Copenhagen: Police State (Meidell Vs. Doctorow)

This morning saw a rather interesting discussion between my friend and colleague Brian Meidell and esteemed Boing Boing co-editor, Cory Doctorow. The debate is whether Denmark has turned in to a police state, spurned by the world-wide reports of police violence and human rights violations. With permission from Brian, here’s a transcript:

brianmeidell: @doctorow (Re: I’m disappointed – I thought you were smarter than buying into such a ridiculous load of crap.

doctorow: @brianmeidell If by “ridiculous load of crap” you mean “being offended by gross human right abuses” prepare to be disappointed further

doctorow: @brianmeidell And if you mean the indisputable fact of anthropogenic climate change, be prepared to be grossly disappointed

brianmeidell: @doctorow I mean the wildly overblown “brutal new Copenhagen police-state” demagoguery

brianmeidell: @doctorow On the climate change, I am with you 🙂

doctorow: @brianmeidell Kettling thousands of demonstrators in <0 weather for hours without charge until they pissed themselves isn’t police state?

brianmeidell: @doctorow No, it’s the police doing the best they can on a scale they’ve never dealt with before, trying to avoid a repeat of “Ungdomshuset”

doctorow: @brianmeidell Cop15 was announced yrs ago. If the best cops can come up with is “freeze motionless and risk hypothermia” they’re not trying

brianmeidell: @doctorow I didn’t say they weren’t incompetent, but there’s a far cry from that to a brutal malignant police state.

doctorow: @brianmeidell Gross negligence is no excuse for gross, mass-scale human rights abuses.

doctorow: @brianmeidell The Iranian cops could say the same thing: “we beat up everyone because we lack the resources to figure out who to beat up”

brianmeidell: @doctorow Yeah, Denmark is right up there with Iran. I’ll let it rest, but I thought you were capable of more nuance than that.

doctorow: @brianmeidell I’m sure nuance was a great comfort to peaceful protestors who were abused by the thousand. No toilets, but lots of nuance.

doctorow: @brianmeidell What’s a matter, kid, are you freezing because the policeman won’t let you move? Here, have some nuance. It’ll keep you warm.

doctorow: @brianmeidell Don’t worry, it’s not abusive and totalitarian when *we* do it. We’re nice, civilized northern Europeans.

doctorow: @brianmeidell That scalp wound will heal quickly, because we only use nuanced batons to beat protestors in Denmark.

brianmeidell: @doctorow So if pissed pants make all of Denmark evil and totalitarian, what does burning cars and vandalism make the protest movement?

doctorow: @brianmeidell Broken arms, broken bodies, human rights abuses of the innocent majority are not justified by vandalism of the few

doctorow: @brianmeidell It is the mark of a totalitarian state to punish the innocent to get at the guilty

doctorow: @brianmeidell The Geneva Conventions ban collective punishment as an inexcusable and great evil

doctorow: @brianmeidell Forcing people to soil themselves as a form of punishment is also prohibited by conventions banning torture.

brianmeidell: @doctorow So you are incapable of allowing for mistakes being made? People pissing themselves _must_ be intentional and malicious?

doctorow: @brianmeidell Extrajudicial physical punishment by the police for crimes against property is not the hallmark of a free and just society

brianmeidell: @doctorow Protesters burning shit is “of the few”, but a single hair bent on a single protester automatically makes a brutal police state.

brianmeidell: @doctorow You seem to think that the police are perfect and robotic, rather than people capable of fucking up as well as anyone.

brianmeidell: @doctorow People freezing and pissing themselves is most likely a product of poor administration and logistics problems, rather than malice.

brianmeidell: @doctorow If someone did something inordinately stupid, malignant or incompetent, they will probably be punished for it.

doctorow: @brianmeidell You seem to believe that the responsibilities of the state are the same as the responsibilities of the citizenry. They aren’t.

doctorow: @brianmeidell This was the largest climate demonstration in the history of the world. There were small, isolated incidents of vandalism.

doctorow: @brianmeidell Danish police responded by punishing all. Failure in exercise of the state’s monopoly on coercive violence is brutality.

doctorow: @brianmeidell Negligence or abuse in the use of force by law enforcement officers is inexcusable.

brianmeidell: @doctorow Yeah, unlike the previous demonstrations were the police weren’t prepared, and half the city was torched and smashed.

doctorow: @brianmeidell So clearly they learned nothing, as they went into this demonstration unprepared. Gross negligence is malice.

doctorow: @brianmeidell “Some other people, years ago, committed a crime, so we will beat the shit out of you.” That’s fair all right.

brianmeidell: @doctorow Because police violence was just so widespread and rampant. I had to paddle through the rivers of blood to get to work.

brianmeidell: @doctorow And please take that statement and bend it to “so SOME police violent is ok”, like a good demagogue.

doctorow: @brianmeidell “Demagogue,” huh? I thought you were capable of more nuance than that.

doctorow: @brianmeidell I’m not the one apologizing for gross human rights abuses on the grounds that it could be worse.

brianmeidell: @doctorow I’m not apologizing for anything – that would require I even accepted your premise of gross human rights abuses.

Point of note: Brian lives in Denmark and works in Copenhagen and I partook in the up-to-100.000-strong peaceful demonstration Doctorow apparently never heard of (pics here). Pity that a few members of Never Trust A Cop can steal all the limelight.

18 thoughts on “Copenhagen: Police State (Meidell Vs. Doctorow)”

  1. Transcripted this mornings heated #cop15 debate between @brianmeidell and @doctorow:

  2. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the gentlest opening from me, but I was somewhat shocked that Cory, who I generally hold in high esteem, was propagating such context-less, black-and-white propaganda-like statements about our little piss-ant country being a brutal police state.
    I never pass up a chance to knock Denmark for it’s faults, but try as I might, I can’t see the accusation of being a totalitarian police-state as anything but ridiculous.

    1. While I (yet) disagree with the use of the word police state, I think the poster remake is brilliant. I don’t think anyone expects that the new poster truly represents Copenhagen, but the contrast reflects the shift that has happened here in the past 10- 15 years. I’m often amazed that Denmark and Dansk Folkeparti (who provide parliamentary support to the ruling government) aren’t viewed as Austria and FPÖ. I’ve had nightmares of a Denmark that I didn’t want to live in.

    2. Yeah, I like the poster as well. It’s clever, well-made and it address the shift in the public’s perception of the police over the last decade or so, well.

  3. I’ll say as I said the other day when they linked to this, that it looks like a lack of contextual awareness. Cory just has no idea what the history of Copenhagen is vs what the history of Iran is. Judging from his kneejerk comments anyway, where he doesn’t show any kind of reflection or knowledge on the area (you know, if he’d mentioned Lømmel-pakken, at least you’d know he’d done his homework).
    That’s one thing

    The other is this absurd abuse of the term ‘Police State’. Copenhagen is a police state because of this one incident? Wow. Doesn’t take a lot to make a good country go bad, huh? I guess if you’re not concerned with history and context, it’s easier to judge based on a single data point.
    But worst of all is the devaluation of the term itself. If one isolated event in what can surely be considered to have happened under extreme circumstances, constitutes enough evidence to create a police state from what was only a few meager years ago considered the happiest country in the world, my question is: What do we call actual police states?

    Police State: A police state is a country in which the government controls people’s freedom by means of the police, especially secret police. (source)

    Let’s be absolutely clear about this. I do not condone what happened to those protesters during the climate demo. It was a mistake. And guess what, the police have said as much. And guess what else? There’s an investigation, as you’re reading this, into how and why it happened and who’s to blame. Because that’s how a democracy works. Mistakes are made and from those we learn and draw consequences. If this were a police state, what would happen after the ‘mistake’? Nothing.

    Yes, a country could slowly turn into a police state without its general population noticing. It’s happened before. But turning to extremist polarizing statements isn’t just stupid, it’s ignorant. A kind of ignorance that is as dangerous as ignorance to the fact that one’s country is turning into a police state.
    I met Cory a couple of years ago, right here in Copenhagen actually. He seemed like a bright and nice guy. Passionate even. I was quite taken with his passion. But passion is also blinding, and when you start throwing around powerful and dangerous terms like ‘police state’, you’d better know what the hell you’re talking about and have the evidence to back up your statements, if you don’t want to look like a damn fool.

    PS: I also commented on this somewhat misleading blog entry the other day, which Boing Boing also linked to, without any kind of insightful comment.

    1. Michael, while probably only a few people condone what has happened, the problem is that most people generally accept and support ‘Lømmelpakken’ (the ‘Thug Package’), which gives police some of these rights.

      Even worse, Lømmelpakken represses people from demonstrating because it is so unclear when they do something unlawful. That is shit scary and a direct threat to the democracy.

    2. Joen says:


      While I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said overall, I would like to add that I had absolutely no problem demonstrating the 12th december. I took a plethora of photos, and you’ll notice tonnes of kids and elderly among the rest of us. It was a folksy blast, and I loved it. I didn’t even notice the police at all.

      Trust me, if I felt my right to demonstrate was in any way in danger, I’d be screaming to high heavens.

      1. Joen:
        Trust me, if I felt my right to demonstrate was in any way in danger, I’d be screaming to high heavens.

        Start screaming, mate. 😉
        Seriously, police handing out flyers at high schools recommending that students don’t demonstrate is walking a very thin line.


        1. I don’t know if that even qualifies for me raising my voice above normal volume. Some people see police state (and consequently devalue the term IMHO); others see the police trying to make sure kids don’t get caught in any potential nastiness.

          Others may end up somewhere inbetween.

          Regardless, if you start screaming about _that,_ you’re a drama queen 🙂

        2. Joen says:

          Nikolaj Nyholm: Start screaming, mate. 😉
          Seriously, police handing out flyers at high schools recommending that students don’t demonstrate is walking a very thin line.

          Am I eating crazy pills? Is this Bizarroworld? Up is down, north is yeast?

          Were you there? Were you at the demo?

          I was there, and if there really was a 100.000 of us, then 99.000 of us …
          – didn’t notice the police
          – didn’t worry about the police
          – didn’t worry at all

          Please. Scan me that flyer. Show it to me. “Don’t demonstrate” is a freakin’ far cry from “don’t bring your gasmask to the demo”. I want to read the wording. Because I really, honestly, truly, don’t worry one freakin’ bit about demonstrating.

          Iran, on the other hand. Now that’s where you can talk about a police state.

    3. Nikolaj, I agree. Lømmelpakken and the general position of Dansk Folkeparti is a stain on Denmark and show a worrying tendency both in the political system as well as in the mindset of the population.

      But a) that’s not what a police state is and b) Cory has no clue what I’m talking about :).

  4. What an appalling hyperbole from Cory Doctorow. His comments devalue human rights.

    Good on Brian for standing up to him!

  5. Anyone else feel like it’s pretty out of character for Cory, or have I just been blind to these kinds of things from him before?

    I don’t recall ever seeing something from him where I thought he was completely off his rocker before this.

  6. Yeah, it does seem pretty out of character. But then maybe it’s just because we’ve got some insight into this particular matter vis-á-vis living here.

  7. Imagine how much other stuff we’re getting a completely warped view on.

    1. Dorte Toft says:

      Isn’t this just the story about fame rising to a persons head, making him believe, that because he was good at seeing one thing, he is clearsigtet on everything. Forgetting the doubt we all must have, when it comes to sources and the motives of sources.

    2. Whether do to my own warping of the truth through the self-delusional idea of me knowing more about a subject or whether it’s because I actually _do_ know more, I find most newspaper articles on subjects I’m familiar with to be faulty.

      Not odd, considering that newspapers, and I guess Boing Boing/Cory, find themselves forced to cover more ground than they’re really capable of.

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