A police officer shot a 16-year-old unaccompanied minor several times with a submachine gun in front of a youth welfare facility in the German city of Dortmund. The shooting has prompted protests and questions in Germany.
The fatal shooting of Mohammed D., a 16-year-old unaccompanied minor from Senegal, in front of a youth welfare facility in the city of Dortmund, in Germany's most-populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), has sparked a wider debate on police violence and racism in the country.
According to the public prosecutor's office, six shots were fired, five of which struck the teenager - causing injuries to his stomach, face, forearm and shoulder. He later died in hospital during emergency surgery. There were 11 police officers at the scene when he was shot.
The incident has raised questions about police brutality and the treatment of vulnerable minors and refugees by the authorities in Germany. There has also been widespread concern among the general public about the proportionality of the use of force by law enforcement, as well as the level of training police receive in relation to racism and discrimination.
On Twitter, many, like the Left Party (Die Linke) MP Nicole Gohlke, criticized the police officers for being unable to use other non-fatal means to disarm the youth.
In her tweet on August 9, Gohlke stated: "With five shots from a machine gun, a 16-year old Senegalese boy was killed in Dortmund. It is inexplicable, why it was not possible for the 11 police officers present to disarm a 16-year-old without killing him."
Protests against police violence
Following the incident, demonstrations against police violence took place in Dortmund on Tuesday (August 9) and Wednesday (August 10). German broadcaster DW reported that several hundreds of demonstrators, mainly from the left-wing political spectrum, protested against police violence this week and shouted "murderers, murderers" as they passed security forces.
The place where Mohammed D. died is Dortmund's Nordstadt district. It is an area which suffers from a lot of social problems and is repeatedly in the headlines due to police interventions. Relations between police and citizens, many of whom have a history of migration, are considered to be extremely tense in the area.
"The police in Dortmund's Nordstadt are not known for acting independently of skin color," said lawyer and police scientist Thomas Feltes of Ruhr University Bochum in an interview with DW. Racially motivated controls are the order of the day there, he added.
Politicians warn against prejudging the police
According to the public prosecutor's office, an investigation has begun into the death of the teenager and the officer who shot him. The decision on whether charges will be brought, or whether the case will be dropped will take several weeks.
The Interior Minister for NRW, Herbert Reul, and Member of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), warned against prejudging the police and sweeping criticism, while promising 100% clarification surrounding the incident.
The Dortmund police chief Gregor Lange also warned against the public making what he called "premature assumptions." According to the EPD press agency, Lange said that "assessments of what happened only make sense, when the investigation has been completed and the results and facts are available."
The police chief urged the public to give authorities "the opportunity to investigate the incident [which took place] at Holsteiner Street within the framework of a constitutional procedure to thoroughly and fully work through." Reul told the German broadcaster WDR in an interview.
Details remain unclear
According to reports of the day's events, police had been called to a youth welfare facility on Monday (August 8) in the afternoon. The 16-year-old had been assigned to the facility. A supervisor from the facility had called the police on Monday because he said he had seen the 16-year-old with a knife.
According to the prosecutor's office, the teenager did have a knife with him when officers arrived on the scene. However, what he originally intended to do with it - whether to hurt himself or others - is still unclear. It is possible that the youth had suicidal intentions, said the spokesman for the prosecutor's office on Wednesday to the press.
In an interview with WDR, Reul said that plainclothes police officers first tried to calm down the teenager down. "When that didn't work, they tried to distract him with irritant gas," to make him rub his eyes and then to drop the knife he was carrying, he explained.
"But that didn't work either, so a taser was used, which, however, also had no effect," Reul told WDR. Then allegedly, the youth ran toward the police, before a 29-year-old police officer shot six times with a submachine gun.
The left-leaning German newspaper TAZ reported that two days before his death, he was admitted to a psychiatric clinic in Dortmund for at least one night, at his own request, because he had expressed suicidal thoughts. It is thought that Mohammed D. spoke French and the Senegalese national language Wolof, which made communication with the youth center's caregivers and the police very difficult.
Fatou Mbengue from the German cultural association BENNO is still shocked about what happened and convinced that his death could have been prevented. She told the TAZ newspaper: "I live in the street where he died and my family speaks Wolof. We could have talked to him and shown him that he is not alone here."
Searching for the teenager's family
BENNO and other representatives of the African community in Dortmund met on Wednesday evening with a representative of the city, to gain more information about the identity of the young man who was killed, in order to try and locate his family members.
The Senegalese embassy was also called in to assist. The youth is said to have arrived alone in Rhineland-Palatinate only recently, although he is said to have made his way to Germany originally with his brother and parents.
A funeral service is planned for this Friday at a mosque in Dortmund.
Parallel police killings
The public prosecutor's office expects investigations to last several weeks. However, some people are raising concerns about how the investigations are being carried out.
According to German press reports, the police department in the nearby town of Recklinghausen is responsible for the investigation into the death of Mohammed D., with the 29-year-old police officer who shot the teenager six times with a submachine gun, listed as a suspect.
The Dortmund police are in turn investigating a case under the jurisdiction of the Recklinghausen police, where, a 39-year-old man died on Sunday after he allegedly put up massive resistance and was restrained by the police in an apartment.
Can the investigation remain neutral?
When police officers are charged with a crime, the investigation is conducted by another department "for reasons of neutrality". However, following the deaths in both Dortmund and Recklinghausen within a 24-hour period, this means now two police agencies are investigating cases in which the other agency was involved. The NRW Ministry of the Interior has insisted that the conduct of the investigation will remain neutral.
The NRW Ministry of the Interior explained that criminal offenses against state employees are prosecuted in certain police headquarters, the "Kriminalhauptstellen". However, if the accused person works there, another criminal headquarters is responsible "for reasons of neutrality." There are fixed cooperations in place which mean that Recklinghausen is always responsible for Dortmund and vice versa, and the same applies to Cologne and Bonn or Duisburg and Düsseldorf.
In response to a question as to whether neutrality would be jeopardized in the event of ongoing reciprocal responsibility, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior emphasized that the investigative proceedings would be conducted exclusively under the direction of the responsible public prosecutor's office, which is "committed to objectivity, neutrality and impartiality".
With EPA, EPD and DPA