Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Night in the cells

Music from the party, before the police raided/

Monday 14th December, 2009

Throughout the week, the autonomous community of Christiania has been host to a large marquee laying on food and providing entertainment and workshops for activists. On Monday night a party was thrown for activists after a massive participatory panel discussion (more on that later).

After Naomi Klein and the panel finished the tent was transformed into a mini-rave with musical equipment rolled out and a giant screen erected on stage. Hundreds of people stayed behind and the music started bouncing out of the soundsystem, accompanied by visuals of street protests, riots, cops and oil rigs. At first the crowd was quiet and thin but as the locally brewed beer started flowing and the musician started with the percussion the vibe picked up and the atmosphere was electric, with more people joining in as the night went on.

Close to 11pm, the music - some gypsy-ska-punk-beats crazy stuff - suddenly cut out and somebody appeared on stage with a mic. They announced that riots had broken out in the streets nearby and police were using tear gas but that people were safe in Christiania, which was a kind of sanctuary. People didn't seem too alarmed despite the unmistakeable smell of tear gas seeping into the tent. The guy on stage said we should carry on dancing and the DJ started the music again. If anything, people rallied around the fact shit was kicking off outside and partied harder.

The smell of tear gas kept creeping in and out, getting stronger each time. We could hear the police helicopter outside and occasional explosions. The DJ was giving us updates every so often, reminding us all of the after party which happened to be at a venue slap bang in the middle of the riots. It was like tuning in to some kind of fucked up pirate radio station in the belly of deepest, darkest London.

I ventured outside to the toilets, risking the tear gas which can really irritate contact lenses. As I headed back inside a red projectile fizzed over a wall spewing grey smoke and landed yards away from the tent. I looked around - all I could see was party goers. The only things they held in their hands were bottles of beer. Inside, the dancefloor was noticeably quieter and I suggested to Raph, one of the legal observers I was with and Alex, another camper, that we try and get out of dodge. It was obvious the police weren't content with tackling rioters, they wanted us too.

We dived through the fire exit on the other side of the tent and climbed up a tree covered dyke to get a view of the enclave. The helicopter was right above us now and its spotlight was sweeping across Christiania. On the other side of the dyke lay the water. Christiania is roughly in the middle of a triangular-shaped island, its only exits, the bridges, were to the south, in the direction of the riots. As we poured over a map and tried to figure an escape route another gas grenade exploded nearby and Italian voices on the path along the dyke screamed at us to move, that the police were coming in.

We ran along the top of the dyke and decided to go down, back into Christiania again. Wisps of tear gas were hanging in the air, stinging the back of the throat but not so strongly that it made breathing difficult. Crowds of people were walking in different directions but there was little sense of urgency or even panic. Then out of nowhere cries of "hak, hak, hak!" drifted through the darkness and the silhouettes of riot cops running towards us appeared in the dim light of the square to our right. All hell broke loose and people started running into the next little street, by the Woodstock bar. Somebody shouted "Don't run, don't panic" and people calmed down. The police ran straight past us and ignored us. We poked our heads around another corner and another squad of cops charged at us, but they too ignored us.

At this point we were in a kind of square. On two parallel sides were the ex-military barracks turned into accomodation. In the middle was the hut that comprised the Woodstock bar and on the third side was a line of shops. Along this little street was another square, where most of the drug pushers sell their goods. This is where the police were currently standing, flashing lights in our direction but apparently not bothered by our presence. The shadows filled with more police bodies and as we questioned why they may have raided the peaceful freetown the police charged at us again. This time they came from all directions, swarming around us. Faced with rushing cops brandishing batons Alex and I got close to the wall of the Woodstock bar, as did most others. The police forced us right up to the wall, threatening us with a beating if we didn't comply, which everybody did, bar one mouth from the door of the bar.

The time was now midnight and for nearly forty minutes we sat against the wall. To my left the police threw a couple of black clad Italians to the ground, shouting at them to get down before slapping on the plasticuffs. Not far away I could hear the piercing screams of a girl in distress, punctuated by the occasional "fuck you!". She was thrown to the ground next to me too and soon stopped screaming. Minutes later these people were hauled up and led away. Somebody inside the bar started blasting out "Fuck the Police" by NWA. All the time, photographers ambled around, flashes popping in the pitch black night. I was glad for their presence, especially as the cop in front of me kept stroking her pistol.

After one hench motherfucker of a copper shined a flashlight in each of our faces we picked up and lead to nearby picnic tables and searched individually. I asked why I was being searched:

"You will be told at the first available opportunity."

"But I want to know, now!"

"I can't tell you."

And with that, the cop told me to wear my backpack on my chest and then strapped the plasticuffs on me, pulling them tight so they dug into my skin. Then I was lead around the corner and dropped to the floor, where I had to sit with my legs apart so others could sit up tight to me. I felt somebody sit behind me, his back resting against mine. His fingers gripped mine and I turned my head. "Italiano?" he said. English, I replied. We both sighed. Cops walked up and down counting us in what sounded like German. We sat here, on the cold hard ground for about half an hour in three single file lines. I was losing track of time. Everybody around me was speaking Italian. I looked for a familiar face but couldn't see one. God knows where Raph had gone.

Eventually, we were picked up one by one and led away through Christiania towards the exit. As we were picked up a policewoman with a video camera filmed our faces. We were paraded by a dozen different photographes and cameramen, past a smoldering fire close to the entrance and onto the streets. Police vans were everywhere and foam was running through the gutters. I was manhandled past a waiting police coach and thrown to the ground again and put in another line. I spotted one cop with his helmet off taking photos of us with a little digital camera. Many more were gloating, smiling and laughing amongst themselves. This time mats were provided but minutes later we were picked up and put on the coach. All the girls were put at the back, the guys near the front. Again, everybody seemed to be Italian.

The coach set off down the deserted streets which were lined with meatwagons and at the intersection with the main road, two riot vans parted to let us through. I looked out of the window and people lined the streets, shouting at the bus and raising a fist of solidarity.

We were sped across to the other side of the city with the sirens wailing and lights flashing. At the detention centre the bus waited for nearly half an hour outside before we were taken off individually and led inside, onto benches in two marked areas set aside for males and females. Every now and then the Italians sang a little chant. The only ones I understood were "liberte", "Freedom" and "toilet".

It was now two hours since we were lined up against the wall and still we hadn't been told why we were detained. One by one the police picked us up, led us through a doorway and into a hallway with about fifteen desks, each staffed by a couple of cops wearing gloves. Behind these desks stood plain clothes officers, watching things carefully. My plasticuffs, much to my relief, were finally cut off and I was told to remove my bag, jacket, shoes and belt and everything was piled in to a plastic box by my feet. I was handed a piece of paper explaining why I was here, under what powers and what my rights were. Basically, I had none. I was here because I may have been involved in public disorder, that was it.

I was were guided through another doorway into the holding centre. This was a large room full of cages, in turn full of detainees. There is no other way to describe it then as it being like a dog rescue centre full of kennels. After being allowed to the toilet I was put in a cage with eight other guys - Italians and Danes - and given a blanket and rollmat. I was kept until just after 5am when they released nearly all of us, gave me back my stuff and put us back on a coach. Then we were driven to the nearest train station - they refused to tell us where we going - and dropped off, in the middle of nowhere as far I was concerned. But we were free, after five hours of detention for fuck knows why, I was free again. Now I just had to figure out how to get home...


  1. You should have made more resistance. Next time in prison, start a bloody riot!!!

  2. Nicely written! First sentence of last paragraph says 'was were', but anyway nice job.

  3. here's one of the italians.... singing 'shame' 'ci avete rotto il cazzo' (little cursing at them...) and of course reclaiming the toilet (we were drinking beer at woodstock when we got cought...)
    ciao :-)