2 RESPONSES TO THE RIOTS IN SWEDEN
Pantrarna (The Panthers) and the sister organization Megafonen (The Megaphone) are two community activist groups based in Swedish suburbs. Pantrarna are based in Biskopsgården outside Göteborg and Megafonen in Husby outside Stockholm, where the last riots of the past few days began. Both groups work for social justice and improvement and investment of and in the suburbs, self-organizing homework help and youth centres, among other things. Lately Megafonen have been accused in the Swedish press for not taking a clearer stance and condemning the rioters. These two two texts appeared in the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.
Megafon in Husby: We don’t start any fires
We called a press conference to explain why our neighbourhood is in flames. We addressed the politicians, the police and the journalists. The media reports and calls on the government, the government calls for the police. The police calls on itself and multiplies its presence. We also called out to you, much earlier, but our calls fell on deaf ears.
The situation slips out of the hands of the police. The first night they send in more and more cops. It is symptomatic of the government’s policy. Control. Surveillance so that they never lose it. Though parts of society have already lost faith in society. The district is overflowing with police and reporters but the fires do not want to go out. More police are called in, the prime minister puts the blame on angry young men, and the conflict continues to escalate. More and more neighbourhoods burn.
It is tragic that public transportation, emergency services and police are attacked. Sad that cars burn, that homes and commercial buildings are damaged. We share the despair with everyone else witnessing the devastation in our own neighbourhoods. It is this desperation that forces us to look for structural explanations that attack the causes of this devastation.
Megafon does not start any fires. Why are journalists and politicians so interested in Megafon denouncing the rebellion? Young people are being demonised to prevent all of us from seeing the truth – because the truth will sting. The editorial pages and the police also demonise us in Megafon, saying that we are responsible for what is happening – because we didn’t keep silent.
We understand that it is uncomfortable, even depressing, to have to reflect on what is happening in Sweden today. It is even more difficult for the government, the police force, and the large portion of the media that is a part of the reason all this is happening.
From our side, we see a government whose answer to social problems is more police. We see police brutality and harassment in our neighbourhoods. We see verbal racist abuse, fists smashing faces, aggravated assault with batons. We see the police aiming their service weapons at youths and shouting: “I’ll shoot!”
We see a school system being “reformed” over and over again, where we, our friends, and our brothers and sisters struggle to cope in schools that lack resources. We see that they can send their children to other schools. We see housing policies that create housing shortages. The human right to a home tossed aside for luxury condominiums. We see our rent increase steeply on the pretext that our building is being renovated when only the façade has been repainted.
Now everyone is on the side of the suburbs and competing to propose solutions. Where were you before everything set off? We were here and arranged homework help, lectures and concerts. We fought for our community centres and homes. Now we continue to stand up for our neighbourhoods and our city.
They want us to take responsibility. We don’t own any newspapers and control any state authorities. We take our responsibility by starting dialogues with those in our neighbourhoods, by organising and creating escape routes for the young people who are constantly demonised. We are starting a collection for residents in our neighbourhoods who have had their cars burnt. We extended a helping hand. No one should have to live in despair.
We urge everyone in our district to organise for justice – then cars will not be burnt, stones will not be thrown. We will develop our work against police violence, we will continue to develop our educational programs, we will continue to build our community, take care of our neighbourhoods and show that there is a way forward for our districts.
An ankle bracelet alarm goes off every time we go against what is expected. We continue walking despite the ringing. We walk because we believe in it, even when the bracelet starts chaffing. Stig Dagerman wrote, “The shackle chooses the foot, we chose to wander.”
We take our responsibilities, will you take yours?
The Megafon through
Panthers Writing Group: To a Nation that Burns
We write first and foremost to our brothers and sisters in Megafon. Recently, we were talking on the phone and you had to stop mid-sentence to say: ‘Another car is burning, we have to go.”
You’re standing in the centre of the storm. Your world is burning. And we are writing to you to say that we know what you’re going through, and we admire how you have handled the events of recent days.
A few years ago cars burned on Bishopsgården. The police did whatever they wanted to do those nights, and when morning came, the politicians said whatever they wanted to say about us.
The charred wrecks, broken glass on the street – it all seems so easy to condemn from the outside. And that’s what is now required of you when you are trying to say something about the revolt: you can’t explain anything; you can only join in the chorus of condemnation, with the choir who says that it’s inexcusable to burn a car or smash a window. But whatever you say will never be enough. You will never be able to say and write enough times that which you have already clearly said and written: that you don’t think violence is the right method for changing society.
You’re doing the right thing by going on the news, the debate programs and online and insisting, time and time again, on why the city is burning rather than just condemning the youths. Those who only condemn an act without explaining it also condemn the feelings and experiences that give rise to the act.
To those seeing the events from outside…
…we write to ask: can you understand the hand that throws a rock at a police car? Can you try to understand?
Imagine being a child and being bullied for your accent and appearance. Imagine the exclusion you feel. The meaningless teachers sitting behind their desks earning their meaningless salaries. To be popular, you light up a cigarette when you start middle school. You find a group of friends you hang around with. You’re formed by what you see.
It’s hard to be strong when there are no role models around you. You may not have the best contact with your family. Maybe you lost your mother or father during the war in Iraq. Maybe you lost siblings during the war in Afghanistan or were damaged from the war in Palestine.
Throughout your teenage years nobody listened to you. You have no one to turn to. You are trying to rebuild you life but there are no jobs. You’re looking for work but Daniel Svensson got the job before you every fucking time. You lose hope and start looking for other routes. Some end up on the wrong path, others survive.
Many people say that you should struggle through this alone, but it’s not so easy. The pigs are hanging over your shoulder every day. The hope to survive disappears. There is weed all around you. Temptation makes your hands itch. Are you going to try or back off? Peer pressure increases, you will be pressured to do things you might never have done alone. It feels like there is no future. You stand there with a stone in your hand. You stand there with your life in your hand. Are you going to throw it?
Megafon, we believe that you are right in labelling this week’s events in your neighbourhood as a suburban revolt. We think that it is correct to point out that it is not just youth rioting or apolitical rioting, but precisely a rebellion, that is to say a reaction – as you write in your press release: ‘unemployment, poor schools, and structural racism are the underlying causes of what is happening today.’
When your courage falters, ask yourselves this question: if you didn’t exist, what would have happened this week? Maybe a pensioner would have been shot to death in a suburban apartment and no one would have cared. Maybe. There is one answer: that if you had not photographed the body bag that was carried out in the middle of the night, although the police claimed that the man had died in the hospital several hours earlier – then maybe no one would have cared, and everything would have continued as usual.
But it is right to care when someone dies. It is right to demand that the police do not lie to the media about a dead body.
You were right when you organised the rally that some accusatory voices are now calling the spark that lit the fire of revolt in the suburbs.
Ask yourself this: what connection does Hässelby or Fittja – which are also burning on these summer nights – to the man who was shot dead in an apartment in Husby? None perhaps. What connection does Megafon have to the dead? There is no friendship, no family connection. But there is a bond between all people. We mourn each other when we die. We stand in solidarity with each other. We live together in society.
We support you in every way. We know it feels impossible to remain where you are, in a place where you explain rather than condemn.
In Hammarkullen police horses sometimes stand in the square. In Bishopsgården cameras surveil the courtyards. In Frölunda tonight there are reports of disturbances – calls and text messages that whisper of the revolt spreading to Gothenburg, where we wrestle with the same problems as you do in Stockholm: the militarisation of the suburbs, police harassment, social deprivation.
Now it’s burning. And here we are, together. The Panthers and Megafon.
If we didn’t exist, who would take the responsibility to try to understand the shadows moving on our streets with stones in their hands? These shadows were born in Swedish hospitals and were registered with the Swedish tax authorities. They have gone to Swedish schools and hung out on Swedish playgrounds. These shadows want to work in this country, pay Swedish taxes, live and die here, but our prime minister can still turn them into foreigners by saying that their actions are the result of the existence of ‘cultural thresholds’. This, as you in Megafon know, is the only explanation he has presented for the suburban revolt: he says it is about angry, young men who must overcome certain cultural thresholds and make themselves part of Swedish society.
We can’t be bothered to point out how trite and racist that statement is.
The shadows move in the nation.
To all of Sweden’s politicians…
…we write instead the following:
You are elected. The people are all of us, together. Police abuse their power and see those of us who lack a uniform as scum. That’s why we call them pigs. Simple. We are sick of hearing those in power just say a few words that don’t mean anything at all. Do something instead of just talking. Do something good. Establish, for example, a separate agency that can investigate and oversee the police.
You still have the power in your hands, so do something to help the people who have elected you to sit there and pull hundred of thousands into your account. The shit salaries that teachers get make them lose hope, and so on. Cause and effect. If you insist on reducing every political issue to a police matter, we might as well start electing police officers instead of politicians.
Yet another part of society died in that apartment in Husby. That’s why it burns.
But you already know this.
Finally, to all the kids in the suburbs
All our brothers and sisters. Just be calm. The media will of course stop reporting when it has settled down in your neighbourhood. They will pack up and go home for the time being. They don’t want to hear your voices talking about police violence, bad schools, homes in need of renovation, closed-down youth centres, or about discrimination. They want to see burning cars and broken windows. So when the revolt is over this time, you must continue to report on your lives yourselves.
The media will smear your neighbourhoods and write inaccurate reports. Demand rectifications.
There is one thing we can learn. Our voices count. We must talk to each other even if no one else is listening.
The Sweden Democrats might get a few more votes, but never quiet down. We will not be silent, we will speak together. If they try to sew your mouth shut, your voices together will burst their stitches.
Our pockets are poor but our eyes are rich.
All power to the people.
Published in Aftonbladet, 5, 23 2013