BERLIN — Violence erupted overnight in Frankfurt between police officers and youths who have been partying in a central city square on weekends, with bars and clubs shuttered to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
It was the latest outbreak of violence involving the German police amid a national debate on bias and racial profiling in police ranks.
“The mood turned against us,” Frankfurt’s police chief, Gerhard Bereswill, said Sunday at a news conference, adding that members of the crowd had fought with police officers. “Certain groups feel encouraged — above all when they have been drinking — to attack police,” he added.
The violence in Frankfurt comes weeks after hundreds of young men clashed with the police and vandalized dozens of stores in Stuttgart.
Coverage of the protests in the United States against police brutality and systemic racism has received widespread attention across Germany, encouraging immigrant groups here to speak up against what they say are years of being stopped by officers at random, based solely on their appearance or skin color.
Police in Germany have long been widely respected by a majority of the public, but have come under sharper criticism and more frequent attacks since the protests that have swept the United States.
Asked what he thought was behind the violence, Chief Bereswill said several elements had come together, including an aggressive mood fueled by alcohol, but also the public debate in Germany over racial profiling by police in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by an officer in Minneapolis in May.
At least some of the 39 people initially detained in the melee came from a “migrant background,” the police said, without offering further details.
“The accusation of racial profiling that is very present in society right now,” he said, adding that the issue of police violence in the United States “has spilled over to Germany and the German police are falsely being compared to the U.S. police.”
“All of that came together and we feel that on the streets,” he said in an interview with Hessische Rundfunk public television.
Last week, Horst Seehofer, Germany’s top security official, rejected calls for his ministry to conduct a study into structural racism among the country’s police officers, insisting that he saw no indications among the federal force that racial profiling was a problem. Instead, he said his ministry would follow through on an investigation of extremism and racism in the public sector that had already been commissioned.
“For weeks, the police have been under strong criticism, and I would like to see us return to a fact-based discussion,” Mr. Seehofer told the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. “To do this, we need an overview of extremism, anti-Semitism and racism in the whole of the public sector.”
Opernplatz, the square outside Frankfurt’s opera house, where violence broke out overnight, has become the scene of regular weekend parties this summer, with thousands of people gathering around a fountain to socialize, drink and dance.
About 3,000 people were there on Saturday night, a racially mixed crowd of diverse ages and economic backgrounds.
The celebrations remained largely peaceful until about 3 a.m. Sunday, when a fight broke out among about two dozen revelers still in the square, Chief Bereswill said. When a group of 10 officers moved in to give first aid to an injured person, some in the crowd turned on them and began pelting them with bottles and glasses.
Others cheered as the glass flew, he said, and five officers were injured.
The Frankfurt police said that eight of the 39 people who were detained remained in custody on Sunday. The authorities in Frankfurt are investigating those eight, all aged 17 to 21, on suspicion of attacking officers and vandalizing public property.
A video published on the website of the local radio station FFH showed a crowd roaring approval when a man wielding a trash can succeeded in smashing the glass at a bus stop at the edge of the square.
The city authorities had set up hundreds of temporary trash cans and portable toilets to prevent the pileup of empty bottles and other trash left on the square in recent weeks.
“Our Opera Square is dedicated to ‘The True Beautiful Good,’” Omid Nouripour, a lawmaker for the Greens who grew up in Frankfurt, wrote on Twitter. “Not idiots who injure police, vandalize bus stations and destroy everything for peaceful revelers.”