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Tension following removal of Malmö mosque activists

Tempers flared in Malmö on Monday morning as riot police used dogs to clear three protesters out of a basement office which has served as a mosque for more than a 15 years, but had been ordered closed back on November 24th.

Tension following removal of Malmö mosque activists

“The removal took place calmly. There were three people, ages sixteen to eighteen, when we came and all three have been taken in for questioning,” said Skåne police spokesperson Mikael Persson to the TT news agency.

But outside the building, a crowd had gathered to voice their frustration over the closing and the police decision to forcefully remove the protesters.

Basem Mahmoud, a spokesperson for the svensk-jordanska vänskapsföreningen (‘Swedish-Jordanian Friendship Association), felt that the police had broken an agreement and shown a lack of respect for the mosque by entering the premises wearing shoes and with dogs in tow.

“I fear that this may lead to unrest,” he told TT.

The three young people were taken by police on suspicions of trespassing.

The space had been used by the Islamiska kulturföreningen (‘Islamic Cultural Association’) and other organizations for the past 15 years, until the group was informed last summer that its lease would not be renewed.

Representatives from the group felt the move was discriminatory, while city officials and representatives from the building management company, Contentus, claimed the decision was part of an effort to transform a nearby park and the adjoining office space for new uses.

“Why do they have to take our space?” Mahmoud asked the Sydsvenskan newspaper back in August when plans were announced.

“The city and Contentus can easily find another locations, they have the whole of Malmö to choose from.”

The space is scheduled to house classes organized jointly by city housing officials, police, and housing companies to instruct newly arrived immigrants about their rights and responsibilities as tenants in Swedish rental apartments.

“The classes will benefit the entire area, not only members of the cultural association,” local council member Ilmar Reepalu told Sydsvenskan at the time.

After being emptied on November 24th, the space was immediately occupied by a group of young people who vowed to guard the location around the clock until a better solution could be found.

However, the leadership of the Islamic Cultural Association made it clear at the time they did not want the group to be associated with the protesters.

The matter was reported last week to police, setting the stage for Monday’s police action.

SHOOTINGS

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success

The US criminologist behind the anti-gang strategy designed to reduce the number of shootings and explosions in Malmö has credited the city and its police for the "utterly pragmatic, very professional, very focused" way they have put his ideas into practice.

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success
Johan Nilsson/TT

In an online seminar with Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said implementing his Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy had gone extremely smoothly in the city.

“What really stands out about the Malmö experience is contrary to most of the places we work,” he said. “They made their own assessment of their situation on the ground, they looked at the intervention logic, they decided it made sense, and then, in a very rapid, focused and business-like fashion, they figured out how to do the work.”

He said that this contrasted with police and other authorities in most cities who attempt to implement the strategy, who tend to end up “dragging their feet”, “having huge amounts of political infighting”, and coming up with reasons why their city is too different from other cities where the strategy has been a success.

Malmö’s Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

“We think it’s a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had,” Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020.

A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of shootings from 2017 to 2020. Graph: Malmö Police
A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of explosions in the city between 2017 and 2020. Graph: Malmö Police

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In their second evaluation of the programme, published last month, Anna-Karin Ivert, Caroline Mellgren, and Karin Svanberg, three criminologists from Malmö University, reported that violent crime had declined significantly since the program came into force, and said that it was possible that the Sluta Skjut program was partly responsible, although it was difficult to judge exactly to what extent. 

The number of shootings had already started to decline before the scheme was launched, and in November 2019, Sweden’s national police launched Operation Rimfrost, a six-month crackdown on gang crime, which saw Malmö police reinforced by officers from across Sweden.

But Kennedy said he had “very little sympathy” for criminologists critical of the police’s decision to launch such a massive operation at the same time as Sluta Skjut, making it near impossible to evaluate the programme.

“Evaluation is there to improve public policy, public policy is not there to provide the basis for for sophisticated evaluation methodology,” he argued.

“When people with jobs to do, feel that they need to do things in the name of public safety, they should follow their professional, legal and moral judgement. Not doing something to save lives, because it’s going to create evaluation issues, I think, is simply privileging social science in a way that it doesn’t deserve.”

US criminologist David Kennedy partaking in the meeting. Photo: Richard Orange

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called ‘call-ins’, in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö’s ‘defector’ programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

“What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn’t come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life,” he said.

“Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent.”

“We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one’s life around. That’s not realistic in practice. Most of us don’t change that dramatically ever in our lives.”

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

“We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects – literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will.”

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