Police in the German capital are on the alert for more trouble after a series of clashes with youths in three suburbs with a mainly immigrant background. The disturbances raised fears that parts of Berlin were becoming no-go areas and reawakened memories of the horrific clashes involving migrant youths in French cities last year.
They also rekindled the debate on how to deal with young people who see little perspective in a society that many feel treats them like second-class citizens.
The clashes erupted on Tuesday in the Kreuzberg district when around 100 Turkish and Arab youths attacked police who detained two 12-year-old Turks caught trying to steal another teenager’s MP3 player.
The following night there were skirmishes after around 60 youths from Kreuzburg fought with a group of high school students in the neighbouring working-class suburb of Tempelhof.
On the same day around 80 people in a mostly Turkish populated part of Moabit prevented an ambulance from taking a 5-year-old boy who had been injured in a car accident to hospital.
The child had been knocked down by a motorist who left the scene and sought sanctuary in a police station. Police reinforcements were called in to allow the ambulance to continue its journey.
Berlin communal official Heinz Buschkowsky sees the problem as “a decline in values” that has led to a lack of respect for authority in areas with high unemployment and a large migration background.
“It appears that law enforcement officials are now regarded as interlopers in some suburbs,” said Frank Henkel, a member of the opposition Christian Democrats in the Berlin senate.
Turks account for a quarter of the 464,000 foreigners who make up 14 per cent of the capital’s 3.4 million population. Many of them are the children and grandchildren of immigrants who came in the 1950s.
But some residents who witnessed this week’s disturbances blamed police for exacerbating the situation by acting in a heavy handed manner and hurling racial abuse at the youths involved.
Berlin police chief Dieter Glietsch said Friday that some of the officers involved in Tuesday’s incident in Kreuzberg were being questioned in connection with the allegations.
“We take such accusations very seriously and will look into them exhaustively,” he told a press conference. “It is not often that claims of this kind are made against the Berlin police.”
He also dismissed the idea of no-go areas in city flashpoints. “We (the police) are visible everywhere and take action whenever it is necessary,” Glietsch said.
Opposition Greens politicians in the Berlin parliament called on the police to use Turkish and Arabic-speaking officers when called into action in multi-cultural suburbs like Kreuzberg.
Berlin politicians said the clashes bore no comparison to last autumn’s civil unrest in France that was triggered by the deaths of two North African youths being chased by police in a Paris suburb.
The city’s senate plans to discuss the violence at a meeting of its internal affairs committee on Monday and Kreuzberg Mayor Franz Schulz has promised to hold talks with police, youth groups and community workers in a bid to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.
By Mike Swanson, Dpa