In the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, I heard a lot of people talking about police violence and comparing the behavior of police in America to the behavior of police in Germany. Statistically, German police have a far better record than American: in 2012 German police officers shot eight people and injured 20 as a result of shooting. (source) In the United States, the data is sketchy and only collected when voluntarily self-reported. So when official records say American police shoot about 400 people each year, you have to assume the number is a gross underestimate. (source)
But police violence and police oppression happen everywhere, even in Germany where the police are allegedly so well-behaved. Any time you are on the wrong side of the fight—and that includes peaceful protest—you are likely to encounter police violence and gross use of police power. The stories of friends who have been beaten by police aren’t mine to tell, but Amy Evans’ play The Most Unsatisfied Town (edition assemblage, fourth edition printed in 2015) is required reading for anyone unfamiliar with police repression or the systematic discrimination against asylum seekers in Germany.
Though The Most Unsatisfied Town is fictional, it is a fictionalized take on a true story: that of Oury Jalloh who burned to death while bound hand and foot to a mattress while in police custody in Dessau in 2005. Though Oury was bound and there was nothing in his cell but a fire-proof mattress, the court accepted the story that he had managed to take a lighter from his pocket and light himself on fire in order to commit suicide. The police who responded too late to the fire alarm were acquitted. The family is still trying to overturn the verdict. They will probably never know what really happened to their son, a man in Germany seeking asylum from Sierra Leone.
In her forward to the play, Evans says that “The Most Unsatisfied Town was written to raise audience awareness of the insidious ways in which asylum policy leaves individuals vulnerable to gross human rights violations,” something it manages successfully through the plays’ depiction of a group of characters (largely men, there are only two women in the play) with varying immigration status and racial backgrounds. Characters vary from the man still waiting for an answer about his visa to a successful, “official” immigrant with his own internet cafe to his white German wife to a black German child to a white German police officer. Each character’s presence helps the reader (or the viewer) shape a complex picture of the racism and discrimination on display in the piece.
In general, I don’t enjoy reading plays, but The Most Unsatisfied Town was a smooth read, if still a bumpy and horrifying story. In a very short space, Evans develops her characters in depth and makes us see them as people—the first step to empathy. I do wonder how many of the people who need work on developing that empathy would be willing to spend a few hours watching or reading this play: the picture it paints is complex, but it has a clear message and its didacticism might keep exactly the kind of people who need to see it away.
But that brings up a larger question: If you are writing in hopes of changing minds and improving some of the shitty things in the world, how best to do so? Will a radical message hidden within a work addressing more popular, easier-to-digest themes change more minds? Will the people who need to hear the message most ever hear it if the piece itself is obviously radical? Can you change minds through writing at all? Can minds actually be changed? (I think the answer to those last two questions is yes, though the situations in which this is possible are highly specific and infrequent.)
Whether or not The Most Unsatisfied Town manages to change the minds of those who need it most, I am glad that Amy Evans wrote it. If people are to become aware of issues like this, exactly the kind of thing that gets swept under the rug because it makes powerful people look bad, these stories need to be told in every form and voice available. I know the next time Ferguson and police violence in the United States comes up in conversation and people start praising the restraint of the German police, I will be recommending this book.
Four out of five fast internet connections.
Where I got it: Sent to me by edition assemblage for review