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Copenhagen violence

Written By: - Date published: 7:39 am, December 18th, 2009 - 67 comments
Categories: activism, climate change, police - Tags:


Photograph: Christian Charisius/Reuters

Earlier in the year there was a lot of media attention on the police tactics at the G20 Summit in London. How depressing to see the same heavy handed approach being deployed in Copenhagen. A reported 100,000 protesters marched in a mostly peaceful event last Saturday, and further marches and events followed over many days. Stupidly, depressingly, a minority attached to the legitimate protesters are reported to have engaged in some vandalism and confrontation. Stupidly, depressingly, police tactics were confrontational and heavy handed:

Almost 200 people were arrested late last night after protesters set fire to street barricades in a central Copenhagen neighbourhood. Protesters hurled fire bombs at riot police who responded with tear gas, officers said. But pressure is growing for Danish police to account for their tactics, after four days of demonstrations have seen the controversial “kettle” tactic used three times, and more than 1,500 arrests, with 200 official complaints already filed.

One eyewitness reported:

We’ve long had a problem with preventative policing in the UK it is something I have been subject to, and have campaigned against. However, the level of repressive policing displayed in arresting more than 1,000 people at the weekend in Copenhagen far exceeded anything we have experienced in this country.

I joined the march as a police observer, my aim being to monitor events and compare how the Danish police treated protesters. I was near the back of the march. There was a large contingent of people wearing black hoodies, some anarchist flags were waving, but where I was, there was no trouble. The atmosphere was good, and my friend and I commented on how lovely it was to see so few police officers on such a large demo.

The change came suddenly I saw some people running forward, and in the time it took to turn round to see why they were running, the police had used the grid system of the roads to kettle the march into several sections by driving vans through it, and deploying riot police to stop anyone leaving. The kettle was tight, and it was an effort to walk from one side to another. The mixture of people ranged from parents with children, Hare Krishnas, socialists and anarchists. All had one thing in common they had done nothing other than join a demonstration.

We tried to leave the kettle through an open apartment block. However, this led only to another road full of handcuffed people sat in lines. As soon as the police saw us watching this scene, we were also grabbed, thrown to the floor and arrested. We later learned that all the people in the kettles were also arrested. …

Another account from a young Swedish student:

There were 12 people in my cage, and we probably had one square meter of space each. A while after I arrived a disturbance broke out. A lot of people started to scream loudly in anger and some even tried to break out of the cages. When this happened, many police in riot gear rushed into the hall. When the disturbance didn’t end one of the police men started to spray pepper-spray into the cages. Me and three or four of my cage-mates were sitting quietly on the floor during the screaming, but because we were close to the door the spray went in our direction and I only just had time to hide my face. I got pepper-spray on my clothes but fortunately not in my eyes. This made me feel very scared of what might come next, since they were using such violent tactics on people who were just sitting quietly down on the floor. I was released 11 and a half hours after my arrest without charge. …

I don’t know who to be more angry at, the minority who used the events as an opportunity for foolish violence (thus tainting the legitimate protest), or the Police for their disproportionately violent tactics against perfectly innocent people. My heart goes out to the protesters, I wish that I had been there with them.  In my opinion they speak more for the peoples of the world than the so-called leaders inside the conference.

67 comments on “Copenhagen violence ”

  1. lukas 1

    R0b, serious question…. what is the appropriate response when you are having a fire bomb hurled at you?

    • felix 1.1

      Um, violently and systematically arrest 1500 people who have nothing to do with it?

    • felix 1.2

      It’d be like, for example, if you were to kick in the windows of the A&E and the police turned up and arrested everyone in the hospital.

      • lukas 1.2.1

        funny man felix. Do you think its appropriate to hurl fire bombs at people?

        • felix

          No, unless you really want a war. That’s no excuse for the state to inflict violence on anyone else though. I didn’t expect you to support such authoritarianism, lukas.

          • lukas

            so what did you want the Police to do felix? sit by and watch as protesters run rampage through the streets, hurling fire bombs at people and lighting fires?

            • Draco T Bastard

              You’re purposefully ignoring the point aren’t you?

              • lukas

                DTB, can I have your street address so I can through fire bombs at your house tonight?

              • felix

                Come on lukas, stop wasting time. What do you think might be an appropriate response?

                Hint: it might be somewhere in between “do nothing” (which only you have suggested) and “bring the full power of the state down on everyone in sight”.

                Come on lukas, you can do it if you try.

              • Draco T Bastard


                Can I have yours so I can call the police and have them arresting you for threatening me? And while they’re there they’ll also beat up and arrest your family and your neighbours.

                Subduing and arresting the person throwing the petrol bomb is a reasonable response – beating up and arresting everyone else isn’t.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Especially when they didn’t even arrest the person throwing the alleged petrol bomb.

  2. ben 2

    I am sad and angry to see this sort of police behaviour. It is a phenomenon happening around the world, perhaps a response to 9/11 where police stop being willing to apply common sense and assume you are not a terrorist when you point a camera at them or march.

    Of course, I think the protestors are deeply misguided in what they believe, but that is completely beside the point. I will defend their right to the death to say what they want to say.

    Protestors should not have the right to destroy other peoples’ property, there is no reason at all why that sort of thing is necessary if the goal is to have your say. If they do cause damage they should of course be punished. Sadly it sounds like the police took a few idiots and used them to crack down on the other 99%.

  3. infused 3

    You only have the protesters to blame. Setting fire to barriers etc? You answered your own question.

    • roger nome 3.1

      what exactly are you infused with? Got any idea what is meant by the term “targeted response”?

  4. gitmo 4

    This whole Copenhagen event is a fraud, a fiasco and gigantic wankfest, I thought so from day 1 and had it confirmed when Charles Windsor and Arnie turned up to bask in the media spotlight.

    What a fucking joke.

  5. Lukas & Infused, it’s a moot point whether the kettle tactics & use of spray etc, or anarchist violence were causes or effects.

    There is a pattern of action and reaction that extends beyond these particular events in this particular place.

    The stifling of informed debate by the self-interested via puppet-media will not lead to a defusing of these issues. The last century was marked by repressive actions which inflamed opposition and proved self-defeating.

    Robt Kennedy Jnr broached the issue of malign media influence when interviewd on Campbell Live last night. Check it out.

    • gitmo 5.1

      It’s a moot point whether you’re retarded or not.

    • lukas 5.2

      Serious question Galeandra, what is the appropriate response to having fire bombs thrown at you?

      • Richard 5.2.1

        stop, drop, and roll?

      • felix 5.2.2

        lukas are you going to spend all day making the same banal observation that firebombs aren’t very nice? No-one suggested they were appropriate. You’re arguing with yourself there.

        Let’s see you turn that critical faculty of yours to the police response, eh?

        What is the appropriate response, lukas?

        • fizzleplug

          Destroy all humans?

        • lukas

          felix, detaining people is more than fine with me if they have been hurling fire bombs at people.

          • Pascal's bookie

            1500 fire bomb throwers eh? You’d think there’d be a lot of footage available.

          • felix


            You don’t seriously think the police arrested 1500 bomb-throwers, do you? Do you realise how ridiculous you look saying so?

            You can get out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself by simply saying the police over-reacted and arrested a bunch of innocent people.

            (Which is obvious to anyone reading, even those without a communication degree or a history of violent protest.)

            • lukas

              Felix, where did I say that all 1500 were fire bombers?

              the fire bombers were obviously in amongst the crowd and the police had to hold 1,000 people out of the 100,000 according to the article to get the culprits. I have no problem with that.

              What do you think is an appropriate reaction Felix? you still have not managed to answer that.

              • lukas

                Here you go Iprent,


                “Police faced demonstrators’ petrol-bombs as they moved in to tackle the blazes, as ministers from all over the globe gathered nearby to hash out a deal to tackle climate change. ”

                Police with dogs entered the Christiania squat, detaining 210 people, police spokesman Henrik Suhr told AFP.

                “We entered Christiania to pursue individuals who had built the barricades, set alight the fires in the streets and threw fire bombs at our police officers before taking refuge in Christiania.”

                Those arrested were quickly placed into busses and taken to the special detention facility outside Copenhagen set up by police for the summit.

                You can not still seriously deny that there were fire bombs been thrown without losing all credibility. I know it may mess with your world view of all protesters being nice friendly likable chaps, but, like all groups in society, they have some fringe nut jobs.

                I have clearly stated that I think it is fine for the police to detain a 1,000 out of 100,000 to arrest a few who have fire bombed streets. I don’t think it would be appropriate all of the time to detain that many people, but this is a pretty serious crime!

                Would you seriously have the police let everyone go?

                Here are some pictures for you too… http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/fotostrecke-49785.html

                [lprent: Indeed. More information. Did you read it? And the comments on the photos.

                We entered Christiania to pursue individuals who had built the barricades, set alight the fires in the streets and threw fire bombs at our police officers before taking refuge in Christiania.

                The police don’t claim that it was protesters from the conference.

                Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood with about 850 residents. The place has been a source of controversy for the last 40 years, and its residents often clash with the local authorities.

                Police arrived soon after rioters erected a flaming barrier in the middle of the street to block the area. Monday night’s detainments bring the total number of arrests since the beginning of the climate negotiations last week to 1,500.

                etc… Sounds to me more like a local dispute that has bugger all to do with the conference. I think that you are a credulous fool who doesn’t bother to check your prejudices before trolling my site. ]

            • felix

              Arresting firebombers good.

              Arresting innocent people bad.

              • lukas

                ok, and if the firebombers are in amongst a rather large crowd, would you prefer that they let them go, or detain some of the crowd so they can ascertain who the culprits are?

                [lprent: Offer some proof that there are firebombers rather than just reiterating the same statement over and over again. Something more than hearsay. You’ve been requested to do so several times.

                I’m putting you in auto-moderation because it appears to me that you are simply trolling. ]

              • Rob Carr

                lukas do you imagine the march of people that they kettled was just randomly lobbing fire bombs at passers by on the street or something? was it the people in the cages who were tear gassed? You do not arrest 1500 people who clearly were nowhere near the fire bombs to find a suspect.

              • felix

                Rob, you do if you’re an authoritarian.

                lukas is quite keen on the heavy-handed use of the power of the state to crush dissenters.

                He’ll say he disagrees but he won’t offer any commentary that suggests otherwise.

              • lukas

                Iprent, are you an idiot or just unable to read? I suggest you read the post above where they talk about the fire bombers.

                [lprent: Interesting isn’t it.

                There is one report as far as I can see from google when I checked this morning and later this afternoon, the one quoted by rOb from the Guardian and a couple of other news articles obviously from the same source. In each case they were quoting an unnamed police source. There have been no arrests for it. In fact there is nothing I can see that says it happened apart from that one source. Try this search and you’ll see what I mean.

                This was pointed out to you by a number of people, including me. Yet you persisted in making a number of comments that the substance of which appeared to be to repeat the word ‘firebomb’ as often as possible. You were asked to substantiate your accusation. You didn’t, but carried on in the same vein, and didn’t discuss it with any of the people who were saying that it didn’t seem to have happened.

                That behaviour makes you a fool who is trolling on the site. You know what I do to trolls. ]

          • lprent

            I just did a scan of the news media. What firebombs?

            Look a bit like they are mythic to me.

        • gitmo

          Taser them until they start smoking ?

  6. Bill 6

    This violence that emanated from the protesters? Any video coverage? Any photographic evidence? I have watched various clips of Copenhagen. Lots of police violence. Absolutely no retaliation.

    I’m going to punt that there was no violence coming from anarchist protesters because every single person there (agent provocateurs aside) wanted the conference to succeed more that delegates at the conference did.

    This was not a WTO ‘shut it down’ meet. This was a Climate Change ‘get your shit together’ meet. So why, as a protester, mete out violence?

    Anyway. Guys in cow costumes being accused of throwing bricks (don’t know how efficient it is to throw a brick out a cow’s arse). People in polar bear suits being arrested because they were wearing masks.

    Due to the lack of any evidence at the moment r0b, I find it disappointing that you seem to have exhibited that age old liberal knee jerk reaction to the mention of anarchists and violence…. swallow hook, line and sinker and help perpetuate a nice distraction from the real secondary issue of police attempts to subdue and suppress democratic expression ( the primary issue being our government’s failure to act on climate change.)

    (As an aside. Wonder how long before liberals deny the empirical evidence of Copenhagen and join the denialist camp as a contingent which claims that government hasn’t failed and if we just lobby then everything will be a-ok?)

    • gitmo 6.1

      Yes your logic is sound the Copenhagen police department are just using the Climate Wanfest as an excuse to beat people up……….they have been planning it with John Key and the VRWC for years now.

      • Bill 6.1.1

        Nah gitmo.

        It’s simply that without the police suppressing and discouraging it, there may well have been an outpouring of democracy. And that can’t be allowed because it would delegitimise the coterie of clowns (officials, MPs, negotiators et al) that comprise government.

        • gitmo

          I’ll garee with you on the coterie of clowns (officials, MPs, negotiators et al) that comprise the Copenagen fiasco the whole things an absurdity that would go down well as a script for Yes Minister.

          • Bill

            So we agree that our government is akin to a Big Top that attracts all the usual circus acts and is therefore not much use to us.

            And so I wonder what you’d propose in its stead?

            Genuinely curious.

            • Rob Carr

              Criminal sanctions on being a rubbish leader 😛 That might fix things.

              • gitmo

                There would be no “leaders” left in the world … and the NZ “leaders” of the last 20-30 years would fail as well.

                Depends on what you view as a leader … most of the time I just want govt’s to take a softly softly approach as most of their interventions have a habit of blowing back in their face.

    • Bill 6.2

      From the Guardian article linked in the post

      “Protesters hurled fire bombs at riot police who responded with tear gas, officers said

      then, in same article,

      “All but 15 of the people arrested have now been released. Those still in custody face a variety of charges including vandalism, assaulting a police officer, and disrupting the police in the course of their work.”

      No charges of arson in spite of all those fire bombs and burning barricades?Onepolice officer assaulted..in spite of all those fire bombs? 15 people charged on fairly inconsequential matters.

      The acts of these 15 people ‘stupid and depressing’? Whatever happened to ‘critical reading’ or does that flee your liberal sensibilities at the mention of anarchist?…assault can be resisting arrest…disruption can be simple obstruction….vandalism can be breaking a truncheon with your skull…..

      • gitmo 6.2.1

        Yes I suspect there were actually no protesterss there and the police beat themselves up rather than go home and watch TV…….as for the fire bombs these were actually the ancient Danish tradition of blue flaming on the 9th night before XMAS

        • Bill

          What beaten up cops? What fire bombs?

          There would be video footage and photographs.

          Thee doesn’t seem to be any though. Doesn’t that strike you as odd in this day and age?

          The info the Guardian uses didn’t even come from a police spokesperson….just a cop. The rest of the article flows from that and is basically an exercise in innuendo.

          Nothing more.

        • Draco T Bastard

          the police beat themselves up rather than go home and watch TV

          I wouldn’t be surprised – governments do have a tendency to violence and sending in covert officers to stir up trouble is a known tactic that has been used before.

  7. roger nome 7

    No need for a tinfoil hat lukas – you obviously have a bit of reading to do though, so here’s a list for you.


  8. Scribe 8


    Can you link to a story that has the crowd at 100,000? I’ve had a quick look at a handful of stories from major media outlets and your number seems grossly exaggerated.

  9. Quoth the Raven 9

    Before the Copenhagen event even began police were given new powers to detain people without charge. This is why statists who are continually asking the state to intervene in this or that should be careful about the erosion of their civil liberties as the state becomes ever more invasive. I myself see just a slight tinge of irony in the whole thing.

  10. prism 10

    Hey let’s be a little sensible here. The police worldwide take courses in how to deal with crowds. They are issued with batons and hard riot shields. There is a busy and no doubt profitable market for police gear which includes guns, tasers etc as well as uniforms and flak jackets.
    There are possibly destroyers amongst the protesters asking for better policies and these people operate from this cover. The crowds go wild after soccer matches with young thugs and this is after a simple sports match.
    If people get together to protest, they have rights but crowd control and the fear of assassination must always be there for police. The USA is supposed to be a civilised country but hasn’t been able to stop such actions – worldwide, police and security are on edge at these times.
    Police personnel are not usually the philosophical type who talk about political hegemony and what democracy means to the little guys etc. They are law and order people and are ready to take action. We had the Red Squad not feeling entertained by dress-up clowns in NZ etc so have experienced the force of reaction literally.

  11. r0b 11

    Bill and others, I agree that there doesn’t seem to be any good evidence for “firebombs”, and that the reports of protester violence may well have been inflated by the police etc.

    But there is evidence that a tiny minority did use tactics which were designed to provoke confrontation, including the use of fireworks:



    (use arrows to see slideshow)

    What makes me angry about this is that it provides, in the eyes of the authoritarian crackdown and much of the media, “justification” for the aggressive police tactics. I would very much rather that no such justification existed.

    • Bill 11.1

      You really have to be shitting me r0b!

      First link.

      A you tube video shows fireworks going off in a cleared piece of road. Commentator gets positively damp suggesting that “The anarchists are rioting!”….cut to a brick on the road….cut to a single broken van window.

      And all sponsored by Timberland earthwatch….a retail outlet jumping on the environmental bandwagon.

      Second link.

      The Times of Malta has a photo of somebody casually launching a firework as they wander in the opposite direction. Not running from anyone. Not confronting anyone. Wonder how the Chinese authorities react to all those firecrackers getting thrown around the show in large crowds at NY eh?

      Third link.

      A slideshow from somewhere (nothing linking it to Copenhagen) that Bild produced. According to Wiki, “Bild’s nearest English-language stylistic and journalistic equivalent is often considered to be The Sun in the UK”…a bastion of accurate reporting and integrity then.

      Fifteen people were charged according to your initial link. Fifteen. And nobody was charged with arson or anything beyond a minor misdemeanor.

      I reckon you, like a whole lot of other liberals, simply knee jerked to the notion of anarchists and violence. You were meant to. The stories in the press were written for ‘you’ because ‘your’ predictable reaction dilutes and distracts from issues arising from the real events and helps construct the justification for police brutality.

  12. Quoth the Raven 12

    Before the Copenhagen event began police were given new powers to detain without charge. Chipping away at civil liberties – statists should beware…

  13. prism 13

    BTW the Blair Peach killing in Britain is an example of violence within a protest situation. A report was supposed to be issued about possible police responsibility for this but its issue has been deferred last I heard.

  14. hu 14


    [lprent: Also distasteful under another psuedonym. You’ve been banned for your previous comment. ]

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