Don’t be afraid of the Nazi: German police riot with migrants

Image copyright Thomas Sagiel Image caption The crackdown by German police in Hamburg in late November 2016

A CNN investigation into police conduct in Germany sheds new light on a highly-charged anti-fascist protest in 2016.

A group of far-right neo-Nazis left leaflets on cars in the town of Hamburg, denouncing rioters and claiming they had “left to restore order”.

The authorities in the city said there was a serious threat of violence and deployed police to the city centre.

Then about 6,000 demonstrators, many masked, took to the streets.

Image copyright Thomas Sagiel Image caption Police armed with shields and batons shot tear gas into the crowd. The event came three days after far-right demonstrators set fire to a black cab and attacked the driver with a metal rod

Unrest during the period played out on social media. It fuelled social tensions that led to the far-right beating refugee children with rods.

As CNN pieced together its picture, new footage and eyewitness accounts emerged, illuminating a divide between those who actively harass, intimidate and belittle refugees, and those who are actively working to improve relations between refugees and local residents.

The images of rioting involving police using water cannons, tear gas and riot shields against the mainly young, masked demonstrators looked like scenes from an episode of Zoolander. But the police response and the quality of some of the footage made it clear this was an authentic demonstration and there was a serious threat of violence.

From a distance the image may seem like a case of half-arsed protests and over-reaction. But close-up and in some cases very close, in places where riot shields were thrown, police produced an overwhelming force. The authorities really did take this threat seriously.

CNN found this footage for the first time. Several pictures posted to social media suggested it was a spontaneous protest by a group of off-duty male police officers dressed in blue trousers and T-shirts. In other words, it was not a protest involving the wider public, as the authorities claimed.

But they were right to be concerned about what was happening there. They were concerned because the fact such a protest would happen in Germany had a major message about its reception of refugees, and it was likely to be broadcast worldwide.

Police face criticism for a history of violence The August clashes

Image copyright Thomas Sagiel Image caption This is a photograph from a Facebook group called “Unhappy German Officers”

The dark season of terrorism and violence

Image copyright Thomas Sagiel Image caption A Facebook account linked to the “I Do the Killing” march of late 2015 was later deleted

Germany is a staunchly nationalistic country. It did not want the arrival of refugees, and its self-image is one of power and strength.

But the few hundred numbers of German police on the streets of Hamburg in November 2016 was small change. The thousands who turned out in those public demonstrations, however, were different.

The photos from that day, not from the assault on the taxi driver that happened that night, show the kind of demonstration so many of those far-right radicals are railing against in Germany – a demonstration demanding peace and harmony. The protest organisers wanted those demonstrations to keep going and grow. It was success.

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