Stuttgart riot prompts pushback against attacks on police

Germany facing law and order ‘alarm signal’ following street battles, says minister

German interior minister Horst Seehofer (right) and Thomas Strobl, interior minister in the southern Federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, look at a destroyed police car as they visit the location of riots in Stuttgart,  on June 22nd. Photograph: Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty

German interior minister Horst Seehofer (right) and Thomas Strobl, interior minister in the southern Federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, look at a destroyed police car as they visit the location of riots in Stuttgart, on June 22nd. Photograph: Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty

 

Germany is facing a law and order “alarm signal”, according to the country’s interior minister, after a weekend riot in Stuttgart and a newspaper article suggesting police officers belonged “on the rubbish heap”.

On a visit to Stuttgart on Monday, federal interior minister Horst Seehofer condemned the street battles in Stuttgart on Saturday evening involving up to 500 people that left 19 police officers injured.

At least 30 shops were looted, according to local media, while the riot damaged at least a dozen police vehicles. The street battle appears to have been triggered by a routine drug detention, after which bystanders reportedly began attacking police in “solidarity” with the detained man.

As he accompanied Mr Seehofer around on Monday morning, Stuttgart’s mayor, Fritz Kuhn, appeared still shell-shocked that his quiet, conservative regional city was the scene of violence more familiar from Hamburg or Berlin.

“I hope for a quick investigation against the perpetrators and tough sentences from the courts,” said Mr Seehofer, warning of an “alarm signal for the rule of law” in Germany.

Frustration

Early interrogations of 16 suspects in custody suggest the incident, which drew in 300 police officers, was motivated less by political concerns than considerable frustration at coronavirus restrictions and fears of limited employment prospects.

The Stuttgart riot follows weeks of protest in the city against lockdown measures and a series of nationwide protests prompted by the death of unarmed African-American George Floyd. Those protests have sparked debate about police violence, a lack of investigation of complaints against police and claims that racial profiling is prevalent among German police officers.

A week ago the left-wing Tageszeitung daily ran a column condemning police violence towards minorities and suggested the force should be abolished.

German police officers were uniquely unsuitable for any other profession, the author suggested, because they are “rubbish people” and thus belonged on “the rubbish heap”.

The article, described by the commissioning editor as “satire”, has divided the publication’s staff, incensed many readers and prompted a statement of regret from editor-in-chief Barbara Junge.

Criminal complaint

The German police union has filed a criminal complaint against the newspaper and the author, prompting Mr Seehofer to announce he would follow suit.

“A lack of inhibition in language inevitably leads to a lack of inhibition in deeds, and to excesses of violence, just as we saw in Stuttgart,” he said on Sunday. “We cannot accept this any longer.”

The interior minister appeared to back away from his threat on Monday, after a conversation with chancellor Angela Merkel about the potential risks of appearing to limit freedom of the press.

In Stuttgart, as shop owners swept up glass shards from shattered windows, local police called for a ban on the consumption of alcohol in public places, in particular where young people congregate.

“With clubs closed, young people have more than enough opportunities to buy alcohol,” said Ralf Kusterer, state head of the German police union, reporting “uninhibited violence in the Covid-19 era”.

German president Frank Walter Steinmeier weighed into the debate on Monday, urging people to “stand up against” those who attack police or give the impression that officers should be “disposed of”.