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Police forced to publish list of 'dangerous' areas

June 2, 2020

Germany’s biggest state has listed 44 so-called ‘danger’ areas, mostly in minority neighborhoods, following a request from the AfD. The nationalist party has repeatedly used such information to target immigrant areas.

Image: picture-alliance / Geisler-Fotopress/C. Hardt

Following a court order, the government of Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), has acquiesced to an information request from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as to which neighborhoods and streets had been officially designated by police as "dangerous zones" over the past decade.

The list names 44 areas, only ten of them are still of special interest to authorities to this day. Almost all of the locations named have a high population of immigrants.

A spokesman for the state Interior Ministry told DW that the term "dangerous" doesn't necessarily mean an individual is in more danger in a given place. Such a designation means that police can do identity checks without a specific reason there. Police are allowed to designate "dangerous zones," if "facts justify the assumption that certain criminal offenses are planned in these locations" or that known criminals spend time there, he said.

This means that "the police can decide what to designate a 'dangerous zone' pretty much at will. For example, if they see drug dealing in a neighborhood one night, they may start using the term there," said Sebastian Weiermann, a freelance journalist who has been covering politics NRW since 2016, in an interview with DW. 

Read more: 'Forgotten' Duisburg voters turn to the far-right AfD

Disconnect between designation and reality

With 18 million inhabitants, NRW is not only Germany's most populous state, but also home to the highest concentration of big cities, where the crime rates are high.

However, the list includes parts of extremely low-crime cities like Düsseldorf and Aachen, while other places known for organized crime, like Duisburg-Marxloh for example, were left out. Weiermann noted that, in some places, "like parts of Duisburg, there are no state ‘dangerous zones', simply because the local police don't use this designation."

Local newspapers, such as Der Westen questioned the wisdom of the descriptor, noting a discrepancy between its connotations and the reality on the streets. "It is clear from this list that the police definition of 'dangerous zone' is vague. For example, the [often empty] parking lot outside the soccer stadium in Mönchengladbach is on the list, maybe just because hooligans fight there after a game. If you want to work with an official concept, you need a definition for it," Weiermann added.

Clear connection to immigrant neighborhoods

NRW has one the highest proportions of foreign residents as well as first and second generation immigrants in the country at 30.4% of the population.

"When you look at the list, these are often immigrant neighborhoods, orplaces with a lot of hookah bars, for example," Weiermann said.

These communities are then left vulnerable by city governments to any number of ill intentions, from religious extremist groups seeking to recruit disaffected young people to the far-right seeking an example for its xenophobic purposes.

"This can be exploited by the far-right, to bolster their claim that 'parallel societies' exist in Germany," he added, referring to a term often used in Germany to describe when immigrant communities isolate from mainstream society, whether self-imposed or tacitly enforced.

The AfD They greeted the publication of the list with jubilation. On their website it read: "Finally the state government had to admit that they don't have the situation under control. Now we know where the no-go areas are."

The right-wing party sees the list as confirmation of failed immigration policy. The AfD parliamentarians often uses government information requests to get information to push their agenda to discriminate immigrants as criminals.

Read more: 1,600 crimes target refugees and asylum-seekers

'No-go area' or normal neighborhood?

The negative effects of stigmatization of communities have been well-documented by sociologists (such as Arrival City by Doug Saunders), it is exploited by people with xenophobic ideologies, but also results in a harmful self-image and resentment within the affected communities.

Despite all this, the NRW Interior Ministry said that it did not see a problem with labeling certain areas as official "dangerous zones," adding that its function was even written into law by the state government.

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Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.