'We're sitting on a powder keg'
Immigrants Protest Death of Moroccan Teenager in Cologne
By Barbara Schmid and Andreas Ulrich
February 01, 2008
Following the violent death of a Moroccan teenager in Cologne,
hundreds of immigrants have taken to the streets in nightly
demonstrations to protest what they see as evidence of their second-
class status in Germany. Police warn the city could be ready to
The owner of an electronics shop on Cologne's Kalker Hauptstrasse
had rolled down the shutters on the windows in case there was
unrest. Now they have photos of a 17-year-old Moroccan boy taped to
them. The teenager, whose name was Salih, was killed in front of the
shop two weeks ago.
The sidewalk is a sea of candles as hundreds of people
chant: "Salih! Salih! We want justice!" They feel that Salih was one
of them -- a youth from an immigrant family.
For the police, the case is clear cut. According to their version of
events, Salih allegedly wanted to mug a 20-year-old German man, who
tried to defend himself. But he panicked and pulled out a
pocketknife that he plunged into Salih's heart with an unlucky stab.
Prosecutors said it was a clear case of self-defense, and there are
witnesses. But none of that matters any longer.
Every night last week, up to 300 protestors gathered at the spot
where Salih died to demand "justice" instead of letting his killer
walk free. They are protesting against "racism in Germany" -- but
since it appears clear that this case involves self-defense, it's
obviously about more than just the unfortunate Salih. It's more
about how immigrants and their children feel they are currently
being treated in Germany.
The incident has struck a chord with those who feel disenfranchised
from German society -- those without a proper education or
vocational training, those without a future. The frustration is
palpable. "We're sitting on a powder keg," warns former police
commissioner Winrich Granitzka, who is also head of the Christian
Democratic group in Cologne's city council. "There's the danger we
could see a situation like in the suburbs of Paris."
Cologne certainly isn't Paris and the district of Kalk can't be
compared with the high-rise suburban ghettoes surrounding the French
capital. But Kalk, which used to be home to a chemical plant, is
certainly depressing. The only bright spot is the large and colorful
new shopping center, which stands out from its gray surroundings.
Immigrants and people with at least one non-German parent make up
54.7 percent of Kalk's population. The amount of young people
between 15 and 18 living there is above average; education levels,
on the other hand, are below average. Some 90 percent of people
without a job in the area count as long-term unemployed.
"It seems to me as if they only send losers here," says Kemal
Düzardic, a 22-year-old friend of the dead teenager. He and the
others gather near the photos and candles even in the cold and the
rain. One question weighs heavily on their minds. What if a German
had died and the killer had been one of them?
A mere eight hours after the incident happened, the police announced
it had been a case of self-defense and no charges would be pressed.
The statement was "somewhat unfortunately formulated," admits
Cologne police officer Catherine Maus in hindsight.
The "unfortunate" wording came at a particularly unfortunate
time. "We have too many criminal foreigners," Roland Koch, the
conservative governor of the state of Hesse, said in late December.
In his re-election campaign, which many observers considered
xenophobic (more...), Koch made clear he thought immigrants should
assimilate and shouldn't expect Germans to accommodate their
Of course, many of the Kalk youths who were born and raised within
sight of Cologne's towering cathedral and speak the local German
dialect don't consider themselves "foreigners." But Koch's populist
attacks still resonated throughout the immigrant community.
"Stop this Racist," was the headline in the Turkish newspaper
Hürriyet, accompanied by a caricature of the Christian Democrat
politician with an extra-long nose. The Social Democrats, the left-
wing Left party, the Greens and even a few Christian Democrats
distanced themselves from Koch. Only the mass circulation newspaper
Bild took his side and delighted in featuring new stories
about "foreign" repeat offenders with long criminal records on an
almost daily basis.
But the people with immigrant backgrounds in Kalk read Bild
too. "What's with this crap?" says one irritated young man. "We grew
up here, we aren't criminals. So why are we treated differently than
'We Feel like Second-Class Citizens'
For more than 40 years, the German mainstream tried to assert that
Germany wasn't a "country of immigration." That attitude has had
repercussions. Around 72 percent of Germany's 1.7 million Turks --
the largest group of foreigners living in the country -- don't have
proper vocational qualifications. Some 40 percent of young people
from immigrant families neither study nor pursue a traineeship after
they leave school. They do odd jobs or hang around -- and they make
up a disproportionate amount of violent offenders.
"The city of Cologne does a lot for integration," says police
director Michael Temme, who has been keeping a careful eye on how
his officers have been policing the demonstrations. But he admits
there are "hot spots" in the city, including in Kalk. And so every
evening he finds himself wondering if this will be the night when a
spark finally ignites the powder keg, if this will be the night when
shop windows get shattered and cars go up in flames.
"We feel like second-class citizens," says a middle-aged Moroccan
man. "It will never stop, maybe it will even get worse," adds a
young man. A group of intimidating-looking youths chant: "Salih,
Salih!" They want a different kind of justice. It sounds more like a
call for revenge.
Part 2: The High Cost of Failed Integration
"Something needs to happen to shake up Germany," says Social
Democratic parliamentarian Lale Akgün, quoting a phrase made famous
by former President Roman Herzog. "We need, at long last, social
policies that are based on acceptance, and we need a fundamental
reform of both education and social policy," she says. Germans need
foreigners and foreigners need Germans, she says.
It's an opinion shared by demographers and labor market experts. If
people aren't given the opportunity to get vocational skills and
qualifications, there will be "mass unemployment with a simultaneous
dearth of skilled labor," according to the Institute for Employment
A study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation has calculated
that a lack of integration of immigrants in Germany has already cost
the country €16 billion. Many immigrants are unemployed, earn less
and pay smaller amounts of tax and social security contributions.
The protesters in Cologne's Kalk district know this and that's what
makes the situation so explosive. There's a feeling of not getting a
fair chance and of being disenfranchised.
Around a fifth of foreign children see themselves as being "strongly
discriminated against" or "individually disadvantaged," according to
a survey by the Germany Youth Institute (DJI) in Munich. More than
half feel they are neither respected nor treated equally. "Those are
strong opinions that they have formed based on their own
experiences," says DJI researcher Jan Skrobanek.
"We're not welcome here," says 14-year-old Fatima from Kalk. She
ostentatiously pulls down her headscarf to cover her face as she
stands in front of Salih's photo. "After elementary school we all
get shoved into the Hauptschule," she says, referring to the lowest
level of Germany's three-tier high school system. "None of us go to
Realschule (apprenticeship-track high school), only Germans go
there," she says. Her three older siblings couldn't find a
traineeship after finishing high school. Fatima doesn't believe her
luck will be any better.
Experts agree that youth crime in Germany isn't an ethnic problem,
but rather a social one. Immigrant children from middle-class
families and those that do well in school generally aren't
troublemakers. Those that manage to find an apprenticeship or a job
have a "significantly smaller feeling of being disadvantaged,"
according to youth researcher Skrobanek.
"We have to do everything we can to lower the high proportion of 40
percent of young immigrants without vocational qualifications,"
Maria Böhmer, the German government's commissioner for integration
affairs, announced recently.
The federal government wants to spend €350 million over the next
three years to work toward that goal. An employer will receive a
subsidy of at least €4,000 if they give an apprenticeship to an
applicant that has already unsuccessfully applied for one. It's a
"But immigrants have to do their part as well," insists Social
Democrat Lale Akgün. "They have to give up their attitude of
rejection and join society."
In a survey carried out by the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen,
one-third of immigrant parents admitted that they would have
problems with a German son-in-law. Hence, not much can be expected
from the older generation -- which makes the future prospects of the
children that much worse.
"Many children experience an inconsistency in the way that they are
raised which they find very challenging," says Haci-Halil Uslucan
from the University of Magdeburg. At home they might be raised in a
patriarchal fashion that puts an emphasis on obedience, while at
school they are taught self-responsibility, individual choice and
equality. "This disconnect is extremely difficult to deal with,"
Anyone interested in establishing equal opportunities and preventing
young immigrants from drifting into criminality has to start
promoting language development and education as early as
kindergarten, says economist and criminologist Horst Entorf.
Salih, the dead teen from Kalk, had never had any run-ins with the
police. "He wanted to get his high school diploma," says his 23-year-
old brother Abdallah, who is studying electronics. Abdallah was part
of the street protests last week. But the more radical protesters
made him uneasy.
A few days ago, the Moroccan consul general visited Abdallah and his
parents. He explained to them that the police investigation had been
carried out conscientiously. But Abdallah still wonders whether a
foreigner would have been released so quickly.