Police in the German city of Stuttgart faced backlash over the weekend over their investigation into the suspects involved in violent riots in late June.
The outcry emerged following a report in local paper Stuttgarter Nachrichten that a local police chief announced authorities were conducting research into German suspects in the riots to determine whether their parents were born in Germany.
Police are still searching for a motive behind the unrest that erupted in the early hours on June 21, which saw clashes between authorities and hundreds of youths. Some 19 officers were injured, several police cars destroyed and over 30 businesses damaged.
Tactic 'completely unacceptable'
The reports over the probe into the suspects' backgrounds drew swift condemnation from social media users as well as Germany's opposition parties.
"Family tree research is pure racism and a scandal that needs to be immediately stopped," Dietmar Bartsch, the parliamentary head of the Left party told news outlet RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND).
The co-head of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) Saskia Esken wrote on Twitter that the reports "disturb me deeply."
Robert Habeck, the co-head of the Greens, said that it was important for police to investigate the causes behind the Stuttgart riots, but not at any cost.
"We need to know how it happened and how to prevent something like that again in the future," he told the Tagesspiegel newspaper. "If it's true though that the Stuttgart police want to conduct 'family tree research,' that would be completely unacceptable," he added. The genealogy wording was used in the article in Stuttgarter Nachrichten.
The hashtag #Stammbuchforschung (roughly "family tree research" or "genealogy research" in English) began trending on Twitter, with many social media users drawing parallels to the Nazi regime, which used ancestry research to track down people with Jewish bloodlines during the Holocaust.
"Transparency about nationalities, sure, but first and second-class Germans don't exist. And it doesn't have anything to do with solving crimes. This poison needs to be removed from people's minds!" Johannes Vogel, an MP with the Free Democrats (FDP) wrote on Twitter.
Police defend practice, but deny 'family tree research'
In a series of statements on Sunday, Stuttgart police said that the tactic is part of normal police work, saying that they had already used the practice "in individual cases" in the past.
Police also firmly denied that police chief Franz Lutz used the term "family tree research" — a term that brings of connotations of Germany's Nazi history.
Instead, they said the police chief told a press conference that it still wasn't clear whether 11 suspects who are German nationals have an immigrant background.
"For this reason, in individual cases the nationality of the parents — and only the parents — of the suspects being determined through inquiries at the registry office in order to clarify whether there is a migrant background."
They claimed that the information was necessary for criminal investigations, as well as for creating programs geared towards youths to prevent similar riots in the future.
"Preventative measures are particularly important for this age group," the statement read. "In order to be able to guarantee successful prevention work in the long term, tailor-made concepts are needed that take into account personal living circumstances as well as a potential migrant background."
The outcry comes amid a national debate over policing in Germany, sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in the United States.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer recently also prompted backlash after decided to block a study into racial profiling in the police force, saying that it is unlikely to be happening at a large scale.
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