By Casey Schuller
After a little confusion about our meeting place this afternoon, we met Nadine Saeed at Heidi’s apartment. We all snuggled in on and around the bed in the common room as Nadine started to tell us about her work in remembrance of Oury Jalloh. Nadine has been an activist for 5-6 years now, but the passion she speaks with sounds life-long. When Nadine was younger, she started listening to Bob Marley and was inspired by his words. Later, unhappy at her university, she started working with refugees. As she told her story, she said, “I feel alive when I’m with people willing to struggle.” Nadine feels that it is not necessarily important where someone came from or what their gender is, but its “just important what you have in your head.”
Oury Jalloh was an asylum seeker born in Sierra Leone who later moved to Guinea. His parents collected money so that he could go to Europe, but he soon found that refugees live in isolation, in camps Nadine compared to concentration camps. They have little contact with the wider German society because of intense xenophobia. Hence, life is made very hard for them as integration is made almost impossible, especially since they are not allowed to work. In response to some women having German children so that they can get a passport, Nadine said that this is “not the fault of the women, but of the system.” Additionally, migrant men often get involved with drugs and alcohol, which sometimes leads to suicide. They are “killed by the government” in both psychological and physical ways.
Despite these hardships, Jalloh did his best in Germany. He fell in love with a white German woman who became pregnant with his child at the age of 19. Her racist brother and father insisted she give the child up for adoption because they felt she should not have a half-Black child. Despite changing her mind on the adoption within the allowed 3-month retraction period, she was refused her child because Jalloh was an asylum seeker who was considered less than human and certainly incapable of raising a child. Nadine mentioned that much of the problem with racism in Germany is the high tolerance the public has for it. Few people react to heinous racism, a problem we can definitely relate to in the United States.
On January 7, 2005, Jalloh was arrested after he was asked for his passport and refused to give it. He was fed up with being singled out and questioned because of his skin color. After tackling him and finding his asylum seeker card, the police determined he was still too hard to identify and they put him in a cell. After drawing his blood, he was fixed to the mattress with his hands and feet cuffed. His nose, ears, and wrists were broken, possibly among other bones. Later that day, Jalloh was killed in cell number 5 by a fire in the police station. This event received some news coverage at the time; although, many witnesses of this fire were soon deported.
After his death, the police tried to spread the story that Jalloh somehow killed himself while being completely restrained. The State Office of Criminal Investigation made a video after the “suicide,” which includes pictures of his burned body. Again, “somehow” the majority of this video was deleted and only four minutes of it remain. Despite strong evidence that Jalloh was murdered, his case has yet to be fully successful. The police officers have changed their stories and have no alibi, evidence has disappeared, and laws were broken, one of which required the police station to call a judge within two hours of arresting Jalloh to get permission to hold him. The case has since been dropped several times because it “is not in the interest of the public” to continue it.
Part of Nadine’s work, then, has been collecting evidence for Jalloh’s case. After a lighter was found under his body (with no traces of his DNA or the mattress on it), the Initiative started looking into how he was burned and why no one heard him scream. After many trials using a dead pig’s body, they discovered that he must have been burned by fire experts and that an accelerant was definitely involved. After many, many trials and excessive amounts of petrol, they were never able to recreate the amount of damage done to Jalloh’s body. Lies told in court and gaps in the police’s defense aside, 2 or 3 revisions have been called in court—the next one this August.
Nadine’s other main focus has been how the situation was handled. This includes the officer who turned off the fire alarm twice and the ministries helping to hide it, which encourages the mindset that it is okay for the police to kill. Heidi and Nadine discussed how unacceptable and horrible this brutality is, no matter who the victim may be. So often people try to make the victim into a saint; yet, whether the victim was high on drugs or a perfect student, it shouldn’t change the way the crime is viewed. Police violence is a big problem in Germany, and most cases are dropped quickly in court. Nadine’s goal, along with her comrades, is to keep his story alive, as forgetting only helps perpetuate police brutality. Even when the government interferes by cutting off the phones and communication of her and other activists, Nadine is not deterred. She will keep fighting and fundraising her whole life, if necessary. Despite this touching story and the influence it has had on Nadine, she finished by stressing that Oury Jalloh a symbol in a larger fight for many victims, such as Christy Schwundeck. Needless to say, we all came out of this talk asking for an Oury Jalloh t-shirt from Nadine so that we can also support this important fight!
Casey Schuller is entering her junior year at Colorado College. She is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology, and she is particularly interested in media and gender. She has been particularly challenged by this class, since for the first time in her life, she is being out-sassed by those around her.