Published July 19, 2013


A couple of weekends ago, a police officer was filmed having an altercation with a drunken woman in downtown Reykjavík. This video, once posted online, spread among Icelandic internet users like a clip of a cat licking an ice cream cone and sneezing. Shot from above, the video shows an extremely inebriated woman who has fallen down in the middle of the shopping street Laugavegur, right in front of a police van. She gets up and tries to stagger away, while the van edges closer to her, eventually clipping her with the side view mirror and car door. She goes to the driver side window and may either spit on the police car, or get spat on by police.
At least it’s spittle, the least gross of all the bodily fluids. What happens next, does the officer restrain her?
Not so much restrain her as drag her by her arm and throw her into the nearest bench, specifically the metal armrest of said bench. Then he sat on her while another officer handcuffed her before throwing her into the back of the van. At best this looked like grossly unprofessional behaviour, at worst an attempt to cause grievous bodily harm. This came as a great surprise to most as—unlike in many other countries where police are generally viewed with suspicion—Icelanders generally hold theirs in high regard.
Icelanders are finally learning the lesson NWA preached all these years ago.
The Icelandic police have come by their reputation honestly. If it can be said that they have had an image problem, it is that they were considered too damn nice. The last time an Icelandic police officer went viral, it was a photo of an officer who was teaching some skater kids how to do a proper ollie.
An important police skill, especially in these straitened economic times; you never know when they’ll have to exchange their squad cars for skateboards.
The best example of the high esteem most Icelanders generally hold their police force in can be seen during the “Pots and Pans Revolution,” which followed in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, when opinion of the Icelandic state and its symbols was at an all time low. When rocks were thrown at the parliament building, which was surrounded by police, protesters formed a guard around the police, to dissuade any further rock throwing. So this video came as quite a shock.
Like that time a police officer tazered me in my wibbly wobblies for looking at him funny?
Maybe not quite that much of a shock. Though this caused widespread outrage in Icelandic society, there have been some who defended it, most notably a number of police officers. Snorri Magnússon, the head of the Police Federation of Iceland, defended the officer in the video by saying that everything had been done according to procedure, it was just “unfortunate that this bench had been on Laugavegur, and thus the incident looked bad.”
Next they’ll be saying it was the bench that hit her.
Funnily enough that is almost what police officer Gísli Jökull Gíslason said in an opinion piece in the newspaper Fréttablaðið entitled “Faultless Arrest.” He says that the method of arrest used was “not without flaw in so far as the woman bumped into a bench, but that everything else was done by the book.” Which is a bit like saying after a plane crash that everything went according to plan except for the engine catching fire.
They should’ve arrested the bench.
Among the people who have criticized the arrest are judo instructor and former policeman Jón Óðinn Waage, who said that “those who think these are proper procedures should not work for the police.” Another Jón who is also a martial arts instructor and former policeman, Jón Viðar Arnþórsson, also criticised the procedure.
You know how the old saying goes, those who can’t do, teach, those who can’t teach, teach martial arts and are former policemen named Jón.
I am pretty sure that is not an old saying. The police officer in the video has been suspended from duty while his conduct is reviewed, and the woman is reportedly suing for damages. Though the public was shocked, it is unlikely that Icelanders will lose confidence in their police force as it is routinely among the institutions most trusted by Icelanders according to surveys. How much Icelanders trust benches has not been researched.

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