After the murder of George Floyd, the Minneapolis Police put out a press release: “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” Lots of people probably would have believed that version of events, but bystander videos showed what really happened: police murdered Floyd. With the conviction of the murderer, a U.S. court has confirmed what many people already knew: police lie.
And that brings us to the events of Saturday evening in Berlin-Neukölln. Images of a riot went around the world. At least 93 police officers, we are told, were injured. That number, spread by Berlin’s Interior Senator Andreas Geisel from the SPD, has been endlessly repeated by media and politicians from across the spectrum. Annalena Baerbock, the chancellor candidate of the Green Party, said that “setting fire to barricades and violently going after policemen and policewomen is criminal.” I am almost old enough to remember that the Greens used to condemn police violence and support the Revolutionary May Day demonstration in Kreuzberg.
But is any of this true? Were 93 police injured? I guess it comes down to what the word “injured” means. A demonstrator is usually counted as “injured” once they have entered a hospital. The word conjures up images of people with their heads wrapped in bandages or their arms in casts. But when police are declared “injured,” it is based entirely on self-reporting. Geisel added a telling detail to his claim, saying that, of the 93 supposedly “injured” police, four of them “could not continue their service.” That leaves 89 “injured” police that did not even have to take a break from their hard work beating up demonstrators. I have not seen any number of how many, if any, were admitted to hospital.
Such numbers are not new. In 2017, there were huge protests against the G20 summit in Hamburg. After one of the largest police operations in the history of the Federal Republic, police claimed that 476 officers had been injured. The number was everywhere. Journalists from Buzzfeed investigated the claims, and made a list of the “injuries”: police who breathed in their own tear gas. Police who were in traffic accidents unrelated to the protests and police who fell ill more than a week earlier.
So what happened in Neukölln on Saturday evenings? Most newspapers will simply repeat what the police said: they had to stop a “Black Block” because people were refusing to wear masks or maintain social distance. I was there, and I would like to share my observations.
The Revolutionary May Day Demonstration gathered on the south side of Hermannplatz at 5pm. I would estimate the crowd at 10,000. After an excruciatingly long opening rally, the demonstration set off down the Karl-Marx-Straße a few minutes before 7pm. It took a full hour to reach the U-Bhf Karl Marx-Straße, just 700 meters away. This was because police kept blocking the demonstration. People kept pushing up from the back, and it did feel somewhat more crowded that it should have been.
Of the 93 supposedly “injured” police, four of them “could not continue their service.” That leaves 89 “injured” police that did not even have to take a break from their hard work beating up demonstrators.
The demonstration was absolutely peaceful. If I am being brutally honest, people were not even chanting very much. The 10,000 people had to pass through a bottleneck on the Karl-Marx-Straße. Due to road construction, which has been going on for years, the street narrows to less than two full lanes. This is where police stormed into the demonstration, cutting off the first block from the second. They began beating people, and before long, had attacked the Lautiwagen, or loudspeaker truck.
They say they had warned people in the second block to wear masks and maintain social distance. I was at the front of that second block. I heard no such warning. I have yet to meet anyone who did. The first police announcement I heard was after the attack, informing us that our demonstration had been dissolved at 8.08pm.
Were people wearing masks? I happened to be next to an activist who was yelling at every single demonstrator who was not wearing a mask properly. In the entire hour, this added up to a handful of people. Check out the countless videos yourself: a sea of masks. And while the space was getting crowded, this was a problem caused by the police themselves.
The people from the second block were then kettled into a very narrow space. The police, in the name of social distancing, forced us to stand incredibly close — far closer than we had been during the demonstration — for half an hour. The first part of the demonstration stopped at the Sonnenallee. It was when police attacked them too that we saw scenes of resistance. But after having spent much of Sunday reviewing videos, I have not seen anything from demonstrators that was remotely comparable to the police violence.
So the claim about “injured” police officers is a cynical joke. But there is one objective number: 354 people were arrested. That is an enormous number of arrests at a legal May Day demonstration.
This is the same Berlin police who, for the last year, have done relatively little about demonstrations by Covid denialists. These are demonstrators who all ostentatiously refuse to wear masks. But as I reported back in January, Geisel justified this passivity by saying: “I can’t go after people with a water cannon because they aren’t wearing a mask.” It is apparently impossible to repress right-wing demonstrators — could this be because so many police sympathise with the right?
For months, right-wingers have been saying that the requirement to wear masks is equivalent to a police state and a fascist dictatorship. They want to be seen as defenders of freedom and democratic rights. So now we have a legal, peaceful demonstration that was attacked by police, for made-up reason. Are these civil libertarians defending Revolutionary May Day? Not that I have seen. In comments, they are celebrating the police and demanding even more state violence against “Antifa.”
I left the demonstration feeling shaken up and exhausted. But I do not feel demoralised. A year after the pandemic reached Berlin, in the last two weeks we have seen two big demonstrations: first on April 15, when the Mietendeckel (rent cap) fell, and now again on May 1. The pandemic has made a lot of things clear. Essential workers are still risking their lives, while big corporations make billions in profits. And the government is keeping many businesses open, but restricting free-time activities in the name of their “lockdown.”
I think we are going to see a resurgence of radical leftist politics in Berlin. May 1 was just the beginning. I don’t think the police’s creative counting will stop that.