German police are facing scrutiny thanks to a string of racist incidents. Berlin and other states are including anti-racism modules in basic training – but it’s not standard yet.
Ben Knight discusses the topic in an article published in a digital newspaper. The classes are taught by instructors from Diversity Works, an organisation that offers racism awareness training, which in recent months has been getting more calls from German police forces.
Just being asked a question about your appearance, the instructors explain, can unnerve people, because it instantly changes the dynamics of an interaction. Suddenly there is judgement in the air.
This is the deceptively obvious premise of the blue-eyes/brown-eyes exercise, a lesson developed in 1968 by US teacher Jane Elliott that has since become a consistent element of diversity training.
The educator divides the room into a brown-eyed group and a blue-eyed group and then assigns brown-eyed people special privileges. The result, after some difficult confrontations, is that the students hopefully feel what discrimination is like, and so end up confronting their own racism and understand how the mechanisms of privilege and exclusion affect their minds.
These workshops for police cadets last for a whole week. They cover a lot of ground, discussing everything from what the police is actually for, to ethnic profiling, to how to deal with other officers who make racist remarks.
It is not hard to get a measure of how important this is in Germany: The police’s struggles with racism and far-right sympathy in the ranks has become more and more public in recent months as unpleasant stories converged in the press.
A few weeks ago, the Berlin police were forced to admit mistakes in an investigation of a far-right crime in its Neukölln district, with victims complaining that the chief suspects (three known neo-Nazis) felt safe enough to publicly taunt officers keeping them under surveillance.
A week earlier, the police in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, were criticised for publishing a training brochure on Arabic organised crime in the region that allegedly included racist slurs.
The case that has caused the most national consternation was the discovery of five large far-right WhatsApp police chat groups in North Rhine-Westphalia, which shared pictures of Adolf Hitler.
According to some critics, this reflects a wider problem: the failure to link incidents of egregious racism with a deeper and broader problem in police culture.