Husby Riots
 

Husby Riots

A while ago I wrote an article about Rosengård, the site of riots a couple of years ago. Two things have happened since then:

  1. People have actually read the page.

  2. We've had riots up here in Stockholm, too. In particular in Husby, where I grew up.

Let me start with my point. If you remember nothing more from this article, then remember this: 50 people rioted, 12,000 didn't. Build your counter-strategy based on the 12,000, not the 50.

1. Events

In order to understand what was going on we have to start on May 13, 2013. While there hasn't been a complete investigation into the issue, at the time of writing people agree on the following: Police stormed an apartment in Husby and fatally shot a man who was wielding a machete and who had been wielding it in a threatening manner before. In the apartment at the time was his wife.

What isn't agreed upon is what this means. Lately I had been helping kids with homework in Vällingby / Hässelby on a volunteer basis. That help was organized by an organization called Megafonen[1]. They had their minds made up: It was murder, and the police is but an instrument of violence whose purpose is to oppress the people of Husby.

As I wrote in Flowers for Oslo, every organization has their bunch of violent extremists. What matters is what we do with them, and anything except actively fight them is the wrong thing to do. Calling "murder" and in general promoting hostility against the police and justice system is something I consider active encouragement. We may not always like the police, and I'm certainly not going to call them flawless, even though they've been nice to me all my life, but as a system it has proven better than anything else.

It certainly beats "might makes right", which is what you get when a bunch of violent lunatics get together to change society.

As a member of two of Megafonen's groups on Facebook, I argued against the hostile tone, but that fell on deaf ears. They asked me to join a demonstration. I asked what they would be demonstrating for. I got the answer "a better society". I called that a non-answer and asked what the signs and banners would say. I got no answer.

This should have been a big red flag for me: A political group with a militant tone that can't explain what they want.

But nothing happened. The demonstration was held (without me) and from the photos I saw, they had neither banners nor signs. I assumed that was the end of that issue, and while suspicious, I had not yet severed my ties with Megafonen.

1.1. Riots

May 19

I first became aware of the riots when I was sent a link to a newspaper web article about rioting in Husby. I clicked around a bit, and found this:

"Chaos in Husby. Hatehatehateeeeee police pigs until the day I die. Mark my words until the day I diiiiiiie" - Taken from https://twitter.com/​BanaBisrat/​status/​336220898283634688[a], now deleted.

It was with a heavy heart that I saw that a leading member of Megafonen was screaming out her hate against the police. This is not what I consider responsible. I looked at her Twitter feed and saw this:

You don't have to be a Ph.D. in anthropology or psychology to realize that this situation was escalating and that it will be percieved as a threat by the police. So what were the people doing there? "Wanting to talk to the police" was the explanation I heard. This is what it sounds like when people from Megafonen talks to the police:

This is our home, gawat.

Megafonen[b]

The only translation for gawat I've found is this:

If you are unfamiliar with vulgar British English, you'll have to look it up yourself. In short then, people looking for trouble found it. Then I saw tweets about police beating people up, chasing them and God knows what. Finally I thought that I had to see for myself, because I kne this would be a topic on the homework helping the next day. I know how a little scuffle turns into an apocalyptic battle through the social media channels, and I wasn't about to be beaten with a "you weren't there!".

So I hopped on the subway and went to Husby.

As expected, the damage was minimal. I found this overturned trashcan, though:

2013-05-20 01:21

Husby, Husby Riots

Going toward the south subway entrance and the scene of the rioting I passed a few police officers that stood guard and I noticed this unharmed computer store:

2013-05-20 01:24

Husby, Husby Riots

Here I took a detour further south, overlooking the riot scene and proceeding toward the garage at Bergengatan. I didn't want to run into a misunderstanding since nobody involved in the riots have any idea what a nice guy I am. At the garage, smoke was coming out and explosions could be heard from the inside. I would have taken a photo, but this wasn't the time to start messing around with my slow as molasses mobile phone camera.

Having seen the south side, I crossed over to the north side of Norgegatan. A burnt-out car was being extinguished:

2013-05-20 01:32

Husby, Husby Riots

I proceeded north west to the bus stop at Stavangergatan - only to have to sprint to another bus stop since due to traffic being diverted on account of the violence.

As I ran around I was involved in a back-and-forth with Megafonen on Facebook. In summary: we did not agree.

At this point I thought it was all over. A big fight with the police, an overturned trashcan, some broken windows and what I thought was a burnt trash storage room. As it turned out, the garage had been totally burnt out with 60-80 cars meeting a fiery end.

But worst of it all was this: It wasn't over.

1.2. Not Over

May 20 and 21

Monday morning I severed all ties with Megafonen. I realized that their moral compass is spinning freely and the values they uphold would, had I followed them, have destroyed me. I just can't be associated with people like that.

Late Tuesday night I saw on Svenska Dagbladet's home page that Husby Gård was burning, but they didn't say which buildings. First I thought it was the art gallery, then the main building, then everything. I went on to Twitter, trying to find something. The search returned two tweets about the fire and I sent a question to the author of the first. She confirmed that only one building was on fire, and that it wasn't the main building.

1.3. Reaction

May 22

By Wednesday it was obvious to everyone that we had a big problem here, but it had also gone on for long enough that civil society had started to organize itself. I noticed that an acquaintance was going to a demonstration in Husby. Having seen my share of demonstrations that, while initially about peace and good things really are covers for much more nasty standpoints, I was initially sceptical. But the whole things seemed legit, and I decided to go.

What Husby normally looks like. The only thing missing is a photo of my ice cream.

2013-05-22 19:32

Husby, Husby Riots

I started by going to Husby Gård, to inspect the damage from last night's fire. Turned out the workshops of the local hobbyist association were destroyed, but nothing more.

The demonstration went well. We simply walked from one of the subway entrances to the other, and that was it.

2013-05-22 21:20

Husby, Husby Riots

2013-05-22 21:46

Husby, Husby Riots

2013-05-22 21:51

Husby, Husby Riots

2013-05-22 21:56

Husby, Husby Riots

I took a walk around the north end of Husby with a friend, before setting off to Kista to join a "nightwalk" group - adults, parents mostly, that just walk around town as a calming influence. Any group. I figured some should be out and I would just tag along.

As it were, finding them was hard. I had tried on email and on Twitter, but couldn't get a hold of anyone. Finally I got a tweet that they would assemble at Husby Gård, so I headed back there. On my way there I got a Tweet from Aleks Sakala[c], who is the organizer of the night walks, but told him I'd join up with the people in Husby. Once I got there I found out that they had all left for Hjulsta, as the situation was much worse there.

I spent the night going little solo rounds through Husby, and tried to get a hold of Aleks. On one of these loops I ran into him, and I followed them for a little bit. Then I went home for the night.

2013-05-22 23:53

Husby, Husby Riots

The damage was minimal. This bus stop (and the one on the other side of the road) were smashed, but they are both on the outskirts of Husby where nobody goes.

2013-05-23 02:34

Husby, Husby Riots

1.4. Endurance

May 23

The next day I went to Fryshuset and picked up some more vests. While walking to the assembly spot I saw dark smoke rising above Rinkeby. Obviously this wasn't going to end quickly, but then again, who thought it would?

2013-05-23 20:22

Kista
Stockholm, Sweden

Husby Riots, Kista

The evening in Kista started out fine, and I hoped for it to remain that way. It didn't. We started by walking a round through northern Kista and up through southern Husby. On our way we encountered a group of young men by two cars. While initially friendly, one of them turned hostile and the others tried to calm him down - with some success. We moved on.

Besides this little event, the evening was very calm. But don't take my word for it: There was a guy who ran around with not one, but two Nikon D800 cameras. They are 25,000 SEK (~4000 USD) each, and that's just for the body. Then he had a 70-200 lens on one of them. That's another 15,000 SEK (~2500 USD). I don't know what lens was on the second camera, but as you can see, the journalists who proclaim this to be a war zone are comfortable running around with 10,000 USD worth of gear. On their own. Draw your own conclusions.

While taking a coffee break at Ärvinge gård, we received a call that we should go to Nidarosgatan. We did. As we approached, the same guy who'd been aggressive previously shouted "go away". I heard the sound of a pistol being chambered followed by two sharp cracks. We pulled back. Then we found that Kista Montessori school was burning.

By the time the school is on fire it's too late to do anything. We went to the school and then off to Igelbäckskolan to guard it. A car drove up with four guys in it. The guy riding shotgun was flipping through an Instagram feed of fires. They said they were from Jakobsberg and asked us if there was anything going on. We said no. They asked if a school was burning and then drove away.

Nothing else happened that evening. I stayed until close to three to take the night bus home. By now I had the bus schedule memorized.

The events of the day, especially the absence of all the people who had been out the day before, made me want to encourage people to just get out. Coming home, I wrote probably the longest Facebook status update / post I've ever done.[2] Then I went to bed, exhausted.

1.5. Winning by Numbers

May 24

The next day my Facebook post was shared a couple of times[3]. I was amazed, as my posts are sometimes liked but never shared. Apparently I had hit on something people wanted to read about.

This day there were many more people out. I claim no credit for this. I was, however, overjoyed that people had taken to going out. Quelling these riots would not be done in one evening. It would require patience of the slowly grinding kind.

I spent the night standing guard by Järvagården, a pre-school in a residential area near Kista Centrum. Besides someone having dumped gasoline in some drains, nothing bad had happened. Instead, something good did happen: A neighbor came out with chocolate cake and coffee.

Us nightwalkers had a nice chat, and a little past two in the morning, we disbanded. I took the leftover cake to another team before jogging toward the bus station and heading home. As I had the bus schedule memorized, I knew exactly when the bus departed and knew I'd make it there with two minutes to spare. Except, of course, that the bus doesn't go on Fridays. My pride of having made it to the bus station in time was overshadowed by hearing the subway train come and go two stories above.

When you live in a sleepy corner of town with poor communications, it takes a little while to get back home from the city's dynamic heart.

Kista
Stockholm, Sweden

Husby Riots, Kista

1.6. The Horde

May 25

Saturday I had three things in my schedule: Take a course in making pralines, go to Kulturernas Karneval in Uppsala and see Rebaz Duo and Minerva perform - and night walk.

Coming back from Uppsala I arrived an hour late. The rest of the night was spent at a kindergarten. The evening was so calm that I and Aleks wandered off to the nearest gas station to buy someting to drink. On the way back we came across a bunch of teenage girls who were trying to find a bus to Rinkeby. Since the buses going through Husby had been cancelled on account of the disturbances, they asked us if we knew how to get there. We tried to help and asked why they wanted to go there so desperately. They then said that some 60 to 70 racist thugs were going there, looking for a fight. We cautioned them against believing all the rumours going about. What we did know was that about that many thugs had been apprehended by police near Telefonplan earlier that day, and the day before a gang of 80 had been taken care of by the police as they stalked three innocent people in Tumba.

As a side note, if you need any proof that skinheads and hooligans are dumb, look no further. Three days late, as the riots have nearly ebbed out, they come to "set things right". Even if they were just looking for a fight - which I'm convinced was the case - they were too late to the party.

As we return we get a phone call and are told to regroup at the assembly point for information. There we are again told about the 60-70 skins heading for Kista from Rinkeby. Suggestions are called for, and I'm about to suggest that we go about our business as usual. Should a murderous horde of racists show up, smashing all in its way - well, just get out of their way, then.

But I didn't get that far. Dilovan, our local well-connected rumor slayer, had been in contact with a friend who works in Rinkeby and was told the full story:

There was no racist horde. A rumor had started that a group of racists had assaulted a Somali woman at a gas station, tearing off her veil. This had gotten all the religious people up in arms, and they had descended on the gas station, intending to smash racism in a very concrete way.

What they had found was a single Swedish looking guy with shaved head, like very many Swedish men, who happened to live nearby. They then, somehow, concluded that this lone man was the racist horde they had heard about and smashed his skull in with a hammer. He was taken to a hospital.

We survived the riots. Now we just had to survive our own self-destruction.

The rest of the night was calm and with no events to speak of.

2013-05-26 00:09

Kista
Stockholm, Sweden

Husby Riots, Kista

1.7. Victory, For Now

May 26

Sunday afternoon I went to a meeting about the future of Kista, Husby and Akalla. I'll write more about this as I get to know more, but for now - the riots were the worst side of the suburbs, but it brought out the best. We're going to put this to use.

I asked Aleks to contact me if I was needed this night. He didn't. So I contacted him. I wasn't. Then a car burned in Ärvinge. I asked if he was sure. He was.

Nothing else happened.

We had won.

2. About Husby

Before I start analyzing the events, let me describe a little what Husby is like, as I grew up there and still visit it much more often than can be explained by chance or need: It is a really nice place and I love it.

If you want to know what the people are like, then consider the reaction to the riots: Citizens took to the streets to protect their homes, schools and property. We are what we do when it counts and this is what was done when it counted.

2.1. Me, Myself & I

I grew up in Husby. The suburb was built as part of the million programme in 1972 - 1976, and is very much a child of its times. Houses painted in bright colors[4] - one for each section of the suburb, in order to facilitate finding your way. A separation of different types of traffic, with the roads being lower than the pedestrian streets, which cross them on a multitude of bridges. Lush greenery everywhere. I loved it. I still do.

Us kids could go from the northernmost point of Järvafältet to the edge of the inner city of Stockholm without having to pass a single road with cars. Think about that. You could just grab your bike and go anywhere with zero risk of anything more serious than scraping your knee if you fell off the bike. A friend of mine moved from Husby to the inner city. He was old enough to move about freely, but his little sister had to be accompanied by an adult when she went anywhere. I didn't get the point of moving to a place that offered less freedom. I still don't.

I went to elementary school in Husby, at Dalhagsskolan. Then junior high at Husbyskolan. After that, I went to high school at Tensta Gymnasium. Finally, I went to KTH and studied computer science for a civil engineering degree.

Dalhagsskolan
Dalhagsskolan

All in all, I lived in Husby for 27 years. Then, in the summer of 2005, I moved to Aspudden. It was the only place where I could find an apartment quick enough. Why quick enough? Well, let's say you live at home with your mom from ages zero to 27, the last few years being a gray haze of working at a startup. Then, suddenly, you become financially independent. Wouldn't you try to catch up to your friends who have moved out as fast as you could, too? Because that's what I did. Then I spent time in California and moved to Vienna in November 2005.[5]

Right now I'm back in Stockholm. Would I move back to Husby? Sure. It'll always be "home".

3. Analysis

There's tons of things that need doing in Husby. This is why we can't afford to lose anything. Whatever time it would take to fix Husby - now it'll take longer. Houses need to be renovated, public services need to improve, there's not enough resources in schools and what resources exist are not beng used efficiently. Trust me, there's stuff to do. But none of this was the cause of rioting, and not unique to Husby.

If you look at riots throughout history, you'll see them in times of left-wing and right-wing national government, and in cities with a long history of left and right wing local government. This is not a left-right issue.

The causes are anything from a desire to impose power on others to outright boredom and anti-social behavior.

If you want to explain the rioting as a rational decision, you have to explain how 12,000 people can come to the conclusion that they shouldn't riot. If you want to claim that police officers are going amok, you'll have to explain how I could move around unharmed and not see anything of the kind. Neither, apparently did anyone else with a camera, because there hasn't been any footage of these abuses surfacing.

3.1. Megafonen

In the introduction I mention Megafonen, and just to make it explicit: I do hold them responsible as a part to the riots and the destruction. You don't get to be militant in your behavior, militant in your speech, encourage hate against society and the justice system; and then disawow all responsibility when militants act out what you've preached.

3.2. Final Words

Inti Chavez Perez[g] made an apt comparison:

Attempting to set fire to a school is not a revolutionary act intended to move society forward. Just as a book burning isn't.

"The Fires Are Not A Call For Increased Equality"[h]

To those who think that burning things is a political act and in any way the path to a better society - burn your own car. Burn your own kids's school, your own business and reduce your own home to ashes. But don't reduce the real people that are the victims of this to props in your violent revolutionary fantasy.

Footnotes