According to the police, on Saturday the 18th of October, a 43-year-old man decided to take the law into his own hands and drive through Copenhagen on a mission to find his son's stolen scooter. Around midnight he spotted two kids riding the aforementioned scooter and proceeded to chase them from Tagensvej down through Superkilen park, right next to Copenhagen's most infamous ghetto, Mjølnerparken. This much is confirmed, but the details of the story start to differ from there on out, depending on whom you ask.
What we do know is this; the van drove across the park’s bicycle lane, hitting the two 16-year olds with a force of about 80-90 kilometers an hour. According to the police, the scooter flew 33 meters through the air, along with the passengers. One was badly injured and rushed to intensive care, while the other, 16 year old Mahmoud Hussein, was killed. During court proceedings, the driver stated that he was only trying to scare the boys, claiming “I wouldn't kill someone over a 3.500 kroner scooter."
As of now, the police are attempting to charge the driver with involuntary manslaughter, even though several eye witness reports point towards his actions being deliberate. In the community around Mjølnerparken, this decision has not been taken lightly. On the exact spot that Mahmoud took his last breath, there's a constant flow of people lighting candles and dropping off flowers. We talked to some young guys who witnessed the incident, but wanted to remain anonymous.
“This was no accident. This was murder. The scooter was standing completely still. He just drove the van into them,” one witness told us.
Like many in the area, he doesn’t believe that the driver just wanted to give the kids a scare.
“If you just want to scare someone, why do you drive straight into them at 100 kilometers an hour when they’re on a bike path?”
He also criticized the police, saying that they didn't react accordingly.
“The police didn't do anything. I was there - I restarted his heart twice. I did that. They didn't do anything.”
Locals laying flowers as a memorial.
Inside Mjølnerparken's maze-like pathways, we ran into Mahmoud's cousin, Ismael. He was sitting at a garden table, visibly upset and chain-smoking cigarettes with some friends, all of whom had grown up with Mahmoud Hussein. They had all been hanging out on the night Mahmoud was killed. The scooter, Ismael admitted, was stolen, but he denies that Mahmoud was the one who stole it.
“Mahmoud didn't do a lot of stuff like that. You know, stuff like stealing. We were three guys, but we only had one scooter so we called a friend to borrow his. That was the stolen scooter, but Mahmoud didn't steal it; he didn't even know it was stolen.”
He took his iPhone out of his pocket and showed me pictures of Mahmoud laughing with his friends just days before his death. It turned out that Ismael had arrived at the scene minutes after the incident. He tried to get information from the police, and had even told the officers, that it was his cousin laying on the pavement. But they had just brushed the boys aside. None of them have yet been offered crisis counseling.
Both Ismael and Mahmoud were part of a large group of kids that grew up together in the notorious area.
“He never caught a break. Not in school, not from the police. He never had a chance. He was a good kid and now he's dead. He had just turned 16 this September. We used to be 11 kids, now we're 10.”
We left the boys in the courtyard. Down the street, we came upon two young guys fixing up a black BMW. They didn't know Ismael very well they told us, but were aware of what happened that Saturday. Like everybody else we had spoken to, they were angry that the driver was only charged with involuntary manslaughter, though they weren't entirely surprised.
“People here don't know how to work the system. If it had been a blue-eyed, blond boy from a nice neighborhood, a guy like you, then the driver would go to jail for murder. But it's not. It's a 16-year-old Palestinian boy from Mjølnerparken called Mahmoud.”
After the driver hit the two boys, he allegedly got out of the car and swore at them in Arabic. A fight occurred and threats were exchanged. The word on the street in Mjølnerparken is that the man's family has already fled their nearby home.
“The police want us to do their job for them. They want us to take care of it. But it's a good thing that they’ve fled. I don't think his family can show themselves in Nørrebro again,” a guy in a thick winter jacket told me as we stood right by Mahmoud's memorial site, where people continued to congregate.
Ismael and his friend were standing around. Watching the community come together in mourning, we were reminded of something he'd said while we were sitting in the courtyard a couple of hours earlier.
“This is not supposed to happen in Denmark. This guy murdered my friend. He went vigilante and killed him. And then what? He will get two years in prison, get out and go on with his life. But Mahmoud is dead. That shouldn't happen here. This isn't Lebanon. This is Denmark.”