Munich police after the rampage: much praise – why, actually?

The police in Munich were showered with praise after the rampage: they had done a great job. But what speaks for that?

Police tape in downtown Munich on the evening of the rampage Photo: dpa

A strange phenomenon was observed over the weekend: A single rampage kills nine people and himself, the police paralyze an entire major city for hours – and afterwards, almost everyone gushes in praise of how brilliant the police work was. What evidence is there for this?

It’s easy to be wiser in hindsight. And of course you shouldn’t expect too much from anyone in a panic situation, including the police – especially if you’re far away and sitting at a desk in Berlin. But it is curious how the wording of local and state politics was swallowed almost unanimously: The Munich police acted prudently, wisely and professionally in the amok situation. The police did their job, with thousands of police officers. But does that mean they should be praised?

One thing is clear: Police spokesman Marcus da Gloria Martins acted professionally. He cut a fine figure on social media, in front of journalists, and on television after the event. But does that mean that the entire police operation was a success? Doesn’t this rather speak of the longing for someone to maintain an overview and calm in a situation of chaos and fear, even if there is not so much to suggest that the police actually did this?

In any case, it is astonishing how long it took before it was clear that there was only one perpetrator. The social media have caused more panic than more clarification. Here, police spokesman da Gloria Martins at least admitted that a large part of the police officers on this horror evening were not busy with the direct protection of the population – but with falsifying the "rampant misinformation" that was circulating.

Mishaps happen

But the fact that the police spokesman spoke of long guns, when in fact there was only one man’s pistol, does not necessarily speak for brilliant police work. And why can someone actually film the assassin on the roof of the shopping center via smartphone camera, including an absurd dialogue – but a police task force can’t take him out?

The point here is not to accuse the police of serious mistakes in a stressful situation – at best or at worst, only experts will be able to judge that in retrospect, with full inspection of the files. And even if there were mistakes on the part of the police: Of course, stupid mishaps happen in such situations. Anything else would be unrealistic.

Just as unobjectively, one could also demand Herrmann’s resignation because he was unable to protect his Bavarians from death and injury.

But a critical public should already ask what went well and what went wrong in this large-scale operation. And praise should be reserved for the time being. All the more so, since Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann (CSU) has a vested interest in portraying his own police force as super-competent after three bloodsheds in Wurzburg, Munich and Ansbach – all of which took place within a few days and each in his area of responsibility.

Xenophobia always works

But why follow his narrative without concrete evidence? Typically, Herrmann does not, as might be appropriate, publicly worry about internal security in his state, i.e., how well he is doing his job. Instead, he thinks about how to deport delinquent asylum seekers more quickly. That’s what you call a well-known diversionary tactic: xenophobia is always on the agenda. It would be just as unobjective to demand Herrmann’s resignation because he was unable to protect his Bavarians from death and injury.

The praise of the Munich police probably speaks of people’s desire to discover heroes and hope even in the most terrible things. There are undoubtedly heroic people, even among the police. And perhaps the fact that Germany has not experienced an attack on the brutal scale of the attacks in London, Madrid, Brussels, Paris and Nice is proof of good intelligence and police work in front of and behind the scenes. But we can at best guess at that. We cannot say for sure.

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