Crackdown in Copenhagen

UPDATE: You can help by signing this petition protesting Danish police violence against climate protestors.

Over the past week, the Danish capital has welcomed delegates, corporate lobbyists, and representatives of mainstream, moderate NGOs with open arms; however, they’ve shown a somewhat uglier face towards activists advocating climate justice.

Yesterday, a massive, peaceful protest of 100,000 people – the largest demonstration for climate justice in world history – was met with a heavy-handed response by the Danish police. Thousands of riot police swarmed the march route, blocked off streets surrounding large groups of protestors, and arrested almost 1,000 people. Arrestees were cuffed and forced to sit in rows for hours, as the temperatures dipped below freezing; numerous people urinated on themselves after being denied use of toilets. Despite the mood of severe frustration with the state of climate talks that pervaded the march, there were only a few reports of property destruction and minor skirmishes with police (which the media have hugely played up) – however, the police swept up masses of people, including NGO delegates and independent journalists, with little focus on determining who had actually broken the law. As one British protestor, Georgy Forshall, put it: “Two of my friends are in there. The police said demonstrators had been throwing stones, but my friends were in a cow costume, they wouldn’t have been able to throw stones.”

This massive show of police force follows days of harassment of activists by the massive Danish security operation. On Tuesday night at 3am, police raided Ragshildgade, a mobilization space organized by Climate Justice Action where hundreds of activists (including myself) are sleeping; they confiscated tools that were being used by Danish organizers to make building repairs and renovations, claiming that they were “tools of direct action.” (This followed a raid on the Teglholmen activist space on Dec. 4, at which police detained and handcuffed 15-20 people.) Since then, on at least three occasions, the police have harassed people staying at Ragshildgade by blocking off the street with 5-10 police vans in the middle of the night, causing hundreds of people sleeping inside to get out of bed and pack their bags in preparation for a raid – and subsequently, each time, the police have left without entering the facility.

On Friday, police made “preventative arrests” at a CJA-organized anti-corporate lobbying protest, arresting 68 people without any significant disturbances having taken place. And, throughout the past two weeks, security officials have stopped, searched, and interrogated activists at the Denmark-Germany border, have stopped and searched buses in Copenhagen, and have done the same to isolated groups of people in areas around activist spaces throughout the city. (I got a taste of this myself this morning, when a vanload of six police stopped and interrogated me – and searched my person and my backpack thoroughly, including reading several documents – while I was waiting at a bus stop near Ragshildgade. When I asked why I was being searched, I was simply told that all of Copenhagen was a “search zone” and that they had the right to search me without providing any justification.)

All this has been under the guise of the biggest law enforcement mobilization in Danish history – which, in a particularly ominous turn of events, has increasingly also included the Danish military, who have been spotted patrolling the streets of Copenhagen together with police officers.

And on Tuesday, the UNFCCC is planning move the crackdown on dissent to the halls of the COP-15 conference, by revoking the registration of all but a few NGO delegates. NGO delegates are being told that they will have to return and re-register on Tuesday – at which point, each group’s delegation would be cut in number by 70%. While this is indeed partly due to the UNFCCC’s poor advance planning – after having allowed far more people to register for the conference than the Bella Center had capacity for – the UNFCCC is clearly also using this justification by forcing NGOs to cut their delegations of all but essential staff, thus severely limiting their ability to organize protests inside the conference.

Of course, these protests are being motivated by frustration at the incredibly weak results of the COP-15 negotiations. Last week, a closed-room group of delegates from Global North countries shocked Global South delegates and climate justice activists by pushing for a secretly-negotiated “deal” that would allow global temperatures to be allowed to rise by another 2 degrees Celsius – over the vehement protests of delegates from Africa and small island countries, argue that any increase larger than 1 degree will devastate and – in some instances – literally flood them. Then, in the past two days, the negotiations on a deal on REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) – which are being touted as the “success” of Copenhagen – have degenerated into an incredibly weak potential deal, in which immediate targets for deforestation limits would be dropped and no financial commitments from Global North countries would be made. These failings on the part of negotiators from the Global North have been met with protests – both planned and spontaneous – by youth activists as well as delegates from the Global South.

The immense frustration on the part of climate justice activists and representatives of the Global South will culminate in Wednesday’s Reclaim Power protest – and it’s likely that the heavy-handed police actions of the past few days are at least in part an attempt to squash that protest preemptively. On Wednesday, thousands of climate justice protestors from across Europe plan to march on the Bella Center, where they plan to establish a People’s Assembly in a parking lot outside – at which, in contrast to the COP-15, the needs and demands of impacted communities will be given preference. At the same time, the Reclaim Power protestors will call on delegates and activists from the Global South to stage a walkout from the heavily-compromised COP-15 negotiations, and join the People’s Assembly outside.

Such a protest would heavily delegitimize the business-as-usual negotiation process that has prevailed thus far at the COP-15; organizers hope that it would force the Global North cabale that has dominated the talks thus far to grant the Global South countries a greater voice. And this plan perhaps explains why the Danish police – acting together with the UNFCCC – are trying so hard to crack down on anyone trying to challenge the carefully-managed perception that any deal at “Hopenhagen” (even one that flies in the face of democratic process) will be a good deal for all the people of the world.

16 Responses to “Crackdown in Copenhagen”


  1. 1 Aaron Petcoff Dec 13th, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Someday, cops will arrest CEOs and policy-makers that put profits and personal gain over the environment and people, instead of the awesome people demonstrating in Copenhagen! Thanks for being so brave all! You’re my heroes!

  2. 2 dave shukla Dec 13th, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    that image of everyone sitting down in the street is so powerful

  3. 3 tharlam Dec 13th, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    To say I was disgusted when I first so pictures of peaceful protesters handcuffed and forced to the ground in rows is a major understatement. The Danish authorities and security forces are beginning to show a madness, as the saying goes, similar to that of medieval monarchs when their heads were about to roll.

  4. 4 Yin Dec 14th, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Thank for bring this to light, and thank you for writing.

  5. 5 zoran Dec 16th, 2009 at 9:00 am

    I suggested this post to boingboing and cory published it :)

    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/16/danish-police-abuse.html

  6. 6 Michael Heilemann Dec 16th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    I live in the center of Copenhagen, and while I wasn’t at the demo, I followed the protest throughout the day through national TV and local websites. And while I don’t have the ‘truth’, I do have a couple of things that I think are worth keeping in mind when forming conspiracy theories and sticking it to the man.

    All this has been under the guise of the biggest law enforcement mobilization in Danish history – which, in a particularly ominous turn of events, has increasingly also included the Danish military, who have been spotted patrolling the streets of Copenhagen together with police officers.

    First of all, the military isn’t involved. The homeguard is. As they often are. In fact, the Police-Homeguard is used over 4000 times a year by the police (source) for a variety of things, including, as they are now, guarding buildings. I don’t know for certain, but it would be as easy as walking up to one of them on the street (they’re easy to find) and asking them whether they even carry weapons, which I actually doubt. So, no military, just volunteer homeguard.

    Secondly, in order to better understand the police response to the part of the demonstration which had started to throw rocks and fireworks and what not, one has to go back and look at the past few years of violent uprisings in the city (The clearing of Ungdomshuset and the attempted gentrification of Christiania), some of which have gotten way out of control and ended in what could be described as street-war-like conditions, sans guns. Not to mention actual use of guns by drug-running gangs.

    Which all leads to the police having seen massive criticism for their failure to stop these things before they ended up getting out of control.

    Secondly, something of the scale of COP15 has never happened in Denmark before. Denmark is a small, for the most part quiet and satisfied country, in which when a gun is fire, the entire country knows about it in less than a day. The pressure put on the police by way of COP15 is not to be underestimated.

    Now, one can agree or disagree with the police’s conduct, but at least put it into context of the country, the city and the police’s history, where it’s considerably less knee-jerk and sensationalist than it may first appear.

    The police has clearly stated in the media that yes the protesters were on the ground for too long, as the busses took longer to arrive than expected, yet I don’t see that mentioned anywhere in this entry, nor a critical look at what exactly they should have done differently.

    Furthermore, and this is just my personal opinion, when one considers the fact that the demonstration consisted of reportedly 100.000 people, the 968 people who came into clinch with the police are just a drop in the ocean.

    That’s not to say that the police should get carried away and just arrest left and right, behaving as they see fit. Of course not. But ironically this particular issue is seeing a lot more press than the issues at COP15, simply because:

    that image of everyone sitting down in the street is so powerful

    And that’s a damn shame.

    PS: Thanks for using K2 ;)

  7. 7 HeatSink Dec 16th, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Well. I am surprised to see the Danes, who usually are so quiet and peaceful, acting so fiercely. I guess making people sit on cold ground can cause irreversible damage to their health, so I guess that might even be qualified as a torture and police may be sued if someone indeed suffers from that.

    But as of all this thing in general I am very happy that police was heavy-handed and took preventive action to ground all those so called “activists” before damage to order and property was done. I am sick of all those red-black-green locos – anarchists, eco-terrorists, violent leftists, anti-globalist extremists and all other similar kinds of “progressive” lunatics wreaking havoc on the streets of Europe and playing innocent victims afterwards. Well done, Denmark! This is not a kindergarden. There are not only rights, but also responsibilities.

  8. 8 melski Dec 17th, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Interesting to hear about the context of policing in Denmark and some useful facts, thank you poster. Yet to posters here that defend the police brutality, and those who may be tempted to swallow that opinion, please bear in mind the following….

    (firstly check yourself for Stockholm Syndrome and what Augusto Boal calls the ‘cop in the head’ – are you not identifying with your own oppressors a little too much? Have you ever experienced being a protester, or struggled to defend your rights, before you grace us with your criticism?)

    When blaming ‘eco-terrorists’ etc for violent / irresponsible / destructive actions in the streets, try to put that in context. Firstly, yes they’re irritating, but they are a drop in the ocean of most of the peaceful protesters. Secondly, the violent strategies of the police are over-the-top, very unnecessary and ill-informed practice for policing peaceful protest. How is a violent beating a justified first response to someone simply standing in front of you? Thirdly, the violence shown by the world’s leaders by not reaching agreement and by not compromising their ‘three-planet-lifestyles’ at others expense, even if that violence is indirect and to be realised by their decisions and by their followers, is huge and may cost us biliions of lives & species. Two wrongs do not certainly make a right, but please do not discredit activism because of a few daft people with limited responses. Of course they are irritating but there are bigger irritants!

    I do not agree at all with violent protest but I can understand how someone may feel so angry and frustrated that they resort to it in this wider context, not knowing anything more appropriate.
    There are always some in society like that. They do not represent the whole. In fact, compared to previous G8 summit protests, there are a lot less. Things are changing. With larger oppression coming in as we see here on rights to protest, then people respond in different ways.

    So it is not well done Denmark in my view. The policing strategies are contributing greatly to the power status-quo, where the most powerful and most violent in the talks are excluding the others, as predicted. Denmark could have taken a bigger picture view of how its policing actions would be viewed by the world and on whose behalf they were acting. The right to protest is essential to living in a democracy. So what does this make Denmark now? Too often, we don’t know what we’ve got til its gone. Please save some compassion for those who exercise that right while you complain from your armchair.

  9. 9 tin Dec 22nd, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    this is, in many ways, reminiscent of genoa (2001) and seattle (1999).

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