The hazards of driving in Neukölln

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Driving in Berlin’s “problem district” Neukölln is apparently just as hazardous as swimming there, as previously reported in the Daily Caller. This time, the “unpleasant incident” reported by Germany’s Focus newsmagazine was “especially bizarre,” amidst Neukölln’s high crime rate, given that the victims of a road rage assault were police officers. The incident has once again turned German public attention again to issues of Muslim immigrant crime as well as police protection.

The official Berlin police press release online recounted that a patrol car slowly drove southward along Neukölln’s Karl-Marx-Straße in the right lane on August 29, 2013.  The Berliner Morgenpost (BM) later reported a female police officer, a colleague, and a training officer riding in the car. Trying to find a reported traffic accident site, the car finally stopped double-parked before a shopping center near the intersection with Flughafenstraße. A BMW then drew alongside in the left lane whose driver shouted through an open window to the stopped police officers that they should drive faster. The BMW thereafter drove in front of the patrol car and stopped, allowing the BMW’s two occupants to exit.

The 26-year old driver and his 19-year old companion approached the officers and a fight ensued. The 33-year old female officer received a punch in the face. The female officer followed the pair back to their BMW and opened the driver’s door in order to command them not to flee. Before driving away, the driver closed his door, hitting the woman’s shoulder in the process.

About 70 people, described by the Berliner Zeitung (BZ) as of Turkish and Arab background, watched the incident but offered the officers no aid. Indeed, BZ reported that shop owners closed their doors and filmed and photographed the event with their cell phones. The perpetrators Bahadi Ö. and his younger brother Ilyas likewise were members of a Turkish family from northeast Anatolia, Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel reported.

The press release related that supporting police forces subsequently stopped the “rabid” men and gathered identity information. They now face charges of bodily injury, resistance against an enforcement official, and coercion in street traffic. The female officer complained of pains on her head and shoulder, but did not need medical treatment.

Described by a Die Welt writer as “unbelievable,” the Neukölln incident occurred in a context of increasing attacks on German police officers nationwide.  A report by Germany’s equivalent of the FBI, the Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt or BKA), available to Die Welt earlier in August claimed 60,294 officers were assaulted in 2012, an increase of 9.9% compared to the previous year. Among Germany’s provinces, the Berlin city-state is the leader in this area, with 95.3 cases per every 100,000 inhabitants. Berlin itself began collecting statistics on resistance to officers in 2011, reporting an increase in 2012 of 7% to 4,476 incidents.

Police statistics showed that a third of all police resisters in 2012 were “non-German” like Bahadi. Ilyas with his German citizenship, however, would count as a German in these accountings. One 2011 study described police resisters as: “young, male, alcohol-influenced, and often not German.”

In response to the Neukölln assault, Berlin’s Interior Senator Frank Henkel called for stiffening laws against attacks on police. Henkel in particular wants a provision in the German criminal code specifically treating abuse of officials. Germany’s police union, the Gewerkschaft der Polizei (GdP), has likewise had a longstanding demand for such a law with penalties of three months to five years in prison. A GdP spokesperson also expressed its desire for concepts “so that once again uniform wearers are perceived among the population as persons of respect.” GdP chief Oliver Malchow told Die Welt that “many police officers have the ever stronger feeling that policymakers no longer stand behind them.”

Other officials around Germany have expressed similar sentiments. Hesse’s provincial interior minister, Boris Rhein from Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has called for special legal protection for officials, saying that “respect for police officers continually declines.” Rhein’s colleague from Baden-Württemberg, Reinhold Gall of the Social Democrats (SPD), also called for a broad societal discussion of this matter earlier in June 2013. The CDU minority in North Rhine-Westphalia similarly urged the provincial SPD-Green Party government to act at the federal level for minimum sentencing standards for resistance to the police.

Violence from Berlin’s various Muslim immigrants concerns not just the city’s police, but also other city groups such as Jews. The Karl-Marx-Straße scuffle, BM reported, “received a particular brisance due to the discussion of so-called No-Go-Areas in Berlin.” Although denied by Berlin officials such as Neukölln’s borough mayor Heinz Buschkowsky (SPD), there are recurring claims that city police cannot maintain law and order in certain Berlin neighborhoods.

Rabbi Daniel Alter argues that recognizable Jews should avoid certain Berlin neighborhoodsAnetta Kahana, chairperson of the Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung, an organization against racism and anti-Semitism, agrees that “it can be dangerous for recognizable Jews in some Berlin city sections,” particularly considering families that openly sympathize with Hamas and Hezbollah.  Alter sees rising anti-Semitism and xenophobia in the city expressed, for example, in the use of “Jew” as an insult in many schoolyards. Anti-Semitism is of particular concern to Alter, whom unknown Arab-descent youths bloodily beat a year ago before his house and seven-year old daughter, whom they threatened with death.

Official statistics, meanwhile, showed a rise in anti-Semitic crimes to 192 incidents in 2012, an increase of 68 percent in comparison to the previous year, although the rate fell 14 points in the first half of 2013. Yet these numbers might well understate the problem, for they only include anti-Semitic crimes with a rightwing extremist background. Crimes with an Islamist motive, in contrast, fall under foreign criminality. However they’re counted, though, Neukölln shows that tensions with Berlin’s Muslim migrant community are having a dramatic impact on public safety.

Andrew Harrod