Women’s Strike Drew Close to a Quarter of Iceland’s Population

Arnarhóll hill women's strike 2023

Yesterday, a protest inspired by the 1975 Icelandic women’s strike took place in downtown Reykjavík. An officer with the Capital Area Police told Vísir that there had “never been such a crowd” gathered on Arnarhóll Hill and nearby streets.

The cause is just; the weather, fantastic

Yesterday, numerous women and non-binary persons in Iceland took the day off in order to participate in a demonstration inspired by the 1975 Icelandic women’s strike. The aim of the protest was twofold: eradicating gender-based violence and rectifying the undervaluation of so-called women’s professions.

Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, Chief Superintendent of the Capital Region Police – who has overseen many gatherings in downtown Reykjavik over the past decades – told Vísir yesterday that he had never seen such a crowd in central Reykjavík: “There has never been such a crowd around Arnarhóll Hill and in the nearby streets – not even on Culture Night,” Ásgeir Þór stated.

As noted by Vísir, it is difficult to estimate the exact size of yesterday’s crowd. The police, monitoring the proceedings at its control centre with the aid of cameras, speculated that the number of demonstrators might have reached a six-figure number.

“Probably around 70,000-100,000 people,” Ásgeir Þór told Vísir. “We expected a large turnout, but this exceeded all expectations. After all, the cause is just, and the weather was, of course, fantastic.”

Growing Violence in Downtown Reykjavík a Cause for Concern

capital area police, police

In an interview with the Kastljós news programme yesterday, an assistant chief superintendent with the capital area police expressed growing concern over increased violence in downtown Reykjavík. The threshold for the use of sharp weapons, he noted, appears to be lower among young men.

Recent incidents of violence

Following recent incidents of violence in downtown Reykjavík, Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, Assistant Chief Superintendent with the Capital Area Police, was interviewed for the news programme Kastljós on RÚV yesterday.

He began by confirming reports that some of the incidents – among them the apprehension and detainment of a man who had discharged a firearm in the Dubliner pub in downtown Reykjavík – were, in some way, related to the knife attack in Bankastræti Club nightclub last year.

When asked if these incidents were the results of a kind of gang war, Ásgeir stated the following: “Some of the cases are in the early stages of the investigation … but there are, as we’ve seen, groups in downtown Reykjavík, and beyond that area, that are fighting.” These groups are rather sizable, according to the police officer.

Ásgeir also stated that most of the individuals involved in the recent violent attacks were young men and that the police were worried about this trend. “Young people, mostly young men, and boys are increasingly fighting in larger groups and the threshold for employing sharp weapons has become quite low.”

“And is this a new trend? Is violence growing more extreme and increasing?” the interviewer inquired.

“Yes, over the past few years, violence has certainly increased,” Ásgeir responded. “It’s grown more extreme. The threshold for employing sharp weapons and even firearms has been lowered. And that’s a cause for concern.”

Altering conceptions of violence

Ásgeir also noted that the concept of “violence” appeared to have shifted among the youth. “We’ve had surveys where respondents are asked if they’ve ever been subject to violence, and the response is ‘No.’ But then there’s a follow-up question where interviewees are asked if they’ve been punched or put in a chokehold, and these same respondents reply ‘Yes.’ So the concept of violence appears to be somewhat distorted among young people.”

In reference to another interview with a law enforcement officer, Ásgeir was asked whether it was true that the atmosphere in downtown Reykjavík had changed. Ásgeir replied that the police have increasingly been forced to dispatch larger units when violent incidents involving sharp weapons are reported. “There has been increased training in order to meet these new circumstances, which began in 2014 or 2015 … but these are tools that we don’t want to use. We want peace in the city. We need to find a solution. And the only way to do that is to work with the youth.”

Ásgeir was also asked about the newly approved regulations authorising police officers to use electroshock weapons, that is, whether such weapons could prove effective in incidence involving sharp weapons. Ásgeir stated that the most extreme weapon in the officer’s belt, aside from the firearm, was the billy club. Which was why electroshock weapons were useful. “Electroshock weapons are classified in the same category as clubs,” Ásgeir noted.

Authorities Denounce Racist Symbols While Officer Rejects Accusation of Racism

police racist flag symbols

Government officials and police management’s response to a photo of a police officer wearing hate symbol patches underneath her uniform has been swift, condemning the flags and denouncing racism within the police force. The police officer in question, as well as the head of Reykjavík’s police union, reject accusations of racism. A photo showing the officer wearing flags and symbols with connotations of white supremacy and violence sparked public outcry.

Read More: Hate Symbols on Reykjavík Police Uniform Cause Public Outcry

Minister of Justice: racism isn’t widespread but incident will have repercussions

Minister for Justice Áslaug Arna Sigubjörnsdóttir stated on Twitter yesterday that hate symbols will not be tolerated within the police, not now nor ever, adding that education will be increased. She stated that police officers had the responsibility to not express hateful points of view through symbols, words, or gestures. “That’s now clearer than ever and everyone should know what these symbols mean. We will set a higher standard from now on.” The police officer has repeatedly told the media she had no idea that the symbols she wore had connotations of white supremacy and violence.

While Áslaug condemned the racist symbols, she told Vísir she doesn’t think racism is mainstream within the police. “This has maybe opened people’s eyes to what these symbols mean, what sort of message they send and what they mean for the people the police serves,” said Áslaug. “Of course I don’t believe racism is deeply rooted within the police here, but I do think we need to learn from this. We will always denounce every kind of hate symbol or discourse that will arise and we can learn from this, understand how different people view these symbols and what they mean,” Áslaug told Vísir.

Chief Superintendent broken-hearted

Chief Superintendent Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, says the symbols underneath the police officer’s uniform are not in compliance with the police’s policy to serve all inhabitants equally and with respect. “This is not the message we want to send,” he told mbl.is and added that the police regrets the incident.

He explained that patches like these have existed for a few years and that officers have worn them on their vests, which usually aren’t visible. Most wear symbols like their blood type, their children’s birth date or old ID number as regional officers. Later on, people started exchanging patches with each other and officers in other countries. He says he hasn’t seen patches like the ones in question before. “We’ve maybe slept on our guard with these patches,” says Ásgeir, adding that regulations clearly state that no patches or symbols can be visible on a police officer’s uniform.

Ásgeir stated that clear instructions were issued today, banning all such patches. He has stated that he feels miserable due to the incident, stating: “The photo sends all the absolutely wrong messages, because the police are trying their hardest to cultivate a relationship with these groups, and the [Vinland flag] is in the complete opposite direction. We take this very seriously and we’re kind of broken-hearted that this was the case,” Ásgeir told RÚV. He has received more images of officers wearing inappropriate patches. He admits that he didn’t recognise the green flag and had to look it up. “it’s horrible that this came up. And what’s so weird is that the photo is three years old, it’s been in the media several times. What’s worse is that no one pulled the reins earlier so that we could have responded sooner.”

MP takes up the issue in Parliament

Pirate Party MP Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir took the issue up in Parliament. She has requested that the Capital Area Police meet with Parliament’s Judicial Affairs and Education Committee to discuss racism within the police force and ways to combat it. In a speech, Þórhildur Sunna stated that one of the flags was a symbol of white supremacists and that for the US police, the Punisher logo stood for the police’s role a punishing force, those who take the law and punishments into their own hands and bypass the judicial system. The message was that the police’s only role was to punish citizens for their alleged offences, “but that can not be considered desirable in a society that wants to adhere to a policy of betterment and rule of law.”

She praised the Capital Area Police for their reaction but went on to say that the police officer’s statement that many officers wore the symbols and that she didn’t think they had any negative connotations suggested either a lack of education within the police on racism and violent symbols, “or that racism and violence are accepted within the police force. Both of which are unacceptable.”

Police officer and director of police union reject accusations of racism

Director of the Reykjavík Police Union Arinbjörn Snorrason was offended by the MP’s comments, even suggesting she resign. He told Vísir that police officers who wore the patches did so with good intentions and he never heard any racist messages. When asked if the Vinland flag wasn’t racist, he said it could well be. “I don’t wear these patches myself but I think it was all done with good intentions. […] I think originally, officers, or at least this one, I don’t know how widespread this is, wore them thinking it sent a message of support for a good cause, absolutely not because it was a sign of racism.”

Inspector Anita Rut Harðardóttir, the officer in the photo, does not like the discussion on alleged racism within the police force either, telling Vísir it’s unacceptable that people have called her a neo-Nazi and says she hasn’t received any negative messages from colleagues, only support. She has recently added a thin blue line to her profile picture on Facebook. Asked about the addition, she stated it’s simple, it’s to raise awareness of the thin blue line. “It’s not racist like people are saying but it’s a mark of solidarity within the police. Us who stand guard that society is good. That we do our job and that it is underappreciated.” She reiterates that she does not think the flags are bad. “I would never take part in the ugly game of carrying flags with such messages. That’s not what the police stands for. I don’t feel embarrassed about the flags. The Punisher flag, if that annoys people, I’ll take it down. It’s a cartoon figure and I didn’t think more about it. but calling me a neo-Nazi, that’s just sad.”

 

 

Rescue Teams Dispatched to Mt. Esja Following Avalanche

Esja Mountain Range

All available rescue teams in the Greater Reykjavík Area, along with other response parties, have been dispatched to Móskarðshnjúkar on the Esja mountain range following an avalanche, RÚV reports. Two individuals are believed to have been hiking on the mountain during the time of the avalanche, according to information from the Reykjavík Police. One man is believed to have been buried beneath the avalanche.

“We’re dispatching all available rescue parties,” Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson with the Reykjavík Police stated in an interview with RÚV.

According to Ásgeir, the Reykjavík Police is working to establish on-location control at the Esja mountain range. The Capital District Fire and Rescue Service has also been dispatched. “We’re also relying heavily on rescue teams,” Ásgeir added.

Davíð Már Bjarnason, public relations officer at ICE-SAR, stated that the avalanche had been relatively small, adding that it was not clear whether the avalanche fell close to hiking trails. The avalanche is believed to have fallen near Móskarðshnjúkar, the easternmost summits of the Esja mountain range.

A helicopter from the Icelandic Coast Guard has also been dispatched.

This article was updated at 2.16 pm.

The Esja mountain range is situated about 10 km north of Reykjavík. Esja is a popular recreation area for hikers and climbers.