A car on fire in the Stockholm suburb of Husby. Photo published on Google+ by Salah Moallin.
For the past five nights, hundreds of young people have rioted in the suburbs of Stockholm, torching cars and clashing with police. Our Observer, who lives in Husby, the low-income suburb where the riots first broke out, thinks the root of the violence is the local youths' sense of social exclusion.
It appears the violence first broke out in response to the police’s killing of a 69-year-old Husby resident, who they say was threatening his wife and wielding a machete. This incidents prompted accusations of police brutality, which led to protests in the suburb on Wednesday, followed by riots.
Since then, the violence has spread to other suburbs both north and south of the capital. In addition to burning cars, rioters have attacked stores, schools, an arts and crafts centre, and a police station.
“I understand why many people who live in these suburbs … are worried, upset...” Sweden’s Justice Minister, Beatrice Ask, said Wednesday. “Social exclusion is a very serious cause of many problems, we understand that.”
For decades, the Swedish government gave out generous welfare benefits, but since the 1990s, it has been cutting back on these. This has given rise to a rapid growth in inequality. Sweden has also struggled to resolve its long-term unemployment rate, which has hit the country’s sizeable immigrant population the hardest. The majority of Husby’s population is made up of first and second-generation immigrants and asylum-seekers, mainly from Turkey, Lebanon, Somalia, and Syria.
Riots spread to the suburb of Edsburg on Wednesday. Video courtesy of Jonas Santos Hansson.
“A lot of people here believe that the police never would have shot this man had this occurred in a wealthier area”
Arne Johansson volunteers as the coordinator of Järvas Framtid, a local organisation fighting for social justice in Stockholm’s suburbs. He has lived in Husby since 1976.
The 69-year-old man’s killing was just the tipping point. An explosive situation has been building up for over 15 years, due to social cuts and a widening class divide.Young people here are unhappy for many reasons. First, Husby has a high degree of youth unemployment. [It stands at 6 percent, twice the overall average in the capital]. With welfare cuts and rising housing prices, their prospects are bleak. They are also poorly educated, because the public schools here are failing. Overall, Sweden is not educating its children as well as it used to [the country’s OECD education rankings have recently slipped], but schools in poorer areas like Husby are especially struggling.A car on fire in Husby on May 19. Video courtesy of Salah Moallin.They also feel discriminated against by the authorities. There’s a general discontent in Husby with the police. They drive by in vans and rarely ever get out and walk in the street. What we really want is a local police force that would take the time to get to know the community they’re supposed to serve and build relationships with people. So a lot of people in Husby believe that the police never would have shot the 69-year-old man to death, in his own house, had such an incident occurred in another, wealthier area. I have also heard many people say that when the riots first started, the police called local residents “apes” and other racial epithets, making things worse. [Editor's Note: This has not been confirmed.]“Husby residents expressed anger both at the police’s handling of the riots and at the rioters themselves”Still, despite all the underlying tensions, it was very shocking to see vandalism happening on this scale in our neighbourhood, which is usually calm compared to other Stockholm suburbs with similarly high unemployment and large immigrant populations. I saw young people set fire to cars while the police tried to stop them and local residents rushed to try to drive their cars out of the street, even though the police had blocked the way. It looked like a war zone.Older residents like myself have been trying to stay out in the streets at night to discourage the violence. Local organisations also held a big meeting on Wednesday in which residents expressed anger both at the police’s handling of the riots and at the rioters themselves. After all, it’s absurd to protest by burning your own community.