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 targeting the German police amid tensions over a national debate on racial profiling in police ranks.
“The mood turned against us,” Frankfurt’s police chief, Gerhard Bereswill, said Sunday at a news conference. “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 attacked the police and vandalized dozens of stores in Stuttgart, and amid nationwide tensions over calls for German security officials to examine biases and racial profiling.
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.
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 all summer, with thousands of people gathering around a fountain to socialize, drink and dance. About 3,000 people were there on Saturday night, the police said.
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.
The Frankfurt police said that they detained 39 people early Sunday after five officers were injured and that eight remained in custody, all of them aged 17-21. The authorities in Frankfurt are investigating those eight 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.”