Reactions to Police Brutality

The civil backlash following the Mike Brennan case has proven strong, and may create a new official policy toward foreigners

News | Lauren Brassaw | April 2009

Brennan with Die Grüne spokesperson David Ellen (Photo: Kurt Prinz)

As a reaction to the alleged assault by police officers against African-American schoolteacher Mike Brennan nearly two months ago, Austrians and their Expat-colleagues have responded with a clear voice.

These calls include a number of strong letters and petitions that have been sent to the Interior Ministry, both from the Vienna International School as well as a United Nations office, calling for the Austrian Government to take responsibility for these policies, to uphold its credibility.

A petition from the UN office was signed by over 500 employees that condemned the Austrian Police for the acts of brutality was sent to the Interior Ministry. The Interior Ministry did not want to address the issue, and the petition has been forwarded to the Austrian President Fischer.

President Fischer has, unfortunately, not yet responded to the petition.

A lively political campaign, showing a shunning light on stereotypical police actions against ‘colored’ foreigners, was put on by die Grünen at the Badeschiff, in Vienna. Brennan was the featured guest at the gathering.

"I’m fighting not only for the justice that I deserve, but for the justice for all those who have experienced this kind of injustice," Mike Brennan said at a campaign-rally held by die Grünen, Austrian’s Green Party, on Mar. 24. The Vienna International School teacher had been a subject of police brutality on Feb. 11.

"It’s a question of fundamental Human Rights, that must be upheld," Brennan said, pointing out that even Amnesty International is becoming involved.

The outcry comes at a time in Austrian history after a number of cases of police brutality including the deaths of two persons of African origin, and the near death or extreme abuse of half of a dozen others, have put the Austrian police force in an exceptionally negative light.

As an act of support for Mike Brennan, the event at the Badeschiff brought a crowd of several hundred guests and supporters together, and included sobering speeches by senior Grüne Party members Maria Vassilakou, chaiperson of the green fraction in the Viennese Parliament, and David Ellensohn, in the City Councilor for die Grüne in the Vienna Government. Both speakers strongly condemned the acts of police brutality and discrimination in Austria.

"In such a society, the question we should raise about this incident is that of human rights," Vassilakou said, "and change the way the system works."

This call for systematic change in how the police deal with persons of African origin and racial profiling is meant to pressure the Austrian government to address the issue more firmly.

The atmosphere in Vienna surrounding the recent actions of police against Mr. Brennan seem bound and determined to see change.

In a broader perspective of multiculturalism and pluralism in Austrian society, the Municipal Department 17 on Integration and Diversity, has been working toward improving relations between parts of society by focusing on building relationships between ‘traditional’ parts of society and immigrants.

"Thirty percent of the Viennese population have a migrant background, which should be reflected by the public service sector," Bernhard Bouzek, a Diversity Manager in the department, said, "This includes the Police department."

This suggests that not only a certain level of multiculturalism exists, but also that many don’t realize the complexity of Austrian society."We’re working to build professional relationships between these communities through outreach programs to bridge the gaps that cause these problems."

Bernhard emphasized long-term efforts toward having the public services mirror the demography of the Viennese population, but is optimistic about the positive influence that this program has on the Police force.

When asked about the issue of racial profiling of the police, Bernhard admitted that he hoped that through programs like this would help reduce intercultural conflicts.

In addition, Bernhard mentioned the association between persons of African origin and the drug problem in Vienna, saying that while there are a lot of these migrants involved in the problem, it is not only persons of African origin pursuing these activities.

"There needs to be knowledge of these populations in Vienna, and through building intercultural relationships, the police and communities can better work together," Bernhard said.

At a moment in history where Austria can choose a socially progressive direction or to move backward toward some dark abyss, reactions from government officials and the public have been telling; the reactions from the President and Interior Ministry will likewise indicate how seriously the actions are being taken.

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