Malmö and the construction of a non existent crisis

Coverage of Malmö, Sweden has been largely focused on crime and violence. Malmo police and residents of Malmo say media has it all wrong.

By Kalaisha Totty and Nick Tsirabidis

Malmö on the foreign news

On the 13th of March the Copenhagen Post published an article titled “Malmö gang violence could spill into Copenhagen.” claiming that following some 7 “gang” related shootings from the start of the year, there are concerns about violence spreading into the Danish capital, with a population of 707518 which is, along with Malmö, part of what’s called the Öresund Region; a transnational metropolitan area with a combined population of 3,8 million inhabitants, according to Ö a website dedicated to statistics about the region.

Malmö has been in the spotlight of media after heavily politicized remarks made from various sources about it’s crime and immigration problems, often relating these two issues directly. In February ex leader of the UKIP party Nigel Farage called Malmö “the rape capital of Europe.” BBC did a fact report on this allegation only to find out that there’s more to the truth than just the opinions. Furthermore, Malmö has been in the spotlight of tabloid newspapers who had a party with sensational and fearmongering headlines.

Lars Förstel, a spokesperson for the Malmö police referred to this kind of reports as “right wing exaggerations, part of a broader political agenda to link criminality with migration”. According to Swedish authorities, during the recent years and in light of the European migration crisis, Sweden has received approximately 424211 migrants, the majority of which were asylum applicants. But as Förstel notes, “the crimes that we deal with are in their majority not related to migration”. As to whether extremism– political or religious– is of any concern to the Swedish authorities, Förstel points that it’s so contained, it’s not even worth mentioning.

The truth on the streets of Malmö

In a small market in Lindängen, bakers, barbers and markets share a space in the community. We received a tip from locals on reddit to visit Lindängen. Also Malmö police told us Lindängen is one of their places of interests in relation to criminality.

We went into shops to speak with the owners and workers of these businesses. Although polite, they were either too busy to talk or didn’t live in this part of the city.

After failing to interview the people outside, we walked into a barbershop where the barber didn’t speak English but his client did. What he had to tell us provided the perspective of Lindängen residents.

“It would be best and safer for you to leave this part of town,” he told us. “The fact that you are journalists walking around with a camera makes you a target for some hostility,” he added. We were not to blame, it was fault of previous news coverage of Lindängen, he concluded.

He explained that the way media has portrayed Lindängen is false and has changed the trust the people have in the media. As Förstell told us, reality in Malmö is not hard enough for journalists so they tend to create it the way the want.

There is a huge distrust in news media. This goes in hand with what Förstell told us in an interview at the station.

Police in Malmö have a very active role, using a wide range of resources and ways to battle criminality both before and after it occurs. Nick Tsirabidis/ DMJX

“There are so many false rumors,” Förstell said. “Some of the ordinary media aren’t critical enough so they just take these rumors and bring them on. It’s like fake news.”

As mentioned before the Copenhagen post claimed there was fear of Malmö “gang violence” spreading to Copenhagen via the connection by the Øresund Bridge.

*See interactive infrographic

Förstell said it’s not really a gang situation. “There are around 200 people, young men, who are involved in criminality of different kinds and we have a problem in this area of Sweden.”

Förstell said the police have a very good eye on those involved using all kinds of police measures (ie. uniformed officers, undercover officers, video surveillance, etc.) They have contacts with social organizations and the communities to deal with these problems.

Malmö police are monitoring the neighborhoods and the particular individuals on a continuous basis, in hopes to contain any criminal activity. Förstell claimed the media often exaggerate situations to make it more dramatic than it is in reality.

“There are so many of the ordinary media who write about it or tell about it without thinking. There are no connections between what’s happening in Malmö and what’s happening in Copenhagen,” he concluded.

Danish National Police Communication Advisor Thömas Kristiansen was reached via phone for a comment. “We are keeping an eye to what happens in Sweden,” he said, adding that “ so far there’s no witnessing of anything.” When told about Malmö police’s response to avoid using the term gang violence, he was surprised but declined to make any further comment.