Pills from Guanajuato The American Supreme Court wants to get rid of the right to an abortion. American women now look for help in Mexico. Written by Samiha Shafy and Amrai Coen,...
Pills from Guanajuato
The American Supreme Court wants to get rid of the right to an abortion. American
women now look for help in Mexico.
Written by Samiha Shafy and Amrai Coen, Wichita/Austin/Guanajuato, translated by @Grzmot
Updated on 2022-06-18, 16:02
Mark Gietzen was convinced, he wouldn't live to see this triumph. In his eyes, the USA is currently turning away from decades of atrocity to something good, and he says that he helped in a not insignificant way. Since twenty years he has been protesting on the streets because of it. He stands at the edge of a highway in Wichita, Kansas, in front of a simple building, that looks like a window-less warehouse from the outside. "Trust Women" is written on the gray-beige facade. On the inside is one of the last abortion clinics in the state.
"Let us say our morning prayer," Mark Gietzen says to the two older men next to him, that introduced themselves as Larry and Mike. Gietzen, sixty-eight years old, is the leader of the trio. He looks, like he just came from a film shoot: Cheek-beard, pilot glasses and a baseball cap with "U.S. Marine Veteran" written on it. The three are retired, but they still have work to do: Every day from 08:00 to 17:00 they stand in front of the clinic door, stopping cars, talking to people, handing out flyers. Next to them, a large truck, with gigantic images of dead infants, which Gietzen had specially printed. They want to stop pregnant women from going into the clinic. In his own count, Gietzen has "saved 584 lives of babys".
The three men form a cirlce for the prayer: "Dear God, please help us in stopping the violent murders through abortion against the youngest members of our human family... Amen."
Gietzen and his friends call themselves "Pro-Life". They want to close the clinic down, and even better, close all other clinics in the USA. According to the wishes of the Pro-Life movement, women should be forced under all circumstances to deliver the baby - even when the pregnancy is unwanted or the result of rape.
These days, the American anti-abortionists are as close to their target as they haven't been in five decades. "Roe v. Wade", the verdict of the Supreme Court of the USA, that guarantees the woman's right to decide about her own abortion, will most likely be annulled this month - by the same Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court today is as polarized and estranged as the rest of the country. But unlike the rest of the USA, the fight between the liberals and right-wingers is decided there: Because Donald Trump was able to fill three seats in his four-year presidency, the court has moved to the extreme right. Of nine judges, six are conservatives.
The court now supports a similar position as the Pro-Life movement. Even when surveys have shown since years, that about two thirds of Americans support Roe v. Wade. The anti-abortionists have, united with the Christian Right, demonstrated, how you can push through a minority position: With loud, well organized protests, the perserverance of activists like Mark Gietzen and a fine sense for pushing the borders of the doable and sayable again and again.
If Roe v. Wade falls, every state can decide for itself, how it's abortion laws will look. Some of them have already tightened their abortion laws and are waiting to make them completely or nearly illegal. In half of the fifty US states, especially in the conservative middle and south women would lose the access to safe and legal abortions permanently. The law would hit poor people the hardest, as they couldn't afford to travel to a liberal state to have an abortion. They'd be left with three options: Deliver the fetus, illegally and potentially under threat to their life, abort - or look for help in Mexico. Mexico, the supposedly backwards, catholic neighbour, where women were until recently, locked up after miscarriages under suspicion of having had an illegal abortion.
For the abortion doctors it's dangerous
It is as if the American half of the world had turned on it's head. Because Mexico and other latin American countries have, in a surprising move, legalized abortion.
While Mark Gietzen and his friends protest in front of the clinic in Wichita, the phone on the inside rings constantly. "Trust-Women clinic, I am Jessica, how can I help you?" A crying woman is on the phone, that doesn't have a possibility of abortion her state of Texas, and now wants to travel to Kansas, hundreds of kilometers away from her home. "We are sadly booked fully for the next three weeks," Jessica says.
Since it's clear that the Supreme Court is going to eliminate Roe v. Wade, thousands of women call on some days. 30 to 35 abortions the clinic can do in one day. "When I tell women, that we don't have space, I can hear the panic in their voices. Some are sad, some are angry, some beg me desperately", says the woman at the reception. "Recently a woman offered me 5000 dollars. But I sadly can't do anything."
Who wants to get inside the clinic, has to go through a security gate, past a guard, that is looking at multiple cameras on his screen. That the clinic is guarded like a max security prison, stems from history. In the 1970s a doctor called George Tiller took over the clinic. "Tiller, the Baby Killer!", protesters called him at the entrance. They fought Roe v. Wade and later the following verdict of the Supreme Court, that legalize abortions, until the fetus is able to live outside of the womb. The Pro-Choice movement celebrated those verdicts as the freeing of women. The Pro-Life movement mobilized massively.
1986 a bomb explodes in the clinic in Wichita. Head physician George Tiller continues. 1993 a woman shoots him in both arms in front of the clinic. Tiller continues. On Whit Sunday 2009 George Tiller visits his church. An anti-abortionist shoots him in the head from close proximity. The doctor died. For a short time, the clinic was closed - and then continued.
A visit in the clinic is only possible on the few days, where there are no patients - to protect the women. What remains of them, are handwritten notes, that they put on a pinboard in the waiting room to support each other. "Don't be embarassed that you are here." - "Only you know, what the best is for you and your life." On the wall is also a poster with different contraception methods, on the small table condoms and a magazine with the title "Family planning".
There are multiple ultrasound rooms, where it is determined far the pregnancy has progressed. In the first eleven weeks the patient can abort with a combination of two medications, After eleven weeks the fetus has to be removed operatively, for which there are two surgery rooms available.
The head physician of the clinic is called Christina Bourne and is 36 years old. She speaks with a deep, calm voice and a very earnest tone. One her lower arm she has a tattoo of a papaya, because while studying she practiced with the fruit on how to remove a fetus from the womb. Bourne is the only doctor in the clinic that also lives in Kansas. The others come every few months by plane, like doctors flying into a crisis area. Almost all abortion clinics in the USA are relying on these mobile doctors. They often feel like they couldn't live where htey work. They know what happened to George Tiller.
Christina Bourne is not intimidated. Every day, she passes the men with the large images of dead infants, that scream after her how she'll burn in hell.
By now, some Pro-Choice activists are considering to adopt the drastic methods of the opposition. No one is supporting militarisation, but there are discussions of playing videos of birthing women, who's life is threatened by the birth, in court rooms. Or printing photos of beds covered in blood or birth injuries like a torn Perineum on posters.
The head physician meets the polemic clear and openly. She says, that she also had an abortion. "I was just done with college, I felt too young, now education, no work. To become pregnant in the wrong moment can destroy your life and future." Some of the women, that come to her today, are in a similar situation. Many of them already have one or two children and can't support another. Some are pregnant after surviving a rape. Some have to abort due to medical reasons. The mortality rate of mothers in the US is the highest among all industrial nations. And of course, also religious and conservative women appear in the clinic, says Bourne, in their environment, abortion is a sin.
"As a doctor I'd like to practice medicine and not politics", Bourne says. Should she lose her job, because the clinic in Kansas has to close, she'll continue either way - Just in a different state.
Texas wants to punish abortion doctors with life in prison
If Joe Pojman had his way, Christina Boune would not be a physician anymore, she'd be in prison. He greets visitors in his office in Austin, Texas, 900 kilometres away from the clinic in Wichita. Pojman is 63, he wears suit and tie, a man with grey hair and a full beard, who chooses his words carefully and speaks eloquently. His appearance is so gentle, you don't even notice in the first moments, how radical his words are. He used to work as an engineer at NASA, until he felt like God was calling him to a different purpose. 34 years ago he founded the organization Alliance for Life.
Joe Pojman has the same goal as Mark Gietzen, the praying man in front of the clinic in Kansas, but Pojman's strategy is much stealthier, and much more efficient. In front of him on his desk is a law, that he designed. The Governor of Texas has already signed it. When Roe v. Wade falls, the law goes into effect 30 days later in Texas. It has the number 1280 and the title "Human life rotection law" In the text: "A person, that violates the ban on abortion, is committing a crime." A doctor like Christina Bourne would be accused of manslaughter in Texas and punished with life in prison, in addition to a fine of "at least $ 100,000 for every violation". And she'd lose her medical license.
Are there exceptions? "Yes", says Joe Pojman. "When the life of the mother is in danger because of the pregnancy." And because of rape or incest? Or when the child cannot live? "No."
In Texas people already live in a world, where Roe v. Wade has practically gone. Last September, when Mexico legalized abortions, Texas activated the so-called Heartbeat law, which bans abortions once the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, approximately after the sixth week. Many women don't even know that they're pregnant at that point.
What such a law can mean in real life, was showcased in April: A 26 year old Texan was arrested and accused of murder, because she allegedly "initiated a abortion by herself". The case was dropped, the woman came free. But defenders of the right to abortion see a dark future in the case, something that could soon be a new reality in the USA.
Joe Pojman himself isn't satisfied with the Heartbeat law. "Life starts at conception", he says. Unlike head physician Christina Bourne he never speak of a fetus, only "the unborn child". The choice of words shows, that behind the debate for an abortion there are complex answers: When does life starts? When does a fetus become a person?
Pojman agrees to a short thought experiment: If he was placed in a burning hospital and could save five embryos in petri dishes, or a newborn child. What would he pick?
Joe Pojmanm says, he can't answer that question. "For me, all human life is equally important - The unborn, newborn, a teenager or an adult." He has heard that recently women started leaving Texas, to get an abortion elsewhere. "It breaks my heart", he says. "My goal is, that no woman starts that journey."
But for now it is not illegal for Texan women to look for help outside of the state. For example in Mexico.
"The Americans are paralyzed by fear"
At first glance, the town of Guanajuato, 2000 meters over the sea, located in the Mexican state of the same name, looks like a magical cliche. At night, Mariachis travel through cozy alleys, by day there's always a bard somewhere singing about love. The colourful houses from colonial times are a world heritage site since 1988. Here, in one of the most conservative regions of Mexico, the women's revolution started.
That is tightly connected to her: Verónica Cruz, 51 years old, 1.60m tall, supplied with a apparently limitless energy. With her organization Las Libres, "The Free", the activist has been fighting since twenty years for women's rights in Mexico - For their right to make their own decisions to better protection from violence at home and sexual crimes. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for women, globally.
But it is also the country where the highest court last September announced the surprising decision to legalize abortions. In a kind of Mexican Roe v. Wade, half a century after the American verdict, that now shouldn't exist anymore. "Once I saw the announcement in TV, I thought: Now I can stop and travel the world." says Cruz. "But then the American women came."
Verónica Cruz sits on a couch in the office of Las Libres. At a conference table three women work on laptops. The head quarters of the organization is a two-story house on a hill, overlooking the city and surrounding mountains. Since autumn Cruz and her colleagues get daily calls from desperate pregnant women from the USA, that want to abort, asking if Las Libres can help them. "The Americans are paralyzed by fear", says Cruz, her look is pityfull and mocking at the same time. In the USA people fear the law, she says, differently than in Mexico, where they are used to fighting back.
Activists organize themselves in Mexico
And it's not without irony: From all the places in the world it's the south, of all the places in the world it's catholic Mexico that now becomes the country of refugee for American women. That Mexico, from which hundreds of thousands leave every year into the north, to find work, chances and a life in dignity in the richest country on earth. That Mexico, where man Americans think of drug cartels first.
What many Americans don't know: In the past few years, a feminist grass roots movement has been building in Mexico and other latin American countries, that are well connected and difficult to ignore. The activists organize mass protests in front of courts and parliaments, they sing, they dance, they fly green colours, the symbol for the "Green Wave", the Latin American women's movement. The right to bodily autonomy is one of their central demands - And they found open ears: Argentinia, Columbia, Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana have softened their abortion laws; Chile could soon be next.
When Verónica Cruz became an activist, a "green wave" didn't exist yet. She grew up as one of eight, went to a monastery school and was taught by nuns, that is it very important to help the weak and poor. For a while, she played with the idea to become a nun: They could travel, see the Vatican! "But my dad said no", she says. "What luck! When I became a feminist, I lost my faith in God." She studied organizational development and political science and decided, that she was going to help the poorer and weaker half of the population: the women.
Her goals were small at first: I wanted to improve the sexual education of teenagers. "Sexuality was an absolute taboo", she remembers. Again and again, very coung girls became pregnant, some of them only eleven or twelve years old and allegedly abused by male members of the family. As rape victims, they could've theoretically aborted in Guanajuato, but in real life they found no help. "And so the parents lived under the same roof with their daugther and their grand child, which at the same was the child of the father", says Cruz. "That for me is unethical, not the abortion."
But with her stance she was alone for a long time. Even her feminist allies avoided talking about abortion for a long time. "I head to remove the stigma from their heads first."
In that time she had always looked towards the USA with admiration, where women could decide themselves, if they wanted a child or not, while in Mexico, hundreds of women were in prison, because they had been accused of abortion after a miscarriage.
The turning point came in 1995, when conservative politican later president Vicente Fox was elected governor of Guanajuato, with the goal of removing the right to an abortion even for rape victims - with the threat of higher sentences. "There was protest", recounts Cruz. Fox pulled back. And Cruz, for the first time, had allies: A growing network of women, that accompanied rape victims to the few gynecologists, that conducted abortions. Soon pregnant women contacted Las Libres, that had not been raped. The activists decided to help them too.
Then Verónica Cruz heard of the pills. "A gynecologist told me of medication, with which you can initiate an abortion", she says. One of these medications - Misprostol - in Mexico legal against stomach and gut aches, you can buy without a doctor's not in the apothecary. the WHO recommends it for abortions until the twelveth week.
"The USA is a country of the insane"
The work of the activists became simpler. They watched, as women took the pills under the guidance of doctors, and they learned everything there was to learn about the pills. "At some point I thought: Now I don't need the doctors anymore", says Cruz.
She estimates, that her network between 2000 and 2021 accompanied about 10,000 women to abortions. They got the pregnant women their pills and supported them when they took it. "El producto" Verónica Cruz calls the result that women then press out under contractions and blood.
She herself could have never imagined to become pregnant, says Cruz. Maybe it has to do with her work, with the limitless tales of male violence and female sorrow. "With 15 I decided to never have children, and every ear I congratulate myself with that decision."
Cruz has been an activist for decades and has never been attacked by fanatical anti-abortionists. "The people here are more respectful than in the USA", she says. "The USA is a country of the insane."
She gets up and fetches a cardboard box from a cupboard. In it are pills, that Las Libres now smuggle into the USA, sometimes in Aspirin packaging, sometimes sown into brightly coloured dolls. Since the end of January the Mexicans have helped over a thousant pregnant women from US states like Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi and Ohio with the pills. They support them when the women take the pills, over WhatsApp, phone or video-call. If the women want to be supported personally, they are welcome in Mexico. In the city of Moterrey, not far from the US border, allied activists
have opened a house they call "La Abortería".
Cruz knows, that she and her allies will attract the rage of the Pro-Life movement in America. "But we are not going to let fear paralyze us", she says. Additionally, the Americans hopefully won't always rely on the South-North-Help.
She still plans to travel the world, says Verónica Cruz. Probably in five years.4 votes
K.O. After a One-Night-Stand a young man is accused of raping a woman in a bathroom. The man vehemently denies it. But instead of looking for the truth, the court spins it's own version of the...
After a One-Night-Stand a young man is accused of raping a woman in a bathroom. The man vehemently denies it.
But instead of looking for the truth, the court spins it's own version of the truth.
Written by Alexander Rupflin, published on 12th of March, 2022 online. Originally published in
ZEIT VERBRECHEN № 13/2022, 15th of February, 2022.
Translated by @Grzmot
For the protection of the individuals involved, names have been changed.
What really happened in the bathroom between Fabian and Miriam?
It was a normal night at the disco. Miriam wouldn't have caught his eye in the Funpark, if she hadn't pointed her small digital camera at him and shot two photos. He was sitting with his friends, had another woman in his arm, of which he didn't even know the name. She was lean, her hair was blonde and tied in a ponytail with thin lips, but she quickly got out of his arm again and vanished in the dancing crowd. It was supposed to be one of those nights with the hope for an unforgettable evening - And that hope came true. He spotted the girl with the digital camera in the Alpine Fun room of the giant disco. He approached her, introducing himself: Fabian, and you? Miriam.
Miriam is tall, almost 1,80m. But he's still taller than her by almost a head. They yell the usual things at each other, trying to drown out the music. Where are you from? Do you want to drink something?
He smells like vodka-red-bull and wears a necklace with black wooden pearls to show himself off as the cool surfer, but he really is a boy from the village. He think he sees her smiling at him. Contrasting the girl from before, Miriam has more of a round face, that makes her look childlike even though she is nineteen. At the same time she looks incredibly confident; acting like she doesn't take him seriously and is just fooling around. She tells Fabian that she's taking pictures for some website.
Today, he doesn't really remember, what she tells him about herself. He just recently had his twentieth birthday, from a small village nearby, plays football in the state league. He's also in an apprenticeship in a grocery store. That's why he is even here, in this large disco in the middle of an industry disctrict not far from Koblenz. The grocery stores in the region organised a football championship, and he and his colleagues of course are playing. They are sleeping in the guest room of a local school for grocers. Tomorrow, finale, today, party. A colleague's birthday. It's the 20th January 2007, everyone is singing Ein Stern from DJ Ötzi and Nik P.
This night happened so long ago, the Funpark doesn't exist anymore, today there is a Realmarkt there, but Fabian still thinks about those couple of hours that changed his life. Pure hatred rises in him. And every time he talks about it, the same thing happens: He talks faster, louder, until he almost screams, then his lower lip begins to tremble, his voice cracks and fails, until the tears roll. He has cried a lot because of this night, sometimes not even making the effort to wipe away the tears. When he comes back down, he then says things like: "These idiots, what have they done with my life! A convict, for nothing. They continue their life. I can't. I'd need a new one."
Back then, in the wooden room where Schlager play, Fabian orders two drinks. It's by far not his first drink tonight. He loves partying. Why not? He's young and the women like him. Miriam wants to pay for her drink, Fabian insists to cover it.
Later, Miriam will tell the police that in that moment, "the guy" (Fabian) would make a weird pinching move with his fingers above the glass. She had laughed and asked: "What are you doing?" He didn't reply.
They drink, they talk. Then she puts her hand under his shirt to feel his warm stomach. She's bold. he thinks; a party girl. That's how he remembers the moment. She looks incredibly confident, funny, attractive, that makes him a little insecure. He doesn't want to be embarrassed. They kiss, she takes him to her girlfriends, he introduces himself. Time moves along. The two keep their heads close, kiss, talk, kiss. It's two in the morning. Three in the morning. Tanja, Miriam's best friend with whom she lives wants to convince her to go home. Miriam replies: "You're not my mom!" They argue for a bit, ultimately Tanja relents and leaves the Funpark with the others.
What really happened in the bathroom?
Miriam stays with Fabian. They sit in the same wooden room, move tables to two of Fabian's last colleagues, the rest is already sleeping in the guest house. He puts his arm around her shoulder, moves strands of hair out of her face. She's wearing black skirt and tights. Her face looks pale, her eyelids flutter. To him, she seems drunk, but he's the same. One of his colleagues takes a photo of them with Miriam's camera.
Later, Miriam will tell the police that in that moment she felt dizzy, that she had flashbacks to the death of her father, childhood memories came back, that she hit the table with her head multiple times.
The four leave the disco into the cold January night into one of the waiting taxis. Without any conversation between the two, Miriam apparently decided to come with him tonight. She didn't look afraid.
The drive takes fifteen minutes, the other two leave for their room. Fabian tells Miriam (according to him), he wants to buy cigarettes at a vending machine around the corner. Is he looking for an excuse for her to leave? But she waits at the door for him. When he comes back, he realizes that he doesn't have a key, calls his roommate Tobias, who is already sleeping upstairs. Tobias isn't surprised, that Fabian shows up with company, Tobias is his best friend, and when they party, sooner or later there is a woman around Fabian's neck. He is tall, athletic and has a rustic kind of charm. Miriam introduces herself quickly and then they sneak back up into room 112. It's in a sorry state, the plastic sockets yellowed, the curtain a torn piece of red cloth, the mattresses narrow (photos from the investigation prove this).
Miriam undresses, Fabian goes to the bathroom, Tobias falls back into his bed. When Fabian comes back to bed, Miriam is already there, only wearing underwear. They find each other under the blanket, kiss, explore each other blind.
Later Miriam will say that she was nauseous and felt beside herself. She was not able to think straight, nor could she have
said anything to the guy.
Tobias, who wants to sleep, tries to ignore the foreplay, between him and the two there is just about arm-length distance. He's lying on his back, staring at (that is how he tells it today) the ceiling. At some point he loses his patience and says: "At least go to the bathroom!" They do that.
And then? What really happened in the bathroom?
Tobias at least says to this day that he didn't hear any sound from the bathroom. That the two came back after just a few minutes and went back to bed. Except for the lack of decency, nothing had seemed strange to him. At no point did it feel like there could have been a crime happening.
At 22:05 the doctor calls the police
About two hours later all three of them wake up again, Fabian collects Miriam's clothes, she puts them on, says goodbye, stumbling into the grew morning and taking the next bus to her boyfriend Klaus.
They are in a relationship for eight months. When Miriam shows up at his place without any message, Klaus feels weird. Miriam is currently an apprentice, learning to become a paramedic, and is usually very confident. He is very much in her grasp, so much so that he feels like a boy next to her sometimes, and when they argue, her argument always beats his. But today she seems introverted, goes into the bathroom, brushes her teeth for a long time and falls into bed, sleeping till noon. When she wakes up, she asks: "Where am I?" Then she takes the bus home. Klaus, he explains today, can't decipher her behaviour. He didn't ask her back then where she had been. Today, he's unsure if she just had a bad conscience or if she really was under shock. He later discovers blood on his bed. Till the evening, he hears nothing
On her way home, Miriam writes a couple of messages to Tanja: "You wouldn't believe, how bad I'm feeling. I haven't even known this feeling up to now. I didn't want to at all, but he just didn't stop." And: "He gave me a lot to drink and put something in it, but I was too drunk, so I drank it anyway..."
At that point Fabian and the other boys are already back in the sports hall, playing football. Fabian gets a bunch of dumb statements thrown his way about Miriam, but that's it. His team loses. In the afternoon, he drives home to his parents, where he lives, gets on the couch, sleeps it off. His parents ask, how he has been. He doesn't tell them of the party or Miriam.
Miriam does. She tells Tanja about a gruesome night, complains about pain in her lower body. Tanja convinces her to get to the hospital, the doctor spots redness on the vulva, a almost four millimetre long tear at the entrance of the vagina, a small tear at the anus, a scratch on her neck and haematoma and bruises on her left arm and shoulder blade, lumbar vertebrae and the outer side of her left thigh. No signs of sperm. At 22:05, the doctor informs the police.
"I remember", Miriam goes on record, "It was when I was lying on the ground in the bathroom, feeling his sperm in my mouth and he then pissed in my mouth. Then he told me to turn around. I remember saying "I don't want this." then it blacks out again." She insists, that her memories of the night are in tears and pieces, even though she only drank three beers mixed with cola [ABV 2,4%] and one vodka-red-bull. This statement conflicts with her message just hours earlier.
She says, "the guy" had to give her a date drug, when he handed her the beer-cola. Then he took her with him into the guest house and violently raped her. But she also says: "I absolutely cannot tell, if I, at the time this was happening, wanted it or made the appearance that I wanted it." And she adds: "Actually I don't even know if I can accuse the young stranger of anything." She insists on this while making her statement to the police, that she does not want to file a complaint.
It had to have been a misunderstanding
The police disagree. They hold the statement of the confused looking woman as impressive enough to name Miriam as the "Aggrieved Party" from the first moment on. Not "supposed" or "alleged". The young woman, that is clearly ashamed of what has happened, is designated as the victim of a violent crime. The tight rope between distrust and empathy, that investigators should walk in such cases, is soon left behind. Even Miriams own doubts are ignored. From her statement: "I'd like to state again, that I do not want, that he is wrongly accused of anything. For me, this is all very irritating. I can, like I already said, only accuse, that I was given something, that brought me into this situation."
Only hours later: Fabian is sitting in the large office of his employer at the computer, taking care of financials. His boss approaches him, telling him that he got a weird call from the police. They go into an empty room. Fabian is shocked, what he hears. K.O. drops? What's that? Rape? I never did anything to a woman! Until today, he swears that he did not expect such an accusation in his wildest nightmares. Disturbed, he returns to his computer. It must be a misunderstanding. Or he has been confused for the wrong person. It's all going to get cleared up. Why would she accuse him of rape? There's no motive. The company links him up with an attorney, but he's no criminal lawyer, but civil, specialized in work law. Fabian ignores the call of the police, pushes it away. Does his job, plays football, goes to
parties like nothing happened.
It the start of April 2007, suddenly the police show up at his house with a search warrant. The mother opens, Fabian isn't home. She doesn't understand what is happening. The officers look in his room for drugs fitting of Miriam's descriptions: Benzodiazepin, Gammahydroxybutyric acid and other hypnotics. They don't find anything. In the evening, Fabian finally forces himself to explain the situation to his parents. He swears multiple times that he did not do anything to Miriam. They believe him.
Even after the search warrant Fabian tells himself that the problem is going to disappear, solve itself. He takes no initiative, doesn't find lawyer. Doesn't understand, that the race for the sovereignty of interpretation for the evening has already begun. Even today, Fabian convincingly explains that he's innocent. But if you ask him, what he believes happened that night at the toilet, he stutters, his voice becoming insecure, as if he's looking for long lost pictures in his mind: "It happened so fast in the bathroom...She played with me, yes... But I don't believe... No, I didn't even have proper sex with her. I always was afraid that women could get pregnant, and that's why... I don't remember properly. I didn't rape her!" The wounds in her genital area couldn't be from him. But why does he stutter so badly? And why does he say in his statement back then, that he had sex with her for sure?
Fabian gets to know Jessica. Years later, he'll still call her his dream woman, his soulmate. She's seven years older, he meets her at another party. To most people, she seemed invisible, but to Fabian she was beautiful. Through a friend he gets her number, a few weeks pass, the two are a couple. At some point he's brave enough to tell her of that night. She believes him. Loves him. Surely it will all resolve itself. The two move in together.
Early 2009, two years after that night, Fabian's attorney informs him, that there is a scheduled date for his case to be heard in court. Fabian, that wanted to forget the whole thing, is surprised that a court will even hear the case. The attorney calms him down, worst comes to worst, he'll get a fine. But why a fine, asks Fabian, I'm innocent.
5th March 2009, 9:50 in hall 102 of the state court Koblenz: Only his father is here. Fabian doesn't want Jessica to see him like that and his mother can't bear it. She is back home, at the table, praying. Fabian makes his statement. Miriam hears everything, sitting at the prosecutor's table as joint plaintiff. It's the first time they see each other again. They don't direct a single word towards each other.
In dubio pro reo
What happens then in court, of that tells the written sentence. During the proceedings deeds turn into words that can be fitted into a story. These stories are based on evidence, facts and testimonies. But even looking at it from a willing pointof view, there is no clear picture here, but a blurred one full of assumptions. In such cases, a defendant cannot be convicted. In dubio pro reo - When in doubt, rule for the accused.
But when joint plaintiff Miriam takes the stand as a witness and describes what happened that night, it looks like judge Helga Diedenhofen has no doubts. Fabian immediately gets the impression, that the judge thinks she knows what happened that night. Finally it dawns on him, that he might have to go to prison after all.
The next date of the proceedings, his past roommate Tobias takes the stand. He explains that both of them were drunk, but not so much that they had no idea what was going on, that Miriam immediately undressed herself, that Fabian brushed his teeth first. That they both disappeared into the bathroom for only a couple of minutes and that he didn't hear anything. The court does not believe a single word of the statement, ruling it as a helping out a friend.
But how can it be, that on the bed that Miriam shared with Fabian is clean, without any blood stains, but on Klaus' bed there are? The court doesn't seem to be interested. Also strange, how Miriam could approach the bathroom on her own (as written in the sentence), but exactly then and there fell into a "coma-like deep sleep", approximately three hours after she had consumed the allegedly spiked drink. The usual time where typical substances used are full effective, is just about three hours. Considering this problem, the court avoids concrete statements about time in it's written verdict.
No one looked at the CCTV footage of the disco. The driver of the taxi that the four took home, was never asked anything.
On the last day of the proceedings, expert testimony is heard from Bianca Navarro-Crummenaur. She is a coroner in the victim's ambulance in Mainz and is supposed to determine if Miriam was under the influence of a daterape drug that evening. Neither in her blood nor urine could they find traces in 2007, though such a substance usually disappears after twelve hours. The exper has nothing but Miriam's testimony to determine, if her description of her state fits K.O. drops. And the expert states that her description is "very classic". She never spoke with Miriam and according to protocol, did not ask her a single question during the proceedings.
Under lawyers Navarro-Crummenauer is known for taking the testimonies of the alleged victims a bit too much into her reports for courts. A few years later a family files a complaint against her in civil court, because in her report she found indicators of child abuse, where there were none, and the court took the kids away from the parents, until the misunderstanding was cleared up. Fabian's attorney already files motion to dismiss her report due to bias in 2009, but the court denies it. And so a conflicting story is built brick by brick in hall 102, full of ideas, assumptions and prejudices about an alleged occuring of a crime.
The verdict: Six years prison
After four days in court the verdict: Six years for Fabian. Rape under use of a dangerous tool and dangerous assault, the "tool" being the K.O. drops, of which Fabian allegedly didn't know anything of, but according to the court, he was carrying on him through the entire weekend. Even though the visit to the disco was a spontanous decision made that evening.
Even though the verdict is not in effect yet, Fabian is already in cuffs, going to jail, the court believes he might flee. He looks around the room, looking for help. For the first time in his life, Fabian sees his father cry.
Eleven days he sits in a jail in Koblenz. Then his attorney manages to get him. The appeal remains, like most appeals, without effect. The only thing that could prevent Fabian from prison would be a quick resumption of the proceedings due to new evidence that could prove his innocence. Finally he realizes that severity of his situation and asks one of the most known criminal attorney and experts for the resumption of proceedings for help. It's too late.
It's the 29. April 2010. Fabian's grandmother's birthday. With Jessica he goes to local retailer, searching for gifts. When they get into the car, a police patrol stops them from getting out of the driveway. Bystanders stare, a second time Fabian gets cuffs around his hands. In panic, Jessica calls Fabian's mother, then goes into a screaming fit.
Again, jail in Koblenz. The prison sentence is served. Months and years pass. In the meantime, a request for resumption is denied. The parents and Jessica visit every week. They cry and make plans to get him out. His father writes letters begging for his release, even to the pope. Fabian gets increasingly worried what his girlfriend does out there. Where she goes, who she meets? He asks her many questions, writes accusatory letters. He is now regarded as psychologically unstable, psychotropic drugs from which he becomes so fat that he is disgusted to see his own reflection.
In december 2012 Fabian's worries turn real, he becomes a letter from a stranger, telling him to keep his dirty lips of Jessica. Fabian collapses, the guards have to get him to the medical ward, they worry he will commit suicide. A bit later, he receives a letter from Jessica, she dumps him.
After four years, Fabian is released on good behaviour. He does not feel anything, the medication has made him numb. He says: "I was in prison for nothing and nothing again." How is he supposed to be relieved?
He learns to breathe again
He moves back to his parents and tries to keep going where he stopped four years ago. But no one is listening to DJ Ötzi's Ein Stern, in the village discos they no play Mein Herz from Beatrice Egli. At a local festivity Fabian meets a woman and jumps into a new relationship, not having dealt with the Jessica yet. The people in the village greet him, but half-heartedly. No one talks to him more than necessary. He feels how they talk behind his back. Realizes, that the court didn't just sentence him but also his parents and his younger sister.
The new girlfriend leaves him as well and Fabian has a final and complete mental breakdown. He drowns without dying, doesn't leave his room anymore. Carries day and night the jacket of his father, a packed travel pack ready to go. "Dad?", he asks. "They won't bring me into prison again, right?" Sometimes he sleeps in the bed of his parents, at the foot of it. Other days he believes, his family wants to poison him. Psychologists meet him. Diagnose anxiety disorder and a severe depression.
Another year passes. One day Tobias comes to visit. The two talk for a long time. Tobias quickly understands that Fabian didn't age a single day. Tobias now thinks about building a house, founding a family, Fabian is still the boy from back then, living in the past on loop. Tobias convinces Fabian to visit the local football court, like they did back then before everything happened. The smell of the wet grass, the memories of the cheering, the hugging-each-other, the feeling safe, all those emotions rise in Fabian again, in that very moment.
He learns to breathe again. In the weeks after he starts getting out of the house, starts working as a tiler, even goes independent soon after. Until today he fights for a resumption of the court case. It's also hatred that drives him: "Hate against the people here, that can't open their mouth in front of me anymore. All my supposed friends. I shot goals for them, every game, thirty five goals in a season. When I got arrested, we were three or four games from getting into the next championship. And when they made it, they drove through the streets, cheering and celebrating, even though I was in prison." He sobs. "I'll never be able to close this chapter of my life, but I hope that one day I can prove my innocence and that I didn't fight for no reason."
In the spring of 2021, Fabian's father dies from a heart attack. He would've loved to show him the acquittal black-on-white. Fabian is now thirty-five.
Miriam, it appears, is now married and mother. She herself does not want to retell her version of that night. When ZEIT VERBRECHEN reached out to her, she did not answer. Her then-boyfriend Klaus, who she left later, says, that Miriam got through that time better than a lot of other women, but that she had always been incredibly strong. But that he doesn't want any assumptions made based on those words, under any circumstance. If new evidence appears, Fabians attorney wants to file another request for resumption of the case.
At least until then, the question will remain: What really happened in that bathroom between Fabian and Miriam?8 votes
In Fulda, Germany, a police officer shoots a young refugee fatally. Was the action justified or violent? Depends on who you ask. An article by Sebastian Kempkens, published on the 22th of...
In Fulda, Germany, a police officer shoots a young refugee fatally. Was the action justified or violent? Depends on who you ask.
An article by Sebastian Kempkens, published on the 22th of September, 2021.
Translated by @Grzmot
For the protection of the individuals involved, some details have been changed.
When everything is over, Lukas Weiler is leaning on a fence in the commercial district of Fulda and feels like everything around him is wrapped in cotton. He sees blue lights shimmer in the darkness and his colleagues run towards him, is how he later remembers the scene. Around him the streets are being locked down. In front of him lies the dead body of a young man, that he, a street police officer, just shot. A puddle of blood is spreading on the asphalt. Steam is rising from the corpse on this cool April morning.
At some point Weiler, who actually has a different name, forces himself up and walks, accompanied by two colleagues, the way back on which he pursued the young man. He crosses the intersection, where he fired the first shot. He walks past the bakery, where he drew his gun. The parking lot, where his colleague was attacked and where everything began.
Weiler sits down in a room in the police station, which is located just around the corner. A man from the team which collects evidence and traces from crime scenes shows up and swabs his fingertips, on which there is still blood of the dead. Weiler must hand in his uniform and weapon belt, he remembers. His equipment is now evidence. Then, shortly before 10 AM, two colleagues enter the room, who oversee the investigation against him, followed by the state attorney.
The state attorney said: “Mr. Weiler, you are now accused in a homicide.”
On the report the details of the case will be detailed: That it is about article 212 in criminal law – Manslaughter. Time of the crime: 4:30AM, weapon: pistol Heckler & Koch P30.
Lukas Weiler fired eleven shots at the 21 years old Matiullah Jabarkhel. An Afghan refugee, who had lived with a temporary residence permit in Fulda and had thrown rocks at a bakery. It’s the 13th of April 2018, a Friday, on which a police response which looked like a routine, ended in catastrophe.
Deadly use of force involving firearms, that sounds like an American phenomenon. But even if the numbers in Germany are low in comparison: They are rising. Between 2000 and 2014 the statistics of the German university of the police only noted a two-digit number in one year. Since 2015, it has been a double-digit number every year. In 2019 and 2020, the police have killed 15 people each year.
The statistic does not differentiate between ethnicity and age of the victims. But the cases which make the headlines sound similar.
In 2019 an officer shoots an Afghan in Stade, who allegedly attacked a colleague with a metal stick.
In June 2021 a female police office [Addendum: In German the gender of the subject is denoted with a simple word ending, I was unsure if I should retain that information or not in the translation] kills a man from Morocco in Bremen, who is holding a knife in his hand.
And in Hamburg, in May of 2021 an officer shoots a man from Lebanon, who screamed “Allahu Akbar” and was allegedly brandishing a knife.
Each one of these cases fits into a schema. Especially since the Black-Lives-Matter protests in the USA such situations – white officers against migrant – stand under suspicion to be the expression of a racist perpetrator-victim system.
Just two days after the death of Matiullah Jabarkhel dozens of people came together at the crime scene, under the motto “Justice for Matiullah” they held high pictures of Jabarkhel and demanded, that the officer be punished. The foreign advisor of the city, Abdulkerim Demir, stood in front of the demonstrating people and gave an interview, in which he said that Jabarkhel was only buy bread and that the police might have “murdered” him.
The opposing front formed just as well. The AfD and the extremist rightwing identarian movement mobilized under the motto “The police – Our friend”, in social networks numerous users wrote things like “The monkeys don’t get it any other way.”, “Everything done right.” And “Clear boundary setting by the police officer!”. A representative of the AfD for the Bundestag released a notice to the press: Chancellor Merkel ensured with her immigration policy, that these uncultured, underqualified people believe, they can do everything here.”
More then three years Matiullah Jabarkhel is now dead, more than three years – until the July of 2021 – the investigation lasted. And still one question remains unanswered: Who is guilty here? The officer, who shot? Or the Afghan, who ran riot on that morning?
For the reconstruction of the intervention on the 13th of April 2018 and the resulting investigation, the ZEIT had the ability to go through files of the police, coroner’s and forensical reports, talked to brothers of Jabarkhel and his friends. With social workers and translators. The ZEIT also met with officer Lukas Weiler for three long conversations. The officer did not want to see his real name in the news, nor the name of his colleague who was on patrol with him that day, who shall be named Regina Wundrack in this text.
A few hours after Lukas Weiler leaves the police station on that Friday of April 2018, the father of Matiullah Jabarkhel gets a call from Germany in a small village in eastern Afghanistan. On the other end is a voice he does not recognize. The father, himself a police officer, a slender man with his head half-bald, stands in the living room of the family. He begins to tremble as he listens, finally ends the call and says nothing for a long time. His wife and sons ask, what happened, but he is silent. Then, his four remaining sons tell, he begins to cry terribly.
On the second to last day of his life, it’s Thursday afternoon, Matiullah Jabarkhel enters the foreign office in Fulda, a large building near the castle garden. He is a slim young man with soft facial features, his hair shaved to a kind of mohawk, short on the sides, long on the top. He walks up to the office and complains, that his social money had not been transferred. The conflict cannot be resolved, Jabarkhel cannot be calmed down, so security notifies a man, who sits a floor higher up: The man, a retired officer, knows Jabarkhel and is able to calm him down and promises, the money will be transferred this afternoon, he could get it soon at his bank.
Jabarkhel exits the office. One of the last somewhat friendly contacts with a state, where he wanted to build a future.
Matiullah Jabarkhel grew up in a large, tight-knit family. Six brothers, three sisters, the family of eleven lived in their village near the city Dschalalabad, about 100 kilometers away from the Pakistani border. When the brothers tell of this time, it sounds like a childhood where war comes and goes, but where also a lot os good. Matiullah plays Cricket, he teases his brothers during prayers and he has big plans. He wants to become a police officer like his father. But after one brother dies in the Afghan Army during combat with the Taliban and the family received threats, the father decided: Matiullah will go to Europe.
Converted, about 10,000 EUR credit the family takes up on itself for this. Matiullah, according to their hopes, will repay the money soon and can support the family financially.
Iran, Balkan route, traffickers. In October 2015 Jabarkhel, 18 years old, arrives in Gießen. The euphoria of the welcome culture is already slowly fading, but in retrospect it looks like he had a good start. He is moved to Fulda and gets lodgings in a refugee center. There is little space and it’s dirty, says his best friend, who he met there, but Jabarkhel finds himself in these new circumstances, learns a few pieces of German. After a few months, he can move to a better lodging. He was intelligent, says everyone who dealt with him. On photos he poses in front of a Christmas tree.
On the phone he tells his family with excitement of Germany’s pine forests and the luxury of selecting between countless brands of chocolate at the grocery store. A social worker remembers that he often wears the same T-Shirt, on his breast the words “I Germany”.
Jabarkhel attends an integration class and learns decent Germany. Like in Afghanistan he plays Cricket in Germany too, apparently, he even travels the country, there is a photo showing him at the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin. He wears a white shirt and is holding a cricket bat in his hand. With the other he forms the victory symbol.
In that time, a social worker describes his behavior as unremarkable, not warranting further attention. Nothing points towards the looming conflict with the police.
The office of the attorney Pascal Johann is in a practical building in Frankfurt. Here, at the end of a long corridor, in a conference room, in front of grey curtains, waits Lukas Weiler.
It is not common, that an accused police officer agrees to an interview with a journalist after a that hotly debated, conflicting intervention. He decided after thinking about it for a short time. He wants to correct something.
At the meeting with Weiler you meet a man, who strangely enough appears both younger and older, than he really is. Weiler is 39 years old, but he could also be at the end of his 20s. He wears a T-Shirt, worn skater shoes, a fuzzy beard, around his wrist several old entry bands for rock festivals. When he begins to talk, he appears significantly older, than he is, that’s how bureaucratic and complex his words sometimes are. He tries hard to make himself as unattackable as possible.
Weiler is a police officer more by chance than anything else. A friend dragged him to the entry exam. In his sixteen years of service, he worked undercover in the trainyard district in Frankfurt and as a group leader at the police. He showed young officers the ropes, but his favourite activity on the job was driving on patrol. He doesn’t like offices. He loves being outside, “Help the weak and step on the toes of the evil”, is how he calls it.
Matiullah Jabarkhel has been in Germany for about a year, when the problems start. Like during an EKG of a stressed heart, one can notice stronger eruptions every time they happen. At the start, he has has difficulties organizing his day to day tasks, then, he the paid out money isn’t enough anymore. A woman who lived in the same building says that the refugees talked about him a lot: “One man told me, that Matiullah told him multiple times, that he was hungry and if he could give him bread.”
“Please make sure, that the boy stays in Germany”
Jabarkhel, who always told his best friend that he wanted to become a doctor in Germany, soon only sporadically attends class, the school throws him out due to missing too many classes. His social worker organizes him an apprenticeship instead, but he gets thrown out there too. He takes the train without a ticket and gets letters full of complicated words like reminder and debt collection.
Apparently Matiullah Jabarkhel becomes more and more desperate. He talks about suicide, and apparently attempts one too. Then, in March 2017, the federal office for migration and refugees denies his request for asylum. Through an attorney he fights the decision, from now on he lives in Germany only with a temporary residence permit, which has to be renewed every few months.
A short time later Jabarkhel is institutionalized in a psychiatry and receives stationary care: “Crisis intervention due to acute stress reaction, cannabis intoxication with addiction”, the doctors note. Jabarkhel doesn’t make it long, after just three days he releases himself, “because of urgent personal wishes and against professional medical advice”.
In November 2017, five months before his death, Jabarkhel receives a letter, that for him, must sound like the last friendly offer from a state that wants him gone. In the letter the federal office for foreigners advises a so called “voluntary journey back in his home country.” Germany does not send denied refugees back to Afghanistan, but voluntary trips back home are being organized.
Jabarkhel reacts with violence. In December, he hits his best friend, with whom he shares a room, with his fist in his face: Brainn trauma, bruising of the cheekbone, police intervention. Shortly after he hits another refugee without any known reason at a bus stop, splitting his lip. On the Christmas eve 2017 he threatens three people living in his home with a knife with a 20cm long blade, because they supposedly do not want to share their food with him. In March of 2018, a month before his death, he threatens a young Iranian woman and shatters her broom.
The witness statements by his housemates in the investigation after his death sound like a mix of fear and empathy: On one hand the young man terrorizes the whole home, on the other many feel sorry for him. Jabarkhel’s life in Germany, which started out so promising, is completely out of control after one and a half years.
On the evening before his death an acquaintance spots him at the Fuldau train station, where the pedestrian passage goes into the building. He sits there a lot with other refugees. They talk, joke, kick around empty beer cans and whistle after girls. And not seldomly, the acquaintance says, “they eat glass”, meaning they take drugs – Ecstasy.
Who had to cross the group on the way to the store or to work, probably often was annoyed by the group of young men. In a lot of German downtowns you can find them, hanging out in groups. They come from Syria, Somalia, Irak or Afghanistan. Sometimes they look sympathetic, sometimes threatening. In their home country they are thought to be the lucky ones that made it, but often enough they are broken people – with differing life stories that all go towards the same end: endless waiting, solitude and lack of perspective. And the feeling of being stranded between worlds, maybe even lost.
A doctor at one point diagnosed the Uprooted-syndrome in Jabarkhel, which is also called the Odysseus syndrome: A type of collective diagonisis of psychical ailments of refugees, which during their odyssey across the continents have lost everything that made up their world – Friends, family, home, their moral system, the inner compass.
At some point Jabarkhel couldn’t hold it together anymore. At a school conference, the topic being his missing classes, he called his father. A present translator said that he begged his father to be allowed to return to Afghanistan. The father had said: “Please make sure that the boy stays in Germany. We have sold everything, we have nothing left, we cannot use him here.”
Jabarkhel, the translator remembers, cried afterwards, “like a small child”.
Often now, Jabarkhel sits alone in the refugee home and talks to himself about nonsensical things. At night he is rarely home, always out for a long time, can’t sleep anymore, wakes up with headaches, he tells a doctor. Sometimes he punches and kicks the air, as if he was fighting an invisible enemy. At one point during a meeting with his social worker he stands in front of the office and says, “I am Hitler.” Multiple times.
The man responsible for the refugee home does his best to guide Jabarkhel back to the right path. But he is still responsible for sixty other refugees as well. A lot of other people dealing with Jabarkhel says the same: they want to help, but they have too little time.
Eight days before his death, 5th of April 2018, Jabarkhel makes a fundamental choice, which shocks the other refugees in the home: he signs the agreement for the voluntary journey back home, against the will of his father. By signing, he agrees to drop the complaint against his denied request for asylum. As if he had given up.
“The guy just wanted to destroy me”
Lukas Weiler’s night shift on the 13th of April is almost at its end, when he and his partner Regina Wundrack decide at about 4 AM to go out and control traffic and parked cars. Drivers, who were already getting to work will later tell investigators of a young man in a muscle shirt and Army pants: One window car he hits with his fist, in front of another he jumps directly into the street. It is Matiullah Jabarkhel.
The refugee home, in which proximity everything happens, is located in Münsterfeld, a former military outpost. Once upon a time, the Americans were stationed here. Today, there are a few apartments, otherwise mostly closed off commercial company grounds and offices.
Jabarkhel lives in room B39, on photos it looks abandoned. Ten square meters, metal lockers, a dirty refrigerator, cigarette butts on the window rest. At night, the neighbour heard, how Jabarkhel was hitting his head against the wall. “It happened so often, that after some time I recognized the sound”, he said later as a witness. But this time it sounded louder and more desperate. At approximately 4 AM in the morning he hears Jabarkhel run down the metal stairs, sees how he wanders in front of the building, yelling in German: “Fuck Germany, fuck the street, fuck this county!”
At 4:21 AM an emergency call is received at the police, originating from the bakery opposite of the refugee home. On the phone is the saleswoman, who wants to prepare the store for the first customers: “Here is someone, who is throwing rocks at the window.” In the background you can hear loud banging noises, is how it is written in the investigation files. “Fuck, shit, psychopath!” the woman yells.
Two minutes later the woman calls again. “A refugee or whatever” is still throwing with rocks, the delivery driver was hit on the head, she needs a doctor.
It only takes a few minutes until a police car enters the roundabout at the bakery. Not Lukas Weiler and Regina Wundrack are the first ones to arrive, but three colleagues: Driving and at the backseat two women, and riding shotgun one man.
The man will later say: “A male person” from the direction of the bakery had crossed the street: “My first thought was, that that might be the person that threw the rocks. But he was running pretty normally across the street.” Then the man suddenly attacked.
With a big rock, that he apparently picked up from the street, Jabarkhel breaks the side window of the car, opens the door and starts attacking the officer wildly with the rock. His colleague behind the wheel does not know how to help herself and hits the gas, dragging Jabarkhel about 200 meters while he wildly hits everything around himself. Then he falls to the ground, gets up and runs away. On a video that the ZEIT has seen you can see silhouettes, probably the male officer and behind him his two colleagues, following Jabarkhel to an unlit parking lot.
What happens later, will cause a lot of discussion. Three police officers, equipped, against a young man, who isn’t very tall at 1.70 meters nor very muscular – The result should be obvious.
The three officers from the first car however, are not federal police officers, but so called “Wachpolizisten” (watch police officers). Such officers have a shorter time of education and are mostly used for things like transporting prisoners or guarding objects. On this morning, the three have a task which they cannot handle.
It only takes a couple of seconds, until Jabarkhel has overwhelmed the male officer, apparently he takes away his baton and assaults the man lying on the floor heavily, his two colleagues unable to help.
Jabarkhel appeared like a “wild animal” one of the two will later say. She was afraid that her colleague would “lie dead under him”. The colleague himself say: “This guy just wanted to destroy me with an intensity that I have never witnessed in my life.” He describes Jabarkhel like a zombie: “massive, aggressive, dead eyes, unable to feel pain.”
Most likely there will always be doubts about the story. A coroner will later find cannabis in in a toxicological exam. But that does not explain the behavior. It reminds more of “the influence of certain psychoactive substances”, writes the coroner. But his laboratory cannot check the corpse for such drugs, a sample would have to be sent to a specialized laboratory. Which the state attorney never requested.
A few seconds after the male officer falls to the ground, Lukas Weiler and his patrol colleague Regina Wundrack arrive at the parking lot, running. The request for help reached them, while they were checking a car. Weiler immediately realizes, that the situation is serious. He jumps over a hedge, which is why he arrives a few seconds before his colleague Wundrack at Jabarkhel.
Was his behaviour a “suicide by cop”?
He hits Jabarkhel with his baton on his upper arm, he remembers. Jabarkhel immediately stopped assaulting his colleague and turned towards Weiler. Weiler moved back and tripped, losing his baton. Jabarkhel runs past Weiler, away from the parking lot, some stairs down towards the street. Weiler pursues.
Near the bakery, Jabarkhel stops. Weiler says, he hit Jabarkhel with a load of pepper spray straight into his face. From behind his colleague Wundrack sees, how Jabarkhel shudders, wipes his face with his hand and continues running. Later it will come out, that the pepper spray was most likely defective.
He ordered Jabarkhel to stop and drop the baton, says Weiler. But he didn’t react, instead kept on running.
Weiler pulls his gun and keeps up the pursuit.
In Hessian law about public security it’s clearly stated, when police officers are allowed to use their firearms: They can “only be used against persons to stop an immediate danger either against body or life.”
Was Weiler in immediate danger?
Jabarkhel and Weiler ran for about 100 meters when the officer overtake the Afghan. He wants to arrest him together with his colleague Regina Wundrack, but she is too far away. She can only see, that the two are facing each other, Jabarkhel with his back towards her. A person living nearby later would state as a witness that he heard someone yell “Stop moving, stop moving or I will shoot!”
When he yelled that, says Weiler, Jabarkhel looked at him.
What happens then, to this day cannot be determined without any doubts. Weiler and Jabarkhel are about two to three meters apart. Weiler says, Jabarkhel fixated his eyes on him, and then ran towards him. He, Weiler, moved back and shot at the legs of the attacker. Regina Wundrack, who was standing a few meters behind Jabarkhel, describes however, that there was no movement of the Afghan towards Weiler, when he started shooting. Another witness could only approximately see what happened and remembers “lightning” in the darkness, the muzzle fire of the shots.
Did Weiler shoot to soon?
The state attorney will later say, that “on the first impression” shooting “could be determined as not needed”, because Jabarkhel and Weiler were static. On the other hand, the attorney says, Jabarkhel was “without a doubt” still holding the baton, and it is unclear, “if his manner, words or behavior indicated another looming attack of the killed.” Factoring in Jabarkhel’s previous behavior, it cannot be assumed, that he was thinking about “capitulation”.
Thomas Feltes has researched cases like the one from Fulda for years, cases, in which often young men against all rationality and a stronger power on the side of the police, riot and risk the lives of the officers – and their own. Feltes works as a police researcher at the Ruhr university Bochum. The case Jabarkhel, he says, fits a trend: About three quarters of those shot and killed by the police are mentally ill.
For this task, Feltes says, officers are not well prepared. He recommends, that the officers retreat to deescalate the situation and play for time, for example until the civil reinforcement can arrive, like the psychological service. In most cases however, they do the opposite, and attempt to resolve the situation with force. Especially when it comes to the mentally ill, it can lead to catastrophe. The larger the built up pressure, the larger the sense of danger of the mentally ill – and the fiercer their resistance.
But Feltes also says, that the concrete situation is hard to estimate in this case. Who can say, if Weiler had another choice? Wnad what would have happened if he let Jabarkhel run? Would he have attacked someone else?
That Jabarkhel might have been mentally ill, will also play a role in the investigation of the federal police. The officers will introduce a “suicide by cop” theory. Most of the studies on the topic come from the USA. According to it, Jabarkhel provoked until a police officer would shoot him.
In Germany, only few researches have investigated the topic of suicide by cop. One of them is Dietmar Heubrock. The law psychologist from Bremen has written a guide for officers, that if you read it, you have to think of Matiullah Jabarkhel. Heubrock says, the provoked self killing often was “a spontaneous decision”. A lot of perpetrators are under the influence of drugs and were mentally ill. The need to force the decision of suicide on someone else, often has cultural reasons – in Arabian cultures suicides are a grave sin.
And still: it only is a theory. Under experts, a controversial one. It could be used to justify the behavior of the police in retrospect, because he didn’t want it any other way.
“I would have done the same with any other violent perpetrator”
On that morning in Fulda, Weiler apparently shoots three times. They miss. Then his gun fails to load, later an unfired bullet will be found on the street. According to Weiler Jabarkhel charges Weiler, as soon as he realizes that he cannot shoot, and starts beating him with the baton.
For a few seconds, Weiler and Jabarkhel are out of the view for his colleague. Weiler says, he was running backwards up the slight hill, trying to solve his failure to load and stop the bleeding Jabarkhel.
A person living close by, who was watching from his terrace, recalls Weiler’s calls: “Stop, stop”. But Jabarkhel was “still charging him, aggressively, he didn’t stop, nothing”, says the man later during a reconstruction of the scene. Regina Wundrack too sees them both again, and she too sees how Jabarkhel is charging her colleague with the baton.
Then Weiler fixes his failure to load, ejecting the unfired bullet. And fires from a short distance, until he has an effect, just how he learned it: He fires until Jabarkhel stumbles backwards and falls to the ground. At the end, Weiler goes to his knees too. “Shit, I shot a person”, he says, his colleague hears as she comes running. Weiler himself, cannot remember anymore.
In his report the coroner will later list all shot wounds: Neck, rib, right upper thigh, between the shoulder blades. In total, eleven shots were fired, four hit Jabarkhel, from a maximum distance of 2.5 meters. The entry wounds fit into Weiler’s testimony; the coroner writes.
At 4:49 AM the female emergency doctor determines Matiullah Jabarkhels death. Cause of death: Bleeding out due to shot wounds with disconnection to vital organs.
In the conversations at the law firm in Frankfurt, Weiler appears distanced and analytical, when talks about the details. He is surprised how you function in such a situation. Again and again he says, he worked through the escalation protocol: Baton, pepper spray, threat of shooting, shooting the legs, final shots at torso. In the end, he had no other choice. “If I didn’t act the way I did, I would’ve been lying on the street, and maybe someone else too.”
There are other theories on why officers shoot migrants. They too, come from the USA, but in contrast to suicide by cop they don’t focus on the mental state of the victim, but of the shooter. Studies regarding the so called shooter bias imply: police officers in a dangerous situation tend to shoot someone with darker skin – because there is a deep connection in their brains that is being accessed. Black equals dangerous. Arabian equals dangerous.
You can absolutely ask yourself if Lukas Weiler would’ve shot eleven times in the same situation if the perpetrator was white an German. But at the same time, police researcher Thomas Feltes warns the same way he did before, to explain a situation like Fulda with a singular cause – too complicated is the situation to be explained by something like shooter bias.
If you ask the Fulda police president Günther Voß for Weiler’s track record, he describes him as a very good colleague. No wrong behavior on his track record, in conversations the officer doesn’t say anything, which could even generously be understood as racist. He seems reflective, provocative questions he answers smartly and attempting to calm the conversation. During the investigation of the ZEIT, we receive a screenshot from an anonymous sender, showing the Facebook page of Weiler, under a slightly different name. You can see, what groups he has subscribed to. A Biergarden [Addendum: Imagine Oktoberfest, but way smaller, usually local annual celebration of something with the excuse to consume beer], a DIY workshop for children.
Under that, a red logo with the words “Protect home country – Stop asylum fraud!”, the title of the page: “No more asylum homes in Germany”, next to it another site, that Weiler has subscribed to: “AfD party in the German Bundestag”
Weiler reacts shocked, if you confront him with that screenshot. He confirms, that it is his profile. That he subscribed to those groups, he was not aware of that. He is almost never on Facebook, he does not support a political stance like that. Maybe he added the sites on accident, when he read comments related to the case. “I would’ve done the same with every different perpetrator as well – the skin colour was and is not a factor for me at all.”
One week after his death Matiullah Jabarkhel’s coffin lands in Kabul. The two older brothers pick him up and drive him home in a rented ambulance. When the family opens the body bag and sees the wounds all over his body, the mother faints. When the coffin is moved to the graveyard two hours later, she feverishly holds on to it, the brothers say.
Hundreds show up for the burial. The parents almost collapse there, also because some guests say: You shouldn’t have sent him to Europe, he’d still be alive then.
Every side sees itself as the victim and everyone else as the perpetrator
A short time later the father dies, aged 55, heartattack. His wife is brought to the hospital as well two days later, with high blood pressure and vertigo. Two weeks later she dies too, stroke. That’s how the brothers of Matiullah Jabarkhel describe it. The parents, they say, couldn’t handle the death of their son.
In Fulda photos soon begin to circulate, that apparently were taken in Afghanistan: the in white cloth wrapped face of Jabarkhel, his skin dotted with blue spots.
Lukas Weiler is driving in his car at that time, passing a protest banner. At one of the main roads he read in big letters: “What happened to Matiullah?” He asked himself at that time, why no one cared, what happened to the officer, says Weiler.
About a year passes, the state attorney stops the investigation, result: No credible belief in a crime. “For an alternative series of events of the final shooting, partly how the public calls it, an “execution” of Jabarkhel, there is simply not enough proof.” Writes the state attorney.
It doesn’t lead to the calming of the conflict. Not it only really begins. Exactly one year after Jabarkhe’s death in April 2019, people once again demonstrate, one of them would later be indicted. Another one supposedly yelled: “Cops murder, the state deports, what a bunch of racists!” another one held a protest sign high: Who do you call when cops murder?
If you talk with people from the left who attended the protests, then you often get counter questions for your questions. If you didn’t see what happened in Hanau? Or in Halle? If you’ve heard of the NSU 2.0? In chat groups, where police officers apparently exchanged racist messages, colleagues of Lukas Weiler were in them as well.
Two activists from Frankfurt publicize a blog post, title: “Police kills refugee, demonstrators demand resolution and are defamed”, they write, Jabarkhel had been killed with 11 shots. The police office accuses the two activists of libel. Reason: It was eleven shots, of which only four hit. But only people who know the investigation file know that.
And so the fronts harden. The leftists complain about racism and police violence, without considering in detail, the actions of the police officer. And the Fulda police searches the home of a journalist, because people shared the blog post in his Facebook group. Which causes the leftists to think that they were right.
On one side the apparently white, strong state. On the other the weak refugee and his supporters. Every side sees itself as the victim and the other as the perpetrator. And every side can call upon a theory that supports them. Here the suicide by cop hypothesis, there the shooter bias.
While the storm rages outside, Lukas Weiler attempts to understand his feelings. To get away from it all, he goes patrolling. For the left a scandal – How can it be, that an accused is still on the job? For Weiler, the day to day becomes more and more difficult, both at work and at home. He talks with a police doctor and a psychiatrist, “Work accident support” is written in the document handed to him by the relevant authority, in bold letters the diagnosis: “post traumatic stress disorder” and “problems dealing with depressive symptoms and symptoms of bitterness”.
At least the investigation is behind him. But then in 2019, the video appears, which shows his colleagues following Jabarkhel to the parking lot. A group of young adults filmed the video and only now informed the police. The state attorney reopens the case, asks the new witnesses, it’s apparent, how complicated the case is, how difficult a final verdict will be.
In July of 2019 the investigation is closed again. The German attorney of the family Jabarkhel appeals. The investigation is re-reopened. And finally closed for good. There will not be a case.
The brothers of Matiullah Jabarkhel say, they don’t understand how the officers got away with it. If you talk to them through a video call, they cry a lot, and hold each other in their arms, interrupt the interview again and again.
Lukas Weiler says, he has the feeling of being publicly shamed, even though he was only doing his job. He has decided to stop doing patrols. He, that always wanted anything but a job behind a desk, requested to be retrained to an emergence call responder, where he would sit at a desk, in front of him a phone, and take emergency calls.
Cooperation: Amdadullah Hamdard
Behind the story: To contact the family of the dead Matiullah Jabarkhel in rural Afghanistan, the author of the story talked to Amdadullah Hamdard, a local employee of the ZEIT. He visited the family in May 2021. It was his final mission for the ZEIT. In August Amdadullah Hamdard, who was on the death list of the Taliban, was shot in front of his house.9 votes