By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Stockholm is burning, sparked by an incident of alleged police brutality twelve days ago. According to the brother-in-law of the deceased 69 year-old male victim, the man returned home when he was accosted by a gang of youths, who he threatened with knife. Later when police knocked on his apartment door, he mistook them for the gang and did not answer, prompting the police to break down the door. The police in turn thought the woman inside the apartment, the man’s wife, was in danger, and shot the man. Other reports indicate the man was still wielding the knife, and the police acted in self-defense. The man, a resident of the primarily immigrant-dominated Husby neighborhood, had emigrated to Sweden from Portugal 30 years ago and married his Finnish wife.
Since then, beginning Sunday evening five days ago, with the cry of “police brutality” the worst civil unrest in Sweden in modern times has erupted throughout the suburbs of Stockholm. Rioters have particularly taken to burning cars as a sign of their contempt for the police, and more than 300 cars have met a toasty end. A police station at one point was even set on fire, but the flames were quickly contained. On one night, more than 200 people threw rocks at police. On another night, firemen were called in to put out over 90 different blazes throughout the city. Furthermore, shop windows have been smashed, and several police officers have been injured.
Local media also reported, however, that police officers used racist slurs, like “monkey” and “pig” while controlling the unrest. Authorities say the claim is under investigation, although no formal reports of such an allegation have been filed.
Reza Al Bazi, 14, and his friend Sebastian Horniak, 15, said they witnessed the violence; Horniak said he saw police firing warning shots in the air and calling a woman a “monkey.” “I got upset yesterday because I saw police attack innocent people, they beat a woman with a baton,” he said.
A small number of arrests were made each night, although generally those arrested were not from the area in which the arrests took place, leading to an increased belief that the rioters are in fact a smaller group that travel about to cause trouble.
Husby resident Marianne Farede, 26, spoke out angrily against the rioters: “It’s idiotic. They’re ruining things for the people that live here. We’re the ones that suffer. It’s our cars that are getting burned, it’s our money. They’re just waiting for the smallest reason to take their frustration out on the police. I don’t know why they think police are their enemies? They aren’t their enemies. They’re doing their best to protect us.”
Although the death of the unnamed resident of Husby has been cited as the igniting force behind the riots, they represent a greater social tension. Over the last century, Sweden has seen a swell in immigration, especially since WWII, and although its economy has done relatively well in light of the global financial crisis, Sweden has also seen the fastest growing rate of inequality of any Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country over the past 25 years.
Although many immigrants (15% Swedish population) come to Sweden due to its generous refugee policy, they struggle to learn the language and find employment despite numerous government programs. For example, in Husby, where 80% of the 12,000 residents are immigrants, the overall unemployment rate was 8.8% in 2012, as compared to 3.3% in Stockholm as a whole. Furthermore, a total of 12% in Husby received social benefits last year, compared to only 3.6% on average in Stockholm.
Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag emphasized that the actions of the rioters are not representative of the majority of immigrant youth. “I’ve seen in the international media that this is a riot between young people in some parts of Stockholm and the society, but this is not true. It’s a small proportion. The majority of young people in Tensta, Husby, Rinkeby, they go to schools and they want to have opportunities in Sweden, and it’s important to tell that story,” he said.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt further stressed the need to end the violence and return control of the besieged neighborhoods to their residents. “This is not OK. We will not give in to violence. We must all help out to regain calm. The residents of Husby need to get their neighborhood back,” he said.
For further information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Rioters Continue to Battle Police in Sweden – 24 May 2013
Independent – Stockholm Burning: Riots Grip Surburbs as Violent Trouble Spreads – 23 May 2013
The Local – Minister: Stockholm Riots ‘Not Youth Versus Society’ – 23 May 2013
The Local – Stockholm Riots Spread South on Fourth Night – 23 May 2013
Al Jazeera – Sweden Riots Continue after Police Shooting – 22 May 2013
The Local – Stockholm Riots: a View from the Street in Husby – 22 May 2013