Turn of the year: Berlin summit on youth violence is looking for a way out

After the New Year’s Eve riots, experts and politicians come together in the capital. What should be done now? The phenomenon of youth violence is complex – not only in Berlin. And some numbers surprise.

Berlin police chief Barbara Slowik raised the alarm in December. More than 500 children and young people were noticed with violent acts in the course of 2022 – around 200 more than a year earlier. The police also see the disrespect in certain parts of the city with concern, Slowik said at the time. That was all before Berlin’s New Year’s Eve and the outcry about riots, violence and attacks on the police and fire brigade.

A summit on youth violence is to bring experts and politicians together this Wednesday in Berlin and show ways out. But there won’t be any quick answers. “It is clear that one summit will not solve everything, but that was never my intention,” said Berlin’s Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey in advance.

In the capital in particular, there are always outbreaks of violence, and have been for decades. When a Bolle supermarket went up in flames in Kreuzberg during riots on May 1, 1987, local politicians spoke even then of a “completely new quality” and lawless spaces. The May Day violence has been contained in recent years, but riots are now taking place on other occasions.

Riots in different cities

This doesn’t only happen in Berlin. There were also New Year’s Eve riots in cities like Bochum and Frankfurt an der Oder this year. Even in Borna, Saxony, according to the police, a group on the market square “fired pyrotechnic products in the direction of the officials”. In 2021, 185 police officers were injured in Dresden when hooligans fired pyrotechnics at them after a soccer game.

The perpetrators are usually young and their behavior is sometimes frighteningly aggressive. But is this really a trend? “If we look at the development of youth violence over the past 20 years, we see that serious crimes are decreasing overall,” says sociologist Aladin El-Mafaalani from the Institute for Educational Science at the University of Osnabrück.

According to police statistics, for example, the number of German suspects per 100,000 inhabitants in the age group between 8 and 21 years of age has fallen significantly in the past few years in the case of dangerous and serious bodily harm. While this number was still an average of 518 in 2010, in 2020 there were still around 302 suspects per 100,000 inhabitants in this age group. However, this figure only refers to the German resident population.

Analysis confirms decline

The most recent analysis by the German Youth Institute in Munich on youth violence from August 2022 confirms the trend: the number of young suspects registered with the police has recently decreased, both for simple bodily harm and for serious violent crimes, such as dangerous or serious bodily harm, robbery, rape and serious sexual offenses Assault, murder or manslaughter.

The past few years have been Corona years, which has also influenced crime. Nonetheless, Sabrina Hoops, research associate at the Youth Institute, says: “You quickly get the impression that young people are becoming more and more delinquent. But a factual look at violence in adolescence tends to show the opposite.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t countervailing trends and spikes – the picture is bewilderingly diverse. In Halle an der Saale, for example, a city with 240,000 inhabitants, so-called youth gangs have been causing a stir for a year, as police spokesman Michael Ripke confirms.

A separate investigation group, the “EG Cornern”, had a total of 368 procedures on the table in 2022, including assault, robbery, threats, theft, coercion and insult. The robbery involved cash, smartphones, headphones, jackets or expensive brands of shoes. 139 suspects were registered, most between 14 and 18 years old, mostly male, 90 of them with German citizenship, the rest with different nationalities, as Ripke reports. The victims of the crimes are therefore also predominantly between 14 and 17 years old and male.

disrespect increases

There could be big problems with a few young intensive offenders, says sociologist El-Mafaalani. And: “Police officers, rescue workers, firefighters and employees in the job centers report increasing disrespect.” This applies not only to young people and not only to people with a migration background. The causes were not easy to name.

Possibly this also expresses what political scientists and sociologists describe as division or as the lack of a common social vision. In any case, what is certain is that different groups expressed their disrespect in different ways, says El-Mafaalani.

The attempted storming of the Reichstag building by participants in a “lateral thinker” demonstration in August 2020 was one example, the violence against emergency services last New Year’s Eve was another. “Young people were at work here who don’t have the impression that they are benefiting from the state order.” A strong lack of restraint could be observed, “perhaps also the feeling of having nothing left to lose”.

Berlin particularly badly positioned?

So what to do after the shock of the New Year’s Eve riots? “As far as Berlin is concerned, I have the impression that the situation there is particularly poor in terms of a preventive infrastructure, for example in schools and social work,” says El-Mafaalani. “In many large western German cities, the proportion of people with a history of immigration is higher, but many things are going better overall.”

Governing Mayor Giffey won’t be happy to hear it. But it is also clear to her that the summit against youth violence is “not a flash in the pan, but the beginning of a process”.

The board of directors of the Council for Migration, which is supported by scientists from various disciplines, is meanwhile expressing surprise that the horror at the events on New Year’s Eve so quickly turned into an integration debate – with racist undertones, he finds. At the same time he criticizes: “For years we have been experiencing a confusion of integration policy measures that are ultimately designed by the municipalities and occasionally also by the federal states.” At the federal level, too, there is a confusion between the Ministry of Family Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior and others who deal with the immigration of workers. His conclusion: “The federal government is not doing justice to its role here, because a clearly responsible federal ministry is still a long way off.”


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