Swedish Police, Racism and Resistance


Sweden is often depicted in the international media as a bastion of pluralism, tolerance and progress. This image stands in stark contrast to the lived realities of marginalized people in Sweden who face an increasingly violent and desperate state.

Reports of inner border controls in the Stockholm public transportation system have caused anger, fear and outrage. This inner border controls campaign, bearinng the Orwellian designation REVA (“Rättssäkert och effektivt verkställighetsarbete,” meaning “Legally Certain and Efficient Enforcement”), uses disguised police officers to perform ID checks of people they think might be in Sweden “illegally.” This “might,” based on little more than apparent ethnicity, has severely curtailed the freedom of movement of Stockholm’s people of color.

The ID checks in the Stockholm subway are only one aspect of an intensified war on undocumented immigrants. REVA plagues people of color all over the country, especially those without documentation. In the Skåne region, deportations have risen 25% after only a few months of the project being active. Many of the stories — for example one about children too scared to go see the psychologist trying treating their PTSD, because police were staking out the psychologist’s office — have caused public outcry. Police spokespeople, confronted with the barbarity of these scare tactics, keep to the same tired mantras of “rule of law,” “following orders,” and “democratic mission.” The message to activists and citizens is clear: “If you don’t like it, vote for another ruler in the next election.”

Now comes the revelation that the in Skåne have an extensive register of 4,029 Romani people. The document titled “Travelers,” makes no reference to criminal activities, has the shape of a huge family tree and includes not only people long dead but over one thousand children.

Additionally a whistle-blower from within the Skåne police department confirms that the document was known internally as a “Gypsy Register.” Despite the overwhelming evidence that police are engaging in large scale registration on grounds of ethnicity, that many of those listed have no connection with Skåne, live across the country or have no association with people who have criminal records, the police dismiss the allegations and insist the document was nothing more than a register of criminal people and their associates used for fighting crime in Skåne. The only common denominator for people on the list is being or being married to a Romani person.

Philosopher Karim Jebari argues, backed up by empirical research, that for marginalized people in Sweden — the poor, the homeless, people of color, users of illicit drugs, the mentally ill – Sweden is a police state since whatever their formal democratic rights, they have no de facto rights in their encounters with police.

Indeed it is striking how agents of the state hypocritically refer to the “democratic process” and “legal procedure” as the only legitimate means of fighting racism, authoritarianism, deportations, institutionalized violence and power abuses, while breaking the state’s own laws through blatant racial profiling and registration — infractions that then invariably disappear in the police’s investigations of itself. The verdict is always the same: “We did nothing wrong.”

Again and again, the police face allegations of racism, brutality and misconduct. And, again and again, we are told to be patient, to be complacent and to vote the problem away. As an anarchist, I believe we should reject the notion that the state is the only legitimate means of social agency and progress. States have shown from their inception that they are unable and have little incentive to combat these manifestations of brutality that fly in the face what “democracy” is supposed to stand for. We need to stop giving them second chances.

Does this mean that all reforms are pointless? No. There is sometimes progress as a result of social pressure and opportunist or actually caring politicians. But all these small steps are negligible compared to the unparalleled benefits that would come from a move toward a culture where calling the police is not the go-to solution when faced with a conflict, where communities started taking safety and solidarity in their own hands and where voting is not seen as the central responsibility we have towards other people. A move, in short, toward anarchy.

This is why it is invigorating to see some of the ways ordinary people in Sweden have responded to the racist ID checks and deportations. Countless users on Facebook and Twitter are updating others on the whereabouts of police. Organizations such as No Human is Illegal, Action Against Deportations and the feminist and anti-racist Ain’t I a Woman? have pushed on in their practical and activist work providing undocumented immigrants with housing and subsidence, hiding them from the state and bringing their stories to the eyes of the public. As a result of the huge negative public reaction, the police announced that the subway ID controls would cease. But other aspects of REVA are still active. Children and adults are still being deported, often to dangerous circumstances and sometimes to countries they’ve never even visited. And the police responsible for the registration of Romani people are still wearing their uniforms — the struggle continues.

David Grobgeld is a contributing author at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).

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