This article was originally published on union-berlin.com.
Reports about police brutality against football fans in Germany have been piling up lately. It happens across all leagues, from amateur level all the way to the Champions League, as FC Schalke 04 recently discovered, when an army of police forced their way into the fan block during a match to remove a supposedly provocative flag. There was no legal basis for the mayhem they left behind, with almost 100 people injured, among them women and children.
But the majority of incidents seem to happen when people are getting to and from the ground, and away supporters have a particularly hard time: they get herded from the moment they arrive at the train station, are sometimes kettled and made to wait for extended periods of time, and run the risk of missing the beginning of the match because a large group of people is only let in slowly through one or two gates.
While some football fans sure are no angels, this behaviour fuels conflict. It creates a vicious circle, and it makes a lot of young people grow up with the image that the police are your natural enemy, rather than someone you’d respect. And the chicken or the egg question is completely misplaced here, it’s about who is supposed to be the grown-up, who’s to take on responsibility to end this cycle.
But the police are often a little bit too fast to respond with batons and massive use of pepper spray. If – in that situation – you politely ask for their name or number (as you have a right to) they laugh at your face while they whack you, and they will even take away your phone or other recording devices if they see you recording anything (as this video on Spiegel shows) – despite the fact that there is no legal basis for that either. It also appears to have no consequences to the individual officers.
Is it lack of competence and foresight, do the troops not know how to properly protect people, even when some fans get a little out of hand? Or is it done malevolently? To provoke fans, to enjoy having power over others for the moment, and then later to justify massive use of staff at the next game – paid by citizen’s taxes, citizens who then get tear gas in their eyes in return. It’s probably a little bit of one and a little bit of the other. But that doesn’t make it okay!
In most cases the media don’t help much. It is too tempting to show colourful pictures of flares at grounds and proclaim stadiums as war zones that you may or may not leave alive, as was done a year ago when some politicians and chiefs of police forced the clubs into adding more restrictions. This was followed by massive fan protests, so the clubs eventually backed out a bit. There are rare exceptions where the media provide a balanced view or even describe police violence, such as the Spiegel report linked above or a Kurier reporter when he was closed-in with Union fans after the match vs. Karlsruhe for no obvious reason. He pointed out that the cops seemed to look forward to using pepper spray, and how that is not the code of conduct he’d expect from a man of the law.
Before Karlsruhe there was an incident where Union fans got trapped in a regional train on their way back from Cottbus. This weekend the police used batons, pepper spray and dogs against Union fans in Kaiserslautern and in Berlin – among those fans were not only women and children again, but also Union’s chief of security and several Union stewards, who got attacked and injured, even though they showed their identity cards. You can see some of those scenes in this video.
The club has now issued a very critical official statement, condemning the police action as reckless, brutal and illegal, and the official police statement as trivializing the events: “This is the last straw. At the train station we were facing police officers who were spoiling for a fight, and were responsible for the situation to get out of control,” says Union’s chief of security, who will press charges.
President Dirk Zingler expects answers and announces that Union will take all possible legal action: “This is a massive failure of those who are supposed to protect people. Instead we see provocation, violence, false imprisonment, breach of public order and an incredible waste of taxpayers’ money. Such behaviour destroys any attempts for a trusting cooperation.”
This statement takes away a bit of the helplessness you feel as an individual – one can only hope that justice will somehow be served, and that there will be other precedents in the future to be massively proud of Union. The club stays true to itself, just like when it did not sign the league’s resolution for a “safer stadium experience”. It’s another example of how Union do not only care about what’s happening on the pitch, but also how they care for their wider community and care to be a role model in society that people can look up to. Now that’s a book the police can take a page out of.
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