From Iceland — What The Fuck Did I Ever Do To You?!?

What The Fuck Did I Ever Do To You?!?

Published February 6, 2009

What The Fuck Did I Ever Do To You?!?
On the eve of Monday January 19, I strolled the fifty meters or so that
separate my home from that of my friend (and former Grapevine editor)
Sveinn Birkir Björnsson. For quite some time we’ve had an evening
ritual of drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and shooting the breeze
after we’ve put our kids to bed.
That particular evening was the last of those, as Sveinn Birkir was
moving to Sweden the following day with his wife and three children.
He’d had enough. “I can’t stay here any longer – it seems as nobody
cares about the situation,” he told me. On my way home, I thought of
his words. I thought of how almost 100 days had passed since Iceland
had all but collapsed and no one had claimed any responsibility, no one
showed any signs of action.
Sveinn Birkir and his wife Vanda are young,
educated people. They are an asset to any country that wishes to have
them. Their children will be so too. But they can’t stay here. They
feel as if nothing is being done to ensure that justice prevails, let
alone make it possible for them to provide a living for their family.
This is saddening and this is expensive for a nation that needs people
like them.
The following day I arrived at Austurvöllur in front of the parliament
around one o’clock. A few protesters were already preparing for an
eventual pepper spray attack by the police.

The police had enclosed the parliament building with a yellow banner,
but it was soon apparent that no one was going to respect that – people
wanted to get closer. A minor scuffle ensued when the protestors tore
down the banner, but soon the police retreated up to the parliament

The noise was deafening as protesters shouted, banged drums, pots and
pans. I believe around 2.000 people were at Austurvöllur at that time,
and about 20 policemen. The mood was festive. Snowballs were hurled at
the parliament; the protesters were mainly there to make a noise.
Suddenly at 13:16, a large group broke away from the others and headed
to the west of the building, on their way to the garden in back.

The people knocked on the windows and continued into the garden at the back.
When the protestors had arrived into the garden and a corner where the
old parliament building and a recent glass addition meet, a few
policemen arrived. People were banging on the windows with their palms,
not trying to break the windows. The police were neutral, asking people
to stop banging on the windows, politely pushing them away. There was
excitement in the air, but not a hint of violence. People were there to
make noise loud enough for the MPs inside to hear. Someone threw dirt
at the windows.

A few MPs walked by inside, looking out through the glass walls.
Minister of transportation, Kristján Möller, smiled and laughed.

At 13:30, a police squad in full riot gear suddenly stormed into the
crowd. It was very crowded and the police arrived with some fanfare,
pushing people around. At least one protestor fell to ground. The crowd
got more agitated and angry.
The riot police took position by the house. By now, the mood was explosive.
Somebody set an orange smoke bomb on fire, which the police promptly removed.

At that time, around 13:50, I moved out of the garden and into the
“corridor” between the glass house and the wall encircling the garden.
The police stood at the end with shields and batons. Soon, they
directed people to back out and informed the crowd that pepper spray
would be employed. People put up their hands, turned away from the
police and started to back out. It went slow, it was extremely crowded
and the people in the back did not hear the directions from the police,
since the noise was deafening, everybody shouting and banging on pots
and pans.
A sizeable crowd of photographers stood on the wall to the right. And then the pepper spray came.
Finally, the police took up position at the end of the corridor.

People who had been sprayed sought help from paramedics and other protesters, armed with milk, to clean away the pepper spray.
A few protesters were at that time gathering inside the parliament
garden. Somebody told me that arrests had been made, and that those
arrested were detained in the corner area that the police had just
cleared. I climbed upon the garden wall and took two pictures before a
police officer instructed me to step down.
I moved closer into the garden, staying near the wall. I shot one photo
of a riot-geared policeman having trouble securing the pouch that holds his gas mask.
I stood by the wall and took photos of the police and the arrested protesters. The wall is at least 40 cm higher than me.
A cameraman from local newspaper Morgunblaðið stood upon the wall and
filmed. Some words were exchanged through the fence between protesters
and police, but I had no way of hearing through the noise. A female
police officer threatened to use pepper spray, and walked back between
the wall and the house.

Suddenly she grabs her can of pepper spray and walks towards the wall without saying a word.
She reaches over the fence and sprays.
She walks back and puts her spray back in her belt.
A few moments later, she takes it out again and sprays the people to my right.
As this is going on, I am on the phone with my father. I have the phone
in my left hand and the camera in my right. My father asks me if I’ve
been sprayed. At that time, I turn to the fence and take a photograph
of the female officer. She sees it, takes a few steps in my direction
and sprays me with her pepper spray.

I put the camera in front of my face and shout: “What the fuck did I
ever do to you?!?” It was the first and only thing I spoke to this
officer that day. It was an involuntary reaction to the situation; I
didn’t really expect an answer. Most of the pepper spray landed on my
camera, drenching it. Some of it was on my glasses and some of it in my
mouth. It burned and burned. I stepped away and tried to clean the
camera with my jacket, cursing, mad as hell.
I’m not sure when the vernacular in Iceland changed from speaking about
a police officer as a “lögregluþjónn”, which literally means police
servant, to “lögreglumaður”, which means police man. It’s a hint to how
the public sees the police and also to how the police see their work
and their place in society. On that day, as any other day of the
protests against the situation in Iceland, the police have stated that
their main objective is to make sure that everyone is safe, not least
the protesters themselves. I cannot see how the actions of that
particular ‘policeman’ were in any way aimed at protecting my, or her,
Today I do not trust the police. And I’m angry. This is an unbearable
situation, both for me and for the police. This trust cannot be
regained unless those that misuse their power take responsibility. For
that reason I will press charges against this police officer. For that
the fuck did I ever to do her?

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!