Hartmut Dudde was as good as his word. The chief in charge of the police operation at the Hamburg G-20, with some 15,000 officers at his disposal, had promised a rigorous approach to criminal demonstrators during the summit – and his men certainly delivered that on Thursday evening against the “Welcome to Hell” demo.
An escalation was virtually pre-ordained – from both sides. The organizers told the police in advance that the demo would remain peaceful as long as officers ignored the odd mask or firework. The fact that that it was impossible for the police to meet this condition seemed of no concern to them.
For their part, the police deployed such a massive force to surround the demo’s starting point at Hamburg’s Fischmarkt square that it was almost impossible to count the number of water cannon and reinforcement units stationed in the surrounding streets.
Masks against a martial force
Many G-20 protesters saw the massive police presence as a sign that officials didn’t want the march to go ahead at all. The much-feared “black bloc” of leftist radicals appeared remarkably restrained at first – apart from the forbidden masks many were wearing. There were no fireworks, no flares.
But police blocked the black bloc-led march after only a few hundred meters along Hafenstrasse, which runs along the Elbe River. Many of the 10,000 demonstrators were still at the Fischmarkt, waiting to begin walking.
The police were within their rights to demand that demonstrators take off any face coverings before the march would be allowed to continue. And many did in fact follow the instruction – but not all, at which point it became clear that a lot of people had come to riot, as the rest of the evening and Friday morning showed.
But at that moment, shortly before 8 p.m. on Thursday evening, the radical leftists almost seemed willing to compromise. Not a single masked face could be seen at the front of the march. That could have been the moment when the police let the demo pass – even though not all the faces had been uncovered.
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