For many people of color, unwanted encounters with police officers occur more often than they’d like. News of racial profiling has been prominent in the news. As I was listening to a story of racial profiling today, it brought back many of the feelings that I felt when I was stopped this February by German police at Munich International Airport.
Imagine the excitement you feels after landing in a new country. That excitement was short-lived after deplaning at Munich International Airport. After walking a few steps from my gate, two Germen men approached me and spoke words that I didn’t understand.
My first thought was to not reply because I don’t talk to strangers. Secondly, I didn’t want the taxi I assumed they were offering. So I shook my head at them and kept walking. Boy was I wrong. As I walked away from them one man grabbed me by the arm and yelled STOP! POLICE!
Immediately I froze. Police?! The last thing I wanted was for my parents to receive news of me being detained or worse killed by immigrant police officers. What had I done except land in Germany for the first time? I was a solo traveler. This was not something new I have traveled alone to various countries without issues like this.
My heart immediately sank as when they flashed their gold plated badges. I was terrified AND upset. I knew I couldn’t show it because one false move could literally be the death of me. How could I think of anything else except racial profiling? What reason did they have to stop me? What made it worse was that I didn’t understand German. Fortunately for me they spoke some English.
I only walked a few feet from the gate opeing of the aircraft when all of this occurred. In the middle of the airport. I hadn’t done anything wrong except being black. YES. I was the only black person in that entire airport. At least the only black person that I could see at that time. Of note, I did not see a black person for two after arriving in that city. Also that is why I presumed they stopped me.
All of this occurred in front of everyone there at the airport. They did a cursory immigration check right there in front of everyone. They asked for my identification and documents. They asked questions like, where did you come from? Why are you here? Where are you going? Where are you staying?
After traveling to nearly 30 countries in all the livable continents of the world, NEVER had I faced such scrutiny and public humiliation. That encounter completely soured my trip. It’s hard enough to go through a country where there aren’t many of you but when the first interaction is hostility and unwantedness it really leaves a bitter taste.
Once I left Munich and went to Berlin, things eventually improved. I’d even go as far as to say that Berlin police were helpful. They gave me directions when I got caught in the middle of an anti-Nazi protest (don’t ask how). Nonetheless, I will never forget my first and lasting memories of Munich, Germany.
Germany as a whole has come a long way from the days of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, the country still has a ways to go in its relations with “outsiders”.