by: Tim Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There has been a lot of talk about the violence around Nørrebro lately. It can be heard on the streets, behind closed doors and not least of all from the talking heads in the media. It is essentially nonsense.
There has been something of an 'uprising' in Nørrebro over the past days, though the reality is it's the same old crowd generally found hanging out somewhere around Stengade and Griffenfeldtsgade (and sometimes around Blågards Plads later in the night). The police have a pretty good beat on the area (it's like 3 small streets) since there's always always a few people lurking around looking 'unsavory' - though I would prefer to use the term 'bored'. It's a feature of every city of any size.
Speaking of bored, that is a fair description for the media in Copenhagen as well. It's forgivable - they've got a lot of print space and air time to fill, and some weeks there's just not a lot going on. So when something happens, like a loud protest in Nørrebro, packs of hungry journalists and photographers are quickly dispatched (sometimes they arrive even before the events have begun, in anticipation) and producers and editors greedily lick their lips knowing there will be plenty of tasty morsels with which to fill airwaves and column inches.
The latest round started a little over a week ago when a car was torched and a couple garbage containers were lit on fire. This may sound a bit disturbing, but seriously it was pretty tame - I happened to be cycling by the incident when the garbage container was on fire. I wasn't alone - plenty of pedestrians and cyclists were in the area. And as (unintentional) proof of how innocuous it was (and overblown in the media) - even in one of the photo published by one of the major newspapers in Denmark, Politiken, intended to show how crazy the situation, a young couple could be seen sauntering by the burning overturned garbage bin holding hands (apparently passing by on a evening walk). Yet if you heard or read the media coverage you'd imagine the street was ablaze half the night, and the situation out of control.
There is precisely one purpose that these fires are started (and cars are torched) - and that is to get the police to show up. It's basically the equivalent of seeing a frog and poking it with a stick to make it jump. The fun is knowing there will be reaction, and having the power to provoke it. Nothing more, nothing less - it's not about theft and violence, and it's not about the Muhammad cartoons though it is always easy to mention those in the same breath as the fires.
One also must understand that in the area of Nørrebro in which this typically happens (as is the situation in the rest of Copenhagen), the nature of the urban layout means it is a relatively simple exercise for the police to patrol and control - and maintain a heavy-handed handle on the situation (which also tends to provoke things further, it must be openly acknowledged).
They just place their vehicles along all the side streets, follow the herd of demonstrators ('rioters'), both in front and behind and that's about it. Yes, windows can potentially get smashed and garbage containers can be set alight, but nonetheless there's not really any place for the protester to run - anyone trying anything stupid tends to get picked up by police almost instantly. Being in the area when something is going down isn't much of an issue either - a short detour of about one street will generally allow you to steer clear around the whole situation, even at its worst. It's certainly not a war-zone.
And one last point about those 'torched' cars: if you ever park your car on Stengade, you're an idiot anyway - no sympathy from this quarter if it gets damaged or worse torched one day. Seriously, find a smarter place to park - choose another of the hundreds of other streets in the city, plenty of which are extremely close by...
And of course, all of this subsequently makes a nice story for the lazy international media to grab ahold of, but that doesn't make their portrayal any more accurate or realistic...