Saturday

21st May 2022

Opinion

Sweden's gang and gun violence sets politicians bickering

  • While by no means posh, Flemingsberg – the scene of this weekend's shooting – is home to several university campuses, as well as the Swedish Police Academy (Photo: Wikimedia)

There is an atmosphere is of shock and outrage in Sweden as the country tries to fathom news that two young children have been accidentally shot by unknown criminals - in an unassuming, middle-class suburb just outside Stockholm.

The sun was shining at around 8pm on Saturday (17 July) as inhabitants of Flemingsberg heard screams of "help!" and "police!" coming from a nearby bridge.

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A group of men seemingly involved in a tense stand-off had drawn their weapons. Two of the local children out playing and riding their bikes had been hit – a girl of five and a boy of six.

Bystanders interviewed by Swedish press tell of pools of blood left on the streets and traumatised children who witnessed their friends being shot (thankfully not fatally).

Sweden was described by The Economist as "exceptionally safe" in a November 2020 piece on the surge in gang crime, and while it's true that general crime rates are low, more and more civilians are falling prey to stray bullets and other forms of violence spilling over into the public sphere. A recent study shows that gun homicide has increased in Sweden as opposed to the rest of Europe, where it's been in decline for years.

This shooting in Flemingsberg bears similarities to an incident last August, when a 12-year-old girl was accidentally shot and killed by bullets meant for someone else. Three suspects connected to the crime were officially charged with aggravated weapons offences just a few days ago.

The young girl was killed in Botkyrka, a grittier part of the Stockholm suburbs with a history of riots and high crime rates. Swedish ultra-nationalists, always eager to exploit a tragedy for their own means, tried to claim that perhaps the girl was a junior criminal herself (not so – she was apparently out walking her dog).

Xenophobic attempts at victim-blaming are less likely as organised crime and the violence that inevitably follows creep further into white middle-class suburbs. While by no means posh, Flemingsberg – the scene of this weekend's shooting – is home to several university campuses, as well as the Swedish Police Academy.

So, the million-dollar (euro) question is: what to do, apart from condemn such actions unequivocally? Senior politicians from left to right are currently wasting time by trading insults on twitter. The lofty opinion page of the centre-left daily newspaper Aftonbladet suggests that a family's lack of summer cottage could be a factor in raising a future hell-raiser. The mind boggles.

A clue to the increasing violence can be found in recent investigative pieces in Swedish media about the decreasing age of gang members.

Today, many are as young as 12-13; a convenient recruitment age for criminal gangsters, as those under 15 years of age cannot be punished in Sweden.

'Woke' works

Ahead of next year's Swedish general election, politicians are taking the easy route by calling for tougher sentencing and more police. But a Svenska Dagbladet interview with Diamant Salihu, the author of a new exposé on Swedish gangs, reveal that anti-crime youth projects in the suburbs do have a tangible, positive effect – despite being seen as too soft or even "woke nonsense" by the country's political right.

Yet as soon as these short-term projects are over, the progress stops.

One of the many tools needed to put an end to the increasingly dangerous situation in Sweden must therefore be: Invest more time, money and effort in the segregated suburbs, and invest long-term.

Temporary projects will only yield temporary results – and risk breeding contempt and feelings of abandonment by the state, too.

Author bio

Lisa Bjurwald is a Stockholm-based journalist who specialises in international current affairs, political extremism, right-wing populism, terrorism, press freedom and women's issues.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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