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  • John Riceburg: Police violence is becoming surreal


John Riceburg: Police violence is becoming surreal

Police violence is not exactly uncommon in Berlin. But the explanations given by the police spokesman qualify as great surrealist art. Watch how a video of someone getting beaten by cops is transformed into a dream sequence.

Who is your favorite surrealist author? Breton? Hugnet?

Me? My favorite surrealist is the press officer for the Berliner Polizei.

For an example, how would the average joe describe the video above from last Saturday at Görlitzer Park?

I would say: A bunch of police ask a guy with a clown nose for his ID. Then they beat him mercilessly. Then more people come, then more police, and the beatings continue for several minutes.

But I’m not a surrealist. From the winged pen of Berlin’s police spokesman, this scene is described in an enthralling combination of dream and reality straight out of a film of Luis Buñuel:

“… a 22-year-old got in the way of the officers and impeded their investigation. After the police had sent him off, in vain, and the impediments continued, an officer pulled the troublemaker to the side, at which point a group of up to 60 people interfered in the events …  two bicycles were flung at the officers, and a policeman suffered a head injury that required out-patient care at a hospital. With the help of further police, the group of people was pushed away and two men (aged 32 and 46) and a 33-year-old women were arrested. They are being investigated for aggravated assault, attempted freeing of prisoners and serious breach of the peace.”

Like in any great surrealist art, the absurdist elements predominate, but there’s tidbits of reality to connect the narrative back to our world. So around the 2:24 mark we do in fact see a bicycle enter the frame. But the police officer, far from being injured, flings it right back. Did he injure someone? This is where great art makes us think: What does it mean to claim that “six police were injured”, when all we can see are citizens screaming in pain? Do the police reside in a different dimension than normal people? Does the bicycle exist at all? Is any of this real?

Last Tuesday, it was reported that police attacked dozens of underage school students with pepper spray. Their laconic explanation – “we didn’t use pepper spray” – for me qualifies as great art. Eighty-five years ago, René Magritte shocked the world with his statement: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” The Berlin police are going even further: “Dies ist kein Pfeffersprayeinsatz.” It’s up to the art critics to decide.

P.S. There’s lots of discussion in the press about what might have actually happened. We’ll sift through all the “evidence” in the comments.