G20 Hamburg - the police build-up
The G20 was the biggest police buildup Hamburg has ever seen. 23.000 riot police from all over Germany and numerous anti-terror squads from Germany and Austria were also on scene. Around 45 high tech water- cannons , armoured police SUVs as well as dozens of helicopters and patrol boats were also deployed. In Hamburg-Harburg a detention center for 400 people was erected at costs of about 3 Million Euro.
Weeks before the summit police conducted training with helicopters, road-blocks and anti-terror practice. During the summit-week police, beside establishing the red zone near the summit center, also installed a blue zone as a demonstration and gathering free area that stretched out about one thirds of the city area and covered 38km².
In many ways the police build-up was exceptional in a dense populated City like Hamburg. The lessons learnt after the Genua G20 riots in 2001 in summit policing did not much apply in Hamburg. Instead Hamburg minister of the interior proclaimed a “festival of democracy” and a police acting with low threshold of intervention.
The Hamburg police tactic can for sure be described as “zero tolerance”. Order was given for a hardline approach, preventing any breach of law promptly. This lead to a series of confrontations and feelings of besiegement among protesters and citizens of Hamburg - all in advance of the actual summit-riots. Weeks before the summit people all around the city were stopped and strip-searched, because “they looked suspicious”. Days before the summit, protest- camps, in some cases legally approved by courts, were blocked and disturbed by the police. For days police helicopters were hoovering above the city day and night. Main streets were blocked for “convoy-practise” and during the summit deliveries of goods and services were significantly disturbed.
During the summit-protests, police stuck to their hardline approach, leading to a significant escalation at the “welcome to hell” demonstration on Thursday the 6th, when police stopped and broke up the demonstration, before any physical violence occurred on side of the protesters.
From this point on, Hamburg saw 3 days of massive peaceful protests, as well as significant rioting and looting, which lead to the deployment of special forces (SEK) with hand held grenade launchers and assault rifles against rioters on the night of the 7th and 8th of July.
Police claims about 500 injured policemen, half of them probably due to friendly teargas fire, exhaustion and illness, others through injuries on duty and in riot. Many police had insufficient accommodation and many were on duty for 3 days without sleep.
There are no official numbers of injured protesters so far, but it is estimated that it must be more than a thousand, some with life threatening conditions, many broken limbs and head- injuries.
The question wether police could have prevented the worst is now widely discussed. Also in question is the fact that riots in the Schanzenviertel could spread for hours without any police present on Friday night. Also no police was on the scene when a group of hundred marched through the City of Altona burning cars and smashing shops on Friday morning. People of Hamburg are asking why 23.000 police were not able to prevent what was happening and why the police was conducting violence on peaceful protesters too.
The Hamburg Senate coalition of Social-Democrats and Green Party, so far, see no evidence of a failed police- tactic nor any evidence of police violence. It will be to the civil rights movements to investigate.
The promised “Festival of Democracy” and the safety of the citizens of Hamburg was a joke. The police failed to prevent mass riots and failed to handle the situation in many cases. The costs of all this is not just a money issue, but also an issue of basic democratic rights, that have been suspended for the safety of 20 world leaders.
Around 100.000 peaceful protesters on more than 80 events, were basically not represented in the public view. Instead police and media reports, in most cases, only focused on the riots.