If you live in Denmark or follow the Danish media, you’ll know there’s been a lot of talk of gangsters over the past week. One Danish gang is trying to expand at the expense of another gang, and this summer there have been about 25 shootings in Copenhagen, generally in the northern neighborhoods – my neighborhood.
Somebody was shot outside my supermarket, somebody else was shot outside the school near my house, and a couple of people have been shot just walking down the street.
Most of the victims are other gangsters, but a few have been unlucky civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time. All have been young men, and the Copenhagen police went so far as to suggest that young men stop wearing knit hats. Knit hats can be a gang sign.
I should point out that this summer in Denmark has been so cold that wearing a knit hat in August can actually seem like a good idea.
Not set up for crime
At any rate, at night long there are sirens and police helicopters hovering over my neighborhood keeping people awake. There’s been talk of getting the Danish military involved. And the cops have also instituted what’s called a “visitation zone” in my neighborhood. That means they can stop and search anybody without specific warrant or cause.
But I’ve seen very few cops on the street.
Denmark doesn’t have that many cops. It’s really not set up for gang warfare. It’s not set up for crime. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t have room to put the gangsters in jail if it wanted to. Denmark is set up for trust.
So, the question is, what you do when some people aren’t interested in participating in that trust?
Oh these poor poor Danish gangsters
Usually this would be the part of the story where we say that these poor guys had no other opportunities and they were sadly forced into gang life. But this is Denmark, where job training and education is tax-financed, so gang members could technically get free training in whatever non-gang job they were interested in.
In fact, one of the supposed gang leaders told a reporter that he was a trained metalworker. Metalworkers in Denmark make about 300,000 DKK a year. (That’s 43,000 USD, or 40,000 EUR). But the guy said he didn’t want to be a metalworker. He thought being a gang leader was more exciting.
I don’t know the answer, and Danish politicians certainly don’t know the answer. Some talk about legalizing hashish, because illegal hashish sales finance the gangs. The right-wing politicians say what they always say, which is Get the Foreigners Out!. Many, although not all, of the gangsters are Muslim Danes, and in previous rounds of gang violence Muslim religious leaders have had a hand in sorting things out.
What really bugs me is people who say it doesn’t really matter. Look at the statistics, they say. Denmark is one of the safest countries in the world. Don’t worry.
That may be true, but it’s a little bit like attending your grandmother’s funeral and meeting someone who says, Look at the statistics. Most grannies are still alive. Don’t worry.
Like most things in life, if it’s happening to you, it’s worth worrying about.
“Taking out the trash”
I also hear people saying, “Ah, it’s only gangsters shooting each other. It doesn’t matter. They’re just taking out the trash.”
I don’t like that. First of all, even if they’re gangsters, they’re somebody’s child, somebody’s friend, somebody’s partner. No human being is trash.
And second, bullets don’t work that way. Once they’re out of the gun, they can hit anybody. One poor African guy got hit just walking down the street – he had no connection to any gangs.
Another family found a random bullet in their couch. It had gone through the living room window. Fortunately, nobody had been sitting on the couch at the time.
Flashbacks of New York City
I have a personal perspective on this, because I used to live in New York City during the high-crime days. In those days you used to have to take crime into account in anything you did. You’d plot which street you were going to walk down, and what time of day you could go out. Is it safe?
Copenhagen didn’t use to be like that, and it shouldn’t be.
Everyone should be able to walk where they want, when they want to, and wear what they want to. Even, in the middle of August, wear a knit hat.
Hear the podcast version of this story in the full podcast Danish gangsters: Night-time helicopters and the risks of a knit cap in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.
Photo credit: Birte Melchior, via Creative Commons. Rockers in Sydhavn, circa 1960.