Beating African Americans in Austria

This story is already a few weeks old, but as the Kafkaesque dimensions continue to expand, I thought it was worth my dear readers’ time. 

The nutshell: Mike Brennan, US citizen and teacher at the American International School in Vienna, is tackled exiting a subway, roughed up for about 10 minutes by two men who turn out to be plainclothes police officers working the drug scene, and left injured on the platform. During the beating his girlfriend called the police, not realizing they were already on the scene, and then called an ambulance after Law and Order departed, which took him to the hospital where he was then met with a certain reluctance to treat his injuries properly. 

A Facebook group sprang up in response, and the incident even registered with international dailies.

Since then the Vienna Police have concentrated on delivering one whopper after the next in an attempt to wrap their methods in a cloak of legitimacy:

Vienna Chief of Police Gerhard Pürstl told the local news on February 25 that he stands behind his men “as long as I can tell that their official actions are supported by the social and legal norms of our city and country, and based on the current investigation that is the case.”

For the time being, Pürstl presumes “that what we have here is a misunderstanding, and that there was no maliciousness behind this official act.” After all, his officers supposedly yelled “Stop police, you are arrested” before beginning the beat-down, so there should have been no misunderstanding on Brennan’s part–this was Vienna’s finest at work, not just a couple of thugs. No word on why the police continued to mistake Brennan’s identify for that of a drug dealer, however, and the police have yet to report Brennan’s alleged crime of resisting arrest to the public prosecutor’s office.

Later that night at a roundtable discussion, Pürstl vehemently rejected charges of ethnic profiling among his officers: “The police go to work based on the crimes at hand. Skin color won’t protect you from scrutiny in the future either.”

Meanwhile, BZÖ parliamentarian Helene Partik-Pable got fed up with the police- and Austria-bashing: “You only see the one side. You speak of well-behaved Africans and asylum-seekers and a villainous, racist population.” I guess you could say that she thinks all these “Gutmenschen” see things a little too, well, black and white. 

Then on Friday it turned out that the police had broken Brennan’s back (fracture of a transverse process); previously it was thought they had only inflicted sprains and bruises. The Vienna Police responded with a statement:

“According to experts, the injuries of Mike B. that have recently come to light typically result from falls…. Should these [injuries] have arisen in the course of the application of physical force during the arrest that took place on 11 February 2009, this is expressly deplored by the Federal Police Department in Vienna. These injuries yield no evidence of a willfully unlawful execution of an official act. At this time no employment or disciplinary measures are being undertaken.”

So there you have it. Let me close with this caution to the President of the United States should he follow Bush’s footsteps and visit Austria in the course of his term:




  1. There is, of course, plenty of racism in Germany and police abuse in the DC metro area, but Vienna is awful.

    My uncle is from Kerala. As a teenager my cousin’s church group got mixed up in a demonstration while visiting Vienna. Even though his church group leaders vouched for him, Viennese police singled him out for arrest. Not one of his white peers was arrested. Nobody of that group had done anything. They did not even participate in the protest.

    When my cousin was released, it turned out that the police had stolen all his money.

    I have to admit that something like that can happen anywhere in German speaking police departments but in Vienna, you have to almost expect it. The petite bourgeoisie has never reconciled itself to the cosmopolitan role of the city.


  2. A long time ago I read a blogger’s recounting of a black man’s arrest, injury, and prosecution in Japan. I wish I had bookmarked it now, but it was a pretty bad situation and there was outcry about his treatment in police custody. My memory would be sketchy on the details.


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