Saw this Picture and I’m So Disturbed. Because it’s Me.

  1. Your life changing event. Has changed my life. And I am white. Not wealthy. Not even middle class. But certainly dammit being white has undeniable privilege and THAT IS WRONG. Right now I am exercising my privilege to cry and be ashamed of BEING white. But never ashamed to be a woman. I have a daughter, 23 to whom I am sending this to. I am praying that she uses whatever veiled privilege we sadly have by simply being white to FIGHT along side. If they will have our unworthy selves who can only cry when we hear and read and see this horror, we will fight and March and shed our white souls to stand. Stand with you. Stand against the murderers of black people with broken tail lights, homemade CDs (that I myself have purchased and loved-Gospel music), sitting on benches and simply walking.
    I don’t know if this helps but my heart hurts for our future. For our children & grandchildren I have 5 soon to be six I am petrified.
    No place is safe. My heart is full of the lost souls gone too soon for NO reason.
    My family and I would be there for anyone who needed hope, help and justice. You inspire.

    • Hi CJ, thank you for your comment. I understand your heart is heavy. Be careful not to let it stop there. Being a Person of Color is not a life full of crying and marching. We are doing many things, but as someone once said to me that will forever resonate: The most revolutionary thing you can do is work in your own community.

  2. I appreciate you sharing your experience, I felt anxious reading it. Being German, this situation makes me feel completely defenseless towards the police and I think it is important to remember that racism/rape culture/ homophobia/ transphobia (you name it) is not just a thing that happens far away in a different country. One thing I mind of stumbled upon was the sentence “These people? These people? You do know this is the same place where the holocaust happened.” though. It sounds like you are implying that since the Holocaust is a part of Germany’s history, all German people are inherently racist/ more racist than people from other countries.. Would you mind to explain what you meant? Of course I recognise that you were in a really scary and high-pressure situation.
    Love, Christina

      • Do you live in Germany? Do you know how often we are confronted to be responsible for the Holocaust still today? The Generation of today is NOT responsible for it!

      • If you saw the “name” I was posting under, I do not blame the current generation for the Holocaust. But I am directly touched by the holocaust and am today noticing how easy it is to create populist groups (Pegida/PVV in NL) and how easy it is for the inhabitants to look away or join. I can easily imagine the lethargy of the bystanders. “Nicht mein problem”

  3. I am not surprised.

    I was an exchange student in Germany and I witnessed a similar thing.

    I was on a train and the police officers did a walk through and only came up to me (the only black person on the train) and demanded “Ausweis!”. I showed it to them, then they gave me a nasty stare and walked away.

    I was sooo disturbed by this and I asked my host family about this and they were shocked at why I was making an issue out of this. The father said something to the effect of ‘you should have expected it because there are many illegal immigrants that they have to catch’. My response to this was obviously ‘if there are so many illegal immigrants, why did they choose to inspect me alone’. He answered quite bluntly and said its because they (the illegal immigrants) look like you…

    Yes, I have no words!

  4. I was told this photo was taken in Baton Rouge, but per the article, it sounds as if the photo was captured in Germany.

    Was this Germany or Baton Rouge?

  5. You’ve got guts, beauty, and the universe on your side. To stand up for what’s right while others sit and watch. To stand up and be counted while others melt into obscurity. To feel the power of right surge in your actions and thoughts. To use those actions and thoughts for the power of right. You’re beauty inside and out will never fade…..

  6. This is really beautiful and sad. How long will it take for people to treat each other with dignity and caring? Thanks for showing yours.

  7. You should be proud of yourself for calling them out – especially as your colour makes you vulnerable. If more people stood up to police abuse as you did they wouldn’t be able to get away with so much of it.

  8. Amazing. I have been there before, calling out blatant police harassment and racism, being told I “can’t do this or that” or whatever because the police have, like you said, over-inflated egos. I don’t know much about German laws, but I was very surprised that a country with a history of checking people’s IDs before they sent them to the gas chambers would not police their own police so as to not repeat that horrible history they are so known for. I don’t know how long it will take, but we need every person to make it their duty to stop this sort of thing when they see it happen. White people especially.

    Great job. Great job.

  9. “Typical white thinking” I sadly stopped reading your article with those words. I am sorry you feel that way.

  10. Thank you for standing up for that man from The Gambia; I sincerely hope that the German authorities don’t give you any hassle at all about your visa as a result. It is a useful and important reminder that America is not the only nation with institutional racism running through its cultural veins, but beyond that I think that your courage in acting is magnificent and I for one think that the only official response should be one of thanks and congratulations for acting as a good citizen and holding the Police to account.

  11. Thank you for your post, your eloquence and your bravery. It is people like you who make the world better. I will not be apathetic and look the other way and your post helps reinforce my awareness and resolve.

  12. You are very brave my sistah, but you are not alone. I SEE you and hope you continue to move through this life not just as a passerby but actively and regally. We are more than this system of man made laws, we are the children of the most high GOD and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. Therfore we shall shall not be overcome by the evildoers of this world.

  13. Reblogged this on mydailyglow and commented:
    As a student at Mizzou, the Black Lives Matter protests and mission is a topic I can say I’m very familiar with. It’s interesting to read stories like this to broaden your perspective. I really admire this blogger for her actions and taking a stance for what she believed in.

  14. I disagree with your interpretation of the event. You were not targeted because you are African American. You were targeted because you were an obnoxious busybody. Had you pulled the same stunt in the US, you likely would have been arrested on about a half dozen charges.

    Germany is not America. It has a definite sense if order (my husband is German, though originally from Eastern Europe). You didn’t know that before embarking on studies there? The police there usually know locals they are stopping. They often give the same treatment to East Europeans.

    I am white, blonde, petite, and female. I’ve been stopped by the police while driving because I “looked too young to be driving”, which was laughable.

    My son, also blonde and white, has been detained by police twice, solely because he is a teen. He and friends were even handcuffed once when someone, not them, had spraypainted a door. This is legal where I live, as they were detained, not arrested. They are all upper middle class, kids whose parents are professionals, and those kids have every advantage society provides.

    I don’t deny racial profiling is prevalent, but you don’t know for a fact it applied in the situation you witnessed, and I highly doubt it applied to you.

    • Is that really what you took from this post? How is it NOT racial profiling if out of everyone in the park the one black person who was sitting on a bench for hours was picked? What was he doing that was suspicious?

      I hope one day you will have just a small taste of the indescribable injustice, shame and humiliation that comes from being reduced to nothing in that sort of way because an ignorant person projects their ignorance onto you. People are fallible – this is why all institutions need checks and balances and should be willing to allow challenge. The “order” you speak of can and has been abused – only the actions of “obnoxious busybodies” stops such rot

      I for one celebrate that she intervened – and for one small moment made that man know he is seen as a person

      I’ll leave you with something. When you meet someone for the first time, or hear them, stop and realize you really know nothing about them. Nothing. You see race, gender, age, clothes etc and biased assumptions pop into your head because that’s how we make sense of the world – categories and patterns – hence limiting ourselves and in the end OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES.

  15. Hello,
    I am white and german, touched by your text and want to say thank you for standing up in this moment and for sharing this horrible experience. I I will stand up, too, for anyact in racism, violene, humiliation. To be visible as an example for another range of being and being together
    Thank you! Nina

  16. …unfortunately, recording German police officers without their permission _has_ some legal pitfalls:

    http://get.torial.com/blog/2015/07/polizeikontrolle-wann-darf-man-die-polizei-filmen/

    Short summary: Taking pictures, even in close succession (i.e. video) is permissible, but publishing them online requires consent of the police officers in question, Recording audio is _not_ permissible without their permission, even if you don’t intend to record it.

    These laws were created for the protection of the privacy of normal citizen, but no special exceptions exist for police officers. I _really_ wish German legislators would take a page from American laws here, but unfortunately they only ever seem to recycle the _stupid_ American legal concepts instead of the good ones.

  17. I’m so sorry. If you ever need help, I’m in Darmstadt and will do pretty much anything to aid someone who is on the right side.

  18. You had a bad day there, and I am feeling with you. Sorry for this.
    Anyhow: Some german special rules (esp. for police) make sense, which is more easy to understand when you have been grown up here.
    For me, it was shocking, when I first had bought some coke in shop in CAL and police stopped and told me not to drink (Coke!) in public. Same when a guy told me he would never accept a law which forces him to wear a helmet on a motor bike (CAL).
    I talked to them (police officer, and not-helmet-fan), and this helped me to understand what was going on. Not really my opinion, but helpful to better understand.

  19. I’ve been retaliated against for speaking out for someone, so I no how you feel and understand your stand on this matter. I feel the same way continue to be strong and courageous it will pay off.

    • I agree, Linda, some aspects of Western culture are horrible – that you might be attacked or ridiculed for standing up for what you believe in if it goes against common opinion. It’s something I’ve worried about – what would I do if I saw this happening? I know the right thing is to call it out, but those perpetuating racism and violence may turn on me, and I honestly don’t think I could rely on bystanders to support me. And this is a white woman speaking, who has never had to deal with the type of discrimination described in this article. If I find it intimidating to speak up, how terrifying must it be for those who are the targets of this sort of treatment? These disgusting attitudes and actions rely on the fear of others. And yes, my fear is part of the problem too.

      • Good that you recognize you’re a part of the problem. The question remains are you willing to do something about it? Is your fear of discomfort stronger that your desire for justice? Why?

    • thank you for reading. i’m sorry to read that you’ve had a similar experience. it’s unfortunate that this is so common, but that’s why we have to continue to speak out and stand up. sending love.

  20. If this is true, then tell you lawyer to make a Dienstaufsichtsbescherde (disciplinary complaint) if you want to take a mild route but you can also file for the offense of Nötigung (coercion, its a criminal charge in Germany) and menschenrechtswidrige Poizeigewalt (misuse of Police power). The judiciary takes these charges seriously.

  21. I have such respect For you for standing up. For years now people have been talking about the “police state” and I’m sad to say this exists in Britain as well. All people of colour are treated as though they are problems and have no rights. This is in direct conflict to the countless “papers” and laws passed under the European Human rights act but as you say anyone that questions gets new “unreal” rules made up against them. We all need to scream louder for our brothers and sisters everywhere.

  22. “…staring back at four Aryan officers…”, that’s just as racist. While I understand where you’re coming from and dealing with the police can be infuriating, especially when you’ve committed a minor infraction, I would also say that answering systematic racism with specific racism isn’t particularly helpful, or noble, or fair. Full cred for your “balls” to stand up to the aggressors, though.

    • Aye yay… look up racism beyond what you learned in school. Also, this encounter had nothing to do with my balls. I’m a woman, don’t masculinize my courage.

      • Hence “balls” in quotation marks… it’s an idiom, but I put it in quotation marks because you are a woman, and thus to give an ironic edge to the perceived masculinity of courage and counterposing it to your genuine courage. No offence intended. I am very much aware of what Racism means beyond my school education, thank you. I’m against all racism, the systematic as well as the specific. Replacing one for the other, in reaction or otherwise is understandable, but in no way better.

      • That’s why I put “balls” in quotation marks… I did this specifically NOT to masculinise your courage… it’s still an idiom though and I used the quotation marks to put an ironic slant on the societally perceived masculinity of courage. Sorry that was lost on you. I do very much realise what racism is beyond my school education, thank you. Replacing systematic racism with specific racism, even as a reaction to the former as well as societal discrimination is understandable, but in no way better. Xenophobia and tendencies to racism are inherent to all human beings, and thus questioning these innate feelings, and acting against them remains a mark of attempted civilisation… for everyone, no matter which colour.

  23. Wow…just wow. I am sorry that you went through all of that. I got angrier and angrier the more I read. It appears that racism is real and not just in America.

  24. I am white and I am german. I don’t go out in public much, so I don’t see a lot of things happening – especially in my small town with only two police officers.

    The “it would never happen in Germany, our police is civilized!”-stance that a lot of fellow Germans show after every attack on PoC in the US disgusts me. Because like you said – this is the country where the holocaust happened. And we just closed our eyes and let it happen, back then. People always argue that folks are smarter now, that something like strategically murdering millions of people just because we didn’t like their skin color or religion, couldn’t happen nowadays.. But the inherent racism hasn’t changed. The fact that a lot of people are sneakily very right-wing hasn’t changed. I really hope that our laughed-at millenial generation can finally change the view society has on so many important issues. Because it’s our job to ensure the safety of all.

  25. I “almost” know how you feel. As a bloke who occasionally wears long hair I find some police treat me like some sort of social problem. Last November I was abused by an angry police officer here in Western Australia. When I complained officially about his behavior, the video evidence “he” had recorded had been lost.
    I can change the length of my hair, but you will always be beautifully dark. All I can offer is empathy at the treatment this sometimes attracts. And the hope you will always be strong.

    • It’s great that you recognize your privilege. You can offer more than empathy. Step one is recognizing your privilege. Step two is learning how to use it to protect and stand for the marginalized. *Hint* it starts with listening to them, so you’re already half way there.

  26. I’ve done similar things and it worked. Now I know that it probably only worked because I’m white. It’s disgusting. Sorry to read what happened to you and the guy who just wanted to relax. You did the right thing. Stay strong!

    • What I learnded about what to do in this kind of situation, at least in Germany, is to ask th police for their “Dienstmarke”. Even on their web page they say if you are being stopped by te police allways ask for the “Dienstmarke”. Also ask for their “Dienststelle”. You can visit and have a nice chat with their boss afterwards, or write a friendly letter. 😉
      I heard of some, that say, my uniform must be enough. Tell them about their own web page and if they cant’t show you that you better call the police on the police.
      Yeah I know it’s effort and a pain in the bum. Butt on long term I hope if everyone does it that way, that bullying will become less.

      • Often as a Person of Color doing things like this makes them even more aggressive. You are often met with a hostile response for knowing your rights. Just something to keep in mind.

  27. I’m very sorry about the way you were treated by the police.. I hope apart from that your impression of Germany and us Germans is a good one, but please don’t use the holocaust as an argument against the courage of people to help others out, when they’re being oppressed or mistreated. It’s obviously a horrible part of our history, that we should never forget or stop talking about (and we do talk about it a lot in school or at home, in order to prevent similar things from happening again), but barely any of the people, who lived through it are alive today (apart from some who were children) and to project this image onto the people living in Germany today is not right nor fair.

      • Congratulations. You just argued the prejudice that Germans are Nazis or that they automatically have “the line of thinking”. This how prejudice freaking always wins in this world. I’m so said to keep on finding the same ignorance on our side of the battle all the time.

      • I live in Berlin. Yes, there is racism and anti-semitism, and every bit of these mental illnesses is too much, but I think there’s less than in many (most?) other Western countries. Germany isn’t perfect, but it has changed a lot since 1945. In my experience, people in Berlin are pretty sensitive about police harassment, and many will stand up to it.

      • By that logic all White Americans are also genocidal racists. We killed over 15million natives and didn’t officially end segregation until 1964. Clearly “the thinking” is still here.

    • With respect, how do you think the Holocaust started? Through incidents like this. Through the silence of the people. I think it was a true and accurate comparison.

      • @Inara: You are right that it’s important not to be silent when injustice happens, and I think most Germans (not all, mind you) have learned that lesson. If I understand Dan Biss correctly, she writes that several people supported her against the police. Whenever there is a far-right demonstration in a German city, the people are not silent, but organize a counter-demonstration that is usually about ten times larger. I think it would be wrong to think “these people are the same people who let the Holocaust happen”.

    • I lived in Berlin for two summers, and have spent much time in major cities across Europe and the United States. I was consistently shocked at the neo-nazi presence in Berlin, both with public demonstrations and harassment/attacks on the streets, particularly in the eastern neighborhoods. This kind of white supremacist thinking certainly persists all across the globe, but I had never felt such a racist / conservative presence in any other major city, especially one known as a wildly progressive haven. Food for thought.

  28. Thank you for standing up to these guys. That took courage.

    “You do know this is the same place where the holocaust happened.” touched a nerve with me – that’s exactly what I often think about my countrymen. They are eager to follow authority figures, they don’t stand up to power, and they look the other way when an injustice happens. That obedient mentality is so pervasive that it’s assumed – by the police, politicians, anybody in power.

    I’ve never heard of police officers refusing to give their badge number, but I’m privileged (white and German). More reason to have it in large letters emblazoned across their uniforms (something the police union is fighting tooth and nail).

    • Thank you for your comment. From this encounter, I can believe the police union would fight having their IDs on their uniforms. I wanted to take them down that way and was surprised that there was nothing there. Then when I asked they laughed and said no, that I could contact their main number aka pointless.

      • I also faced same situation in my country .I was just enjoying myself in the park the next thing i find myself in handcuffs.I tried to ask what i did wrong there was no answer.Then afterwards i was asked if i was a somali.They suspected me to be a terrorist.It was so bad.I was even asked about my religion where i came from yet i am a kenyan citizen.I had no i.d with me at that time.Yet i spoke fluent swahili and english.I had my recommendation letter from my university which i saved on my phone it was stamped at that time i had no job at that time.It was the only thing i could use to identify myself because walking with an i.d is risky it can get lost and it will take months to get a new one.I showed them my recommendation letter and they were surprised to find out that i was a biochemistry graduate and i was christian and i belonged to a local tribe Luo.They were so much embarassed at that time.They quickly removed the handcuffs.There were many white people and black people in that park but they singled me out.It’s such a shame to see these things happening.
        Racism has to be stopped.We all belong to the human race.No one is superior to another.

    • @Enno: Luckily, the ones who “are eager to follow authority figures, don’t stand up to power, and look the other way when an injustice happens” are a minority these days. Example: Pegida is big in Dresden, but in all other German cities, the anti-Pegida-demonstrations were at least ten times larger. I’m not saying that everything is great. It’s not. But implying that Germany hasn’t changed since 1945 is wrong.

  29. Thank you for writing about you experience and including your emotions as well! I am “Afro-German”. And just yesterday I had a discussion with my neighbor a white male in his forties about racism and bias against people of color on Germany and he down played my accounts and explanations of both the bias, direct discrimination and racism. He did so by saying that he and the people he knew did not have a problem with blacks and that there supposedly are only a few people who would mind my skin aka ethnic background in this day and age… It was very frustrating when I tried and tried to explain to him that even everyday interactions are different because I am black. It might not be the case that I am being physically abused BUT I am seen as “the other” in the country I was born in. So although I do not wish for such things to happen it is important to talk about them to raise the problem into peoples awareness!!

    Best,

    Lea Latoja

    • Wow Lea! Thank you for reading. Your comment is so important. Feel free to message me privately. I would love to talk to you. I am an American voice in Germany, but there are many Afrogermans speaking out about this. You are not alone! Sending love and light x

  30. Thank you so much for this article. Seriously powerful writing. So many white people don’t understand the privilege they have, even if it isn’t asked for, myself included. I’ve shared this to my friends to help them understand just a little. Be strong and never stop standing up for others. Thank you again.

  31. I’m very, very sorry for your Bad experience. I first witnessed this systematic racism on a busride from Amsterdam to Dortmund where they picked the only woman of colour in the Bus and made her opening all her lagguage in Front of the Bus, so all the passangers got to see her clothes and even her underware. They were speaking so disrespectful, even insulting that I was very ashamed. I was a schoolgirl at that time but since then I try to stand up and Show solidarity whenever I get to witness this govermental racism. I will remember your Story and hold onto it when I feel frightend or just not strong enough to oppose the aggressors! Thanks for sharing. Blacklivesmatter is not only to blame the U.S. but also to reflect the Situation in Germany.

  32. My boyfriend told me that the police randomly asked for his papers on his morning commute to work in Paris. I was disturbed. He’s the one born and raised in France, and a citizen too, but because he is a POC he needs to carry an id at all times in case some officers feels the need to check him. I on the other hand am the foreigner here, but I hadn’t even thought of needing to have an id on me anywhere, because I am white. So incredibly unfair. And this is just one of all injustices out there.

    Thank you for standing up for your brother and thank you for sharing.

    • I don’t think she was saying that photo was her. Rather it was a metaphor to illustrate a similar experience, and to say “I’ve been in that position”.

  33. I lived in Germany for 4 years (I am afro Caribbean white English heritage) . I lived in a trendy part of Berlin and worked as a language teacher. I had two students who were police men and experienced very little direct prejudice …. That is until travelling by plane on my many visits to the UK…. It always managed to take forever to have my passport checked m. I am not being paranoid but I got to expect it
    . Why? Because the people inspecting my passport were were of a certain class and wore police uniforms.!

  34. Your story is compelling and very scary. I would’t wish it on anyone. I don’t know how to say what I’d like to say without giving you a kind of amunition that can be used as proof that white people just don’t get it, but I’m not going to worry about that. I don’t want my white mind (or white body) to be held hostage because I fear the verbal, or some other kind of reprisal. Don’t kid yourself that white people don’t feel fear, physical fear, that the undelying tension that exists between the races won’t end up in them losing their lives, too. To avaoid that I have to be careful about what I say so that no one thinks, or knoes, that I might on some level be racist, too. I am also someone, a human being, a human soul as you are, who wants to be able to speak my concerns and to be free from “persecution” for having done so. I believe that institutional and outright rasicm is alive and well. However, when you say “these people? These people?…” As though they *they* couldn’t possible be expected to take a stand for what was right, you totally forgot? glossed over? the fact that *those* people, with their “typical white thinking” stood up for you minutes earlier. I just get tired of being lumped in, implicitly and explicitly, with “those” people. Continuing to think in “those” terms is what perpetuates this shit on all sides…it’s “them,” “those” people are “typical”, “those” people whose very being is made up of certain characteristics and, ergo, must produce a person with “those” very specific bad or good qualities. It’s so, so sad and makes it seem that humanity doesn’t have a chance. So, print this if you like, don’t print it if you don’t want to. I don’t care if the rest of the world sees it or not. You’re the person I’m speaking to…not “them.” In ending, I’m going to provide one of my email addresses below, but not my full name, because I don’t want to suffer reprisal for speaking my concerns. I wish for all people, all souls, to be free from fear of “them.” Peace and love.

    • There’s a lot of information out there to help you process why I said “they” and “typical”. It’s not a 1 for 1 and it’s not on me to break that down for u. Good luck.

      • I’m not a psychiatrist, but he seems to be suffering from paranoia. Maybe desensitization therapy would help. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systematic_desensitization

    • @John
      I was walking in downtown Oakland CA. Across the street, on the corner, two young black men were replaying basketball moves with an invisible ball. I crossed the street, came up behind the man with “the ball,” and stuck my hand in front and stole “it” dribbled to an imaginary hoop and did a layup. (funny enough for a old, 5’4″ white man). I then retrieved the ‘ball’ and passed it back to them. They were silent at first, then broke out in raucous laughter. I waved, wished them the best and walked on!

    • That’s pretty sad. You dehumanize the people who “aren’t like you.” And then you fear them. But they *are human just LIKE YOU.* You have little to fear from them.

      There are good and bad people everywhere.

    • Think of how a black person feels walking in YOUR neighborhood. He could get arrested just for being there. Some nosey old white person could be peeking out his living room curtains, furiously calling the cops about the suspicious looking “colored man” walking down the street. That isn’t likely to happen to a white guy in a black neighborhood. No matter how suspicious those people are, they won’t call the police because they know it won’t do any good.

      • Yep, theirs a video a black man made to make this exact point. You see him walking normal and non aggressive through a white apartment complex, just walking minding his business and immediately an old hag white woman starts yelling at the top of her lungs RAPE! Over and over again yelling! He says to her why are you yelling and why are you saying that, rape? Mind you he wasn’t even near her, not even close! She told him, “you are coming over here and wanting to rape me” if he wasn’t recording who knows what would have happened.

    • @john
      I’m a white person from South Africa. My dad visited America in 2010. I’m not sure in which city he was. Anyway, he was there for a conference and went sight seeing one afternoon. He got on a bus and missed the stop where he intended to get off. When he realised this, he decided to just stay on the route. So he got off at a few places and enjoyed what the area had to offer.

      When he returned to the conference that evening, his story was met with shock. Apparently, according to his American colleagues, he (a middle aged white guy) had been travelling through the “most dangerous” neighborhood in the city, where only “criminals and drugdealers” live. But from my dad’s point of view it was a great place to visit… Technically he would have been an easy target for any criminal: a tourist who was definitely unfamiliar with the environment, carrying a new camera and an iphone. But everyone he met along the way were friendly and helpful.

      Now I’m not assuming that you are from America, nor do i know to which neighbourhoods you are referring… But i think there is a lot to learn from this story about perspective.

      • I agree. To believe a neighborhood is inherently dangerous because the people who live there are of a certain race…. is racism. What we learn here is the way white supremacy is culturally ingrained in the psyche.

  35. It was good to read about this incident from the viewpoint of the one who experienced it. You look so calm and poised in the picture, but I know that your mind was in turmoil and your heart was pounding. This sort of thing happens to minorities in the States all the time. Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, nobody is immune from racial profiling. Native Americans have been treated like shit since the first white Europeans landed, and rarely receive any public outcry. Police in this country cannot be trusted. Even the good cops stick up for their fellow bad officers. They always stick together, no matter what, and the judges often support them, so there is rarely any punishment of the offending officer even when there is video evidence. And yet, everyone sings and boasts about “the land of the free” each 4th of July. It’s bullshit.

    • A cop who sticks up for a bad cop is not a good cop. A cop who sticks up for a bad cop is just a different kind of bad cop.

  36. I am sorry that you had to experience that, I am really shocked about that – there is some serious bullshit going on in this city at the moment. 🙁
    Police needs to be what it was there for in the original idea: serving the people and protecting them – not the other way round.
    I find that riots like in rigaer street are of great importance for that.

  37. This is so saddening. Thank you for sharing. The situation across the world right now makes me cry. So glad you screamed and made a difference, even if it doesn’t feel like you made much impact. You did. Continuing to read about racism and discrimination makes me want to scream on a daily basis. I pray for peace and a common interest in unity of people. Peace to you.

  38. I’m a Srilankan Australian holidaying in USA with my family. Staying in Bellagio paying $400/ night. When my hubby and I came to the hotel after midnight security stopped only us to check for our key card to make sure we are staying here and not the whites. Wonder why we were pulled aside? At the airports always gets pulled in “random check”. Really???

    • It’s an all too common experience our society needs to take more seriously. This is an example of a time I said Enough. How many stories do we have of doing the latter — taking it — in order to survive? It’s enough.

  39. Wow. Thank you for this. I am so sorry this is happening to your race. I’m so sorry. We need to do better.

  40. Thank You. Next time (I live in Rochester, NY) I see the cops pull over a Black person I am going to pull my car over and watch and take a video. I am White and wonder what I can do to change this system that the way I see it – doesn’t work for anyone if it doesn’t work for one.

  41. It is a frightening story, very important to tell.
    I hope more people would be brave like you and refuse to let this happen. It is our responsibility. In such a situation (I have never witnessed or experienced that), I can imagine that I would NOT believe what is happening and find reasons why they checked this black guy and not the “Penner”. Or everyone in the park. It is just so hard to believe that this can happen on a daily basis in a public space. Maybe I wouldn’t believe it because I never faced that myself and so I remain very naïve. After reading your story, it will become clear next time that I have to react right away without a doubt because such things DO happen.

  42. Please take your cuteness, your Americanness, your triggered emotions and never come back to Europa again. Believe me: we do not need you.

  43. Thank you for standing up for your brother, unfortunately racism and discrimination is very much alive in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France etc etc. Anyone saying Europe is “not as bad as the US” must be walking around with blindfolds. We had “Trump” like figures here way before the US (le Penn, Wilders, the gGreek Golden Dawn” etc etc. It is time for us “white folk” to stop wagging our finger at the USA and start taking a good look at ourselves and our own countries overhere

  44. I am so sorry my people were human tire fires to you and the man from Gambia. Those four knuckleheaded polizei are not what my country is about since 1945. We’ve been trying to move in the other direction. This isn’t right. I can’t do more than disagree vehemently with those polizei — but I can tell you that one girl from one city is completely appalled.

  45. I’m an attractive white female American with four attractive white female children who travel extensively outside the US. From the time my daughter’s first learned their colors, I have told them to be aware of their white privilege, to never take it for granted and never use it to benefit themselves but to benefit others. But as I look at our world today and the mess that’s created by this socially ingrained apartheid system, I realize it’s not enough to accept and use my whiteness to help others. That’s part of the problem, accepting the status quo and finding some delusional “good” that my whiteness can serve. I think of a night last year right before the US Open when I was partying with Venus and Serena Williams and their friends, and out of the nine of us only myself and Venus’ boyfriend were white. The bars were closing and we were hanging out at a popular pizza place in Downtown West Palm Beach. We were not the last ones at this pizza place but an employee came out and asked us to leave. He said we were too noisy and they wanted to close. At this point everyone was drinking water even though the pizza place served alcohol and we were just laughing and having a good time. He looked at the black faces around me with hostility and disgust and repeated his demand that we leave. I looked around and saw that there were still other customers and I spoke for our group and said I would make sure that we quieted down and asked if we could stay until our uber ride came. He smiled at me and agreed to let us stay. As we were waiting for the offer, a man came up handing out VIP passes to a strip club. He completely ignored my black friends and walked up to me and handed me a VIP pass. We had no intention of going to a strip club but I saw the discrimination here and I wanted to make a stand. I said I wanted VIP passes for my friends as well and he said no, he couldn’t give out that many. I said either all my friends get passes or none of us do. He reluctantly handed out 9 passes that we threw in the trash once he left. Venus immediately got on her phone and started tweeting about the haters of the world and for the first time in my life I understood her anger. I wanted to shout to the pizza employee and the strip club hustler and ask them if they knew who was sitting here in her black skin being rejected by them? That they snubbed their noses at the greatest female tennis player of all time, that the combined net worth of these two women is in the hundreds of millions, that having them as customers was an honor and could be one of the greatest things that happened to their business. But apparently neither of those two white men followed tennis, neither had recognized the Williams sisters, neither knew how wealthy and famous they were….all they saw was their black skin and “noisy” behavior as we celebrated the upcoming US Open and the chance for Serena to win her historical calendar slam. And the itragic irony is that all they really ‘saw” that night was a poor, unknown white woman who used her privilege to “benefit” her non white friends. I was never more angry and ashamed.

  46. I cant stand this. I hate that this happens. I hate that this happened to you. What can I do? I feel like I cant do enough. I do not judge or dismiss others because of their skin. I dont cross the street if a black man comes. I dont ask to touch natural hair (bc honestly im too old and find it rude). I defend black lives matter because I believe it to be true. But what more can I do? I stand against racism, against institutionalized racism, against profiling. I argue against it. I plead a logical case to whomever will listen that this should not still be happening. What more can I do? What more can I do to help end racism? What do you want from me? I will do it. I am a historian. I cannot bear to see these situations continue. But tell me what you want from me, how can I help even more? Racism makes me sick to my stomach. It makes my heart break. I only want to help end it.

  47. I’ve been living in the Netherlands the last two years and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a scene like this play out. The constant targeting and humiliating of PoC in every way available to them. And it’s also fully illegal to record police or defend yourself from violence, so there is no recourse. I also asked some members of the Swiss border guard what they look for when they stop people, and without hesitation they answered: “if they’re black.” I think Americans sometimes get the impression that Europe is less racist than the US, but my years here have shown me that these countries can get away with even more racism because the issue is not given any visibility. How many people have seen the images of Zwarte Piet at Dutch Christmas? If not, look it up and your blood will probably boil. This is all to say, I really appreciate another voice bringing awareness to the under-represented and marginalized THROUGHOUT the world, thank you for feeling empowered enough in your own voice to express yourself here

  48. Thanks for standing up for an African like me. This is pathetic and happens everywhere. It hurts to know the world hasnt recovered from racism yet. We love and repect you all and all we ask is the same in return.

  49. This is a beautiful, intelligent piece. The truths written almost brought me to tears and your message needs to be spread farther. At first when I saw this posted by a friend on FB I was like “ok, lets see what this is about.” Then I got to reading. It uncovers a piece of the dirt beneath human society, showing that the endemic problem of systematic suppression is not just a one-culture issue–it is a human issue across all peoples that MUST be eradicated. There is no equality until the innocent needn’t fear the law. There is no equality until they needn’t fear unjust persecution.

  50. Thank you for standing up for this person and for sharing this experience. I’m white and half German but grew up mostly stateside most of my life. It’s clear to me that German people like to think themselves superior by basically every measure, yet I never saw or heard as much overt unchallenged racism in my entire 19 years of living in my relatively progressive corner of the US as I have in some 4 years living here (even in “multikulti” Berlin). In fact the attitude in general seems to be that speaking up against any mistreatment, voicing any criticisms at all makes you the bad guy; that if you have any negative experiences here then clearly it is all your fault because you must have done something to deserve it so just shut up and don’t talk about it, don’t even think about standing up for yourself.

    The states absolutely have huge and horrible issues to sort through, but it was horrible before everyone had the ability to so easily document and publicize it too. People say sunlight is the best disinfectant and that the first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is a problem, and we are bringing defects in our culture to light and talking about it loudly and continually. Based on the attitudes I consistently encounter here, I wonder if Germany will ever be able to say the same.

  51. German people, don’t make this about you, it isn’t.
    It’s not a story about how good you’ve been in changing or whatever.

    Solidarity/ACAB.

  52. I love my American brothers and sisters. Were sometimes called loud Americans an a host of not so polite other things. But when were in the right and feeling are oats we’ll act. Reminds me of a storie heard of someones female friend who was acosted at london airport by a middle eastern man spouting nonsense about how she was bad an in league with the devil. Literally spitting in her face. Well she lit into him with her purse an he was totaly unprepared to have his but handed to him. I’m a white man but hope I would have acted as well as you did. Thank you for speaking out.

  53. I am a white German who is moving back to Germany after 17 years in South Africa and this blog post has definitely made me aware of what is happening in Germany and I WILL stand up for my fellow brothers and sisters of colour if they get unduly harrassed. And I will instruct my teenage kids to do the same. The post was great and the comments too, so we now know what to do and what our rights are 🙂 Peace and Love and Ubuntu

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