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Red flag

Want to prevent crime at Kottbusser Tor? Legalise drugs.

Could a new police station solve the problem of Kottbusser Tor? Our politics blogger has an easier solution

Kotti is back in the news. Photo: IMAGO / Jürgen Held

Kotti is back in the news — the area around Kottbusser Tor has been known as a Problemviertel for years. This month, the Senate reported that between 30 and 50 acts of violence — including assaults and robberies — take place around Kotti each month. Between May and December of last year, the police registered 1,322 crimes.

What is to be done? Scientologists already tried to help out by handing out pamphlets for a “drug-free world.” Now, Berlin’s Interior Senator has a plan with roughly equal chances of success: Iris Spanger wants to set up a new police station “quickly.”

The police themselves are skeptical. Berlin’s official website explains why this won’t work: “some parts of Kreuzberg are home to a very left-wing and partly anti-police population who could react aggressively to a new police station. To avoid constant incidents and attacks, such a precinct would need to be heavily staffed and supported by constant patrols in the surrounding area.”

This is not news. Kreuzberg dislikes cops. The reason is clear. The police count Kotti as a kriminalitätsbelaster Ort, or a high-crime area. This means cops can stop and search people “without suspicion” — a painfully obvious bureacratic cover for racial profiling.

There are real problems and even occasional horrific acts of violence at Kotti. But how is additional police harassment of residents supposed to help? Stopping crime requires an understanding of where it comes from. According to rbb, the crime statistics include “40 to 90 drug-related offenses,” per month, “mostly illegal possession or sale of cannabis or other narcotics.”

But wait: Germany’s new government has announced its intention to finally legalize marijuana. So a good chunk of the “crimes” at Kotti, at least according to the majority of voters, should not be illegal in the first place.

And it’s not just about people getting busted for dealing. Prohibition leads to spirals of criminality. When both buyers and sellers are pushed into a black market, that means they have no public recourse if someone isn’t following the rules. They do not enjoy the same protections as someone selling a used microwave on eBay. The result is that private violence becomes more common as a means to resolve conflicts.

The same thing happened when alcohol was prohibited in the United States a century ago. Almost immediately, trade in a popular intoxicant was taken over by violent cartels. The chaos only subsided when prohibition was repealed.

The War on Drugs has been going on for more than 50 years – and drugs have won. It was never about stopping drugs. It was an excuse to persecute people who were already marginalized. As one Berlin cop was happy to admit (anonymously): “no one has ever gone into drug rehabilitation therapy just because they were busted by police.” Germany’s drug czars, meanwhile, struggle to admit how their policy is supposed to work.

Drugs can obviously cause terrible health problems. But the most dangerous drugs are also the ones that happen to be legal in Germany: alcohol and tobacco. To deal with these problems, we don’t need to lock people up — we need health care for users and regulation for producers.

Germany needs to adopt the same policies that other European countries have applied successfully. Decriminalization should be combined with extensive public health measures, which would include safe consumption spaces, needle exchanges, drug testing, etc. 

All the crime around Kotti, much of it related to addiction, is a complex expression of social misery. To get to the root of the problem, we need housing, jobs, health care, and education for everyone. Legalization, though, would already go a big step towards reducing crime.

Nathaniel has written an anticapitalist Berlin guide book that is being published by Pluto Press in April. It has a chapter about the history of Kreuzberg and Kotti.