The US embassy in Denmark recently advised that due to "an increase in gun violence in the areas of Nørrebro, Ishøj, and Hundige", people in the areas should "keep a low profile", "do not physically resist any robbery attempt" and "use caution when walking or driving at night". Pictured: The Metro station in Copenhagen's Nørrebro neighborhood. (Image source: Arc1977/Wikimedia Commons)
On September 24, the US embassy in Denmark published a security alert. It warned US citizens in Copenhagen that:
"The Danish National Police urge individuals living in or visiting the areas of Nørrebro, Ishøj, and Hundige to exercise heightened awareness at all times due to a recent increase in gun violence. Copenhagen Police have instituted a stop-and-search zone in a large area covering Nørrebro. The ordinance – which will run through September 30 – allows police officers to stop and search anyone within the area without cause".
The alert also encouraged US citizens to "keep a low profile", "do not physically resist any robbery attempt" and "use caution when walking or driving at night".
Police in Copenhagen eventually decided to extend the stop and search ordinance in parts of Copenhagen until October 14.
The police have confirmed that the numerous shootings, one of them lethal, are connected to rivalries between two criminal gangs, "Brothas" and "NNV". The situation is beginning to resemble that of Sweden, where shootings and bombings have become commonplace. In late August, in Denmark, a residential building in Greve, a suburb of Copenhagen, was targeted. A bomb with the approximate explosive force of a hand grenade was detonated at the entrance to the building. In June, also in Greve, a man was shot; and in April, several cars were blown up.
In 2017, when shootings in Copenhagen grew more frequent as the conflict intensified between the two gangs, "Brothas" and "Loyal to Familia" (the latter has since been prohibited by Danish authorities), statistics published by the daily Berlingske Tidende showed that 30% of the gang members involved had foreign passports.
"These numbers underline, first of all, that we are talking about a problem that has to do with ethnicity. The argument that this has nothing to do with foreigners has to be taken off the table," said the legal affairs spokesperson for the Social Democrats, Trine Bramsen, at the time.
"In addition to a common fondness for crime, the culture of immigrant gangs is a cocktail of religion, clan affiliation, honor, shame and brotherhood," wrote Danish Conservative Party MP Naser Khader, who is also a co-founder of the Muslim reform movement .
"They also distinguish themselves from the rockers [predominantly ethnically Danish biker gangs, Ed.] by an incredibly strong cruelty. The harder and the more brutal [you are], the stronger you are, and then you create awareness of yourself and attract more [people]".
The flare-up in gang violence has also led to what appears to be a new trend in Denmark: Carjackings at gunpoint. The Danish police confirm that there have been at least three armed carjackings in the conflict between the Brothas and NNV gangs. In one incident, two people were threatened with guns to get out of their cars and leave them.
As in Sweden, car-torchings have also become commonplace. In the first nine months of 2019, according to the Danish police, there were 648 car torchings, the highest number in the past four years.
Nørrebro, where 17.6 % of the inhabitants were non-Western immigrants and their descendants in 2018, has some of the most serious problems, and is where many of the criminal gangs originate. In July 2019, Mathilde Graversen of the daily Berlingske Tidende visited a small neighborhood in the area, where, according to locals with whom she spoke, just 20-25 local boys and young men of ethnic minority background, between the ages of 12 and 20, are causing all the problems. Describing the measures some residents take for personal security, she wrote:
"It has become a habit to use the back door instead of the front door [to their apartment building]. They pass a fence into the garden... and go through the basement up to their apartment. In this way, they avoid having to pass a group of boys and young men, who often hang out in front of the building. Other residents periodically give up using their bedroom. They blow up an air mattress every night and sleep in the living room because the group of boys and young men listen to loud music, shout and occasionally knock on the windows to the [residents'] bedrooms at night. Others say that they have friends who dare not visit them in the evening".
In September, Christian Lunøe, who lives with his children in Nørrebro, wrote an op-ed in Berlingske Tidende, in which he described his intention to move away from there.
"Last Sunday it became so dangerous at my house that I can no longer defend living [in Nørrebro] with my children," Lunøe wrote. He added that he had been out for an evening walk with his children when they encountered a group of boys and young men "with an aggressive and confrontational attitude". When he and his children passed the group on the street, the group "explodes in a... brawl, with two out of the five pulling a knife".
Lunøe described how there has been, "a spread of gang crime and associated groups of admirers, right down to the age of ten. Children who are left to the street and themselves. Young people with knives and threatening behavior". When he called the police, they told him, "We know it's bad out there, but we have no patrol cars to send."
"It is clear," Lunøe wrote, "that young criminals must be punished and weapons removed from the streets, and it is clear that there can be no denying that in my street, boys and young men with ethnic minority backgrounds make up 100 % of both the gangs and their aspirants..."
Lunøe is not the first person wanting to move away from Nørrebro because of the problems there. After his op-ed, the historian and columnist Niels Jespersen wrote, "I also left Nørrebro, because I couldn't stand the gangs". More importantly, Jespersen asked in his op-ed, "how many Danes, who do not have... access to [write] an op-ed in Berlingske, not to mention the resources to move away, have been exposed to the same things [as Lunøe] over the decades?"
"[T]he price for the failed integration [of immigrants] is [paid] by those with the least resources. It is the schools and neighborhoods of the working classes that are destroyed, while it is rare that the well-educated and progressive middle classes meet other immigrants than those who are equally well-educated and progressive".
People with the means to move, such as Lunøe, will take their children and run to safer areas. What will happen to the many people who are unable to do so and have no choice but to stay in the crosshairs of the shootings, the knives and the car-torchings?
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.