Six

Six murders.

That’s how many occurred in the Swedish city of Göteborg last year. Moreover, there were fifty reported instances of people firing shots last year. For the Swedish people, Göteborg has come to symbolize the sort of rampant gang violence you get when you have an economically distressed immigrant population that remains un-integrated into mainstream life, a community with no access to jobs and all the benefits those jobs provide—the first and foremost of which is simply keeping occupied, keeping you away from boredom. That’s a large part of why people turn to drugs: the need of stimulation, of something different happening to you. If Sherlock Holmes didn’t have a challenging case before him, then up with the cocaine! Most of us lesser mortals just need a 9–5 to keep us out of trouble.

But I want to repeat something—six murders.

The Swedish investigative series Uppdrag granskning recently aired a report on the Göteborg crime spree. Sincere Swedish journalists traveled down to Biskopsgården in Göteborg and talked with immigrants about living with so much terror. Children who are the descendants of immigrants talked about how their parents fled violence and poverty, seeking a better life in Sweden, but that they themselves did not feel Swedish—they had been ignored, left to rot in these slums, these areas that one young girl called a krigzon, a warzone. Oh, the cops, they are so earnest, and they try, but they just can’t fathom why it is that when a young, blonde woman in uniform shows up to enquire about reports of shots fired, all these folks, these black and brown people, claim not to have heard anything.

So it’s like any other big city we’re familiar with. But that number still stands out—six murders.

The scandal of violence in Göteborg has hit such a fever pitch that the city police have been forced to call in reinforcements. The Swedish police system isn’t like ours, with our sheriffs all kings of their petty domains. A Swedish cop is a national employee. He can be stationed anywhere, just like folks in the military. And if a city needs backup, reinforcements, then they can draw from the whole country. And that’s what Göteborg did. Just check out this chart to see all the violence they’ve had to deal with. Meanwhile, the politicos are debating how to handle this outbreak. People in suits are giving speeches about the necessity of providing jobs, of better integrating immigrants into the mainstream of Swedish society, or perhaps increasing the amount of time violent criminals should be held in prison.

One last time—all because of six murders.

Or as Bill Hicks said about England, “You don’t have crime like we have crime.”

Göteborg has about 550,000 inhabitants. The closest city in my area that is comparable is Memphis, Tennessee, which has about 676,000. So if Memphis had a murder rate comparable to Göteborg, we could reasonably expect seven victims of deadly violence, correct? However, the murder rate for Memphis last year was more along the lines of 180, though that falls to approximately 140 if you discount all those cases ruled justifiable homicide.

(If you really want to feel that Scandinavia is mocking you, just read this story which details the first ever case in Iceland in which police shot a man dead. Not the first case last year, but the first case ever in the whole nation since it achieved independence. All of Iceland practically went into mourning over it.)

Just imagine what it would be like if six murders in a major metropolitan area was enough to stoke a national conversation about violence and about the sense of helplessness experienced by the lower classes. Just imagine living in a nation where six murders provoked sadness throughout the country, rather than a run on home alarms and ammunition. Just imagine a media culture that does not treat violence as something inherent to people of a certain background but rather as a national failing.

No, I’m not saying that Sweden is perfect–far from it. They have their own resurgent right-wing movements and a great deal of anti-immigrant rhetoric floating about. But even that rhetoric stems from these same six murders.

Instead, we live in a country where fear is normalized, where we practically expect to be the victims of crime somehow, somewhere–a country where we are just as likely to blame the victim (should not have been in that part of town at night) as we are the victimizer. We take our own experience as standard for the human strain, rather like how someone who has had some chronic pain from childhood just believes that all people must live this way. But we are sick. We are broken. And we don’t have to live this way.

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