Why Norwegians take to the streets in protest

A new moment for a global movement

Black Lives Matter

Photo: André Kjernsli / Vårt Oslo newspaper
On June 5 and 6, thousands took to the streets of Norway to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter and advocate for the rights of BIPOC across the globe.

with contributions from IXCHEL LEÓN

Linn Chloe Hagstrøm

Photo courtesy of Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
Linn Chloe Hagstrøm, a former opinion editor at The Norwegian American and alum of Pacific Lutheran University, holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Ås. She spends her time playing beach volleyball and looking for new opportunities in the Oslo area.

On June 5 and 6, thousands of people took to the streets in Norwegian cities. Despite regulations to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, people came to show solidarity with Black Americans and to protest police violence and systemic racism. The recent demonstrations ignited by the injustice committed against George Floyd in Minneapolis point to the global scope of the Black Lives Matter movement. Why are Norwegians so outraged over events in the United States?

In front of the U.S. Embassy and the Norwegian Parliament, about 15,000 people gathered to protest on June 5. This protest was organized by ARISE, Streamy, and the African Student Association at the University of Oslo. ARISE draws a parallel between police violence in the United States and Norway. 

I reached out to ARISE’s spokesperson Babu Katembo, who told me, “In 2006, a Black man named Eugene Obiora who was originally from Nigeria died while in custody of Norwegian police in almost the same way George Floyd was killed. Obiora died in Trondheim, and the police officer who was responsible for his death was never really prosecuted.” 

The story of Obiora shows that police violence doesn’t only takes place in the United States. Katembo stressed the importance of understanding the global struggle against systemic and structural oppression of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

I asked Katembo about the main challenges in Norway. “We live in a country where the police can stop and search you whenever they see fit,” Katembo said. “We see that many of us are excluded from employment because of our names, and our families are targeted by the child protection agency for no good reason. Our children and youths continue to experience racism, discrimination, and exclusion in school. Many youths of African descent are criminalized from a young age by this stop-and-search practice that the police use as an excuse to target youths of minority background. Our history and culture are not valued, because we are often expected to assimilate and not appreciate where we come from.”

Katembo’s words confirmed that challenges facing Norwegian society abound, although measures such as anti-discrimination laws are in place.

Ixchel León

Photo courtesy of Ixchel León
Ixchel León, a young Maya woman living in Oslo, holds a master’s degree in International Relations and is studying for a master’s in Gender Studies.

“Racial profiling is another issue many of us who are BIPOC experience,” Katembo added. “We are often targeted just because of our racial, religious and ethnic background. Whenever this is brought up, too many Norwegians are reluctant to admit or understand that this is major issue here as well. The general denial and reluctance by the authorities to address all of these issues and challenges we face could be the reason why many young Norwegians took to the streets.” 

As Katembo described the current situation, many parallels between the United States and Norway became visible. In Norway, as in other countries, young individuals of ethnic minority background experience unpleasant encounters and unwarranted stops by the police.

According to a report launched in 2017 by the Norwegian Centre Against Racism in Oslo, young Norwegian ethnic minorities experience disproportional amounts of police stops, compared with ethnically white Norwegians. During fieldwork for a master’s thesis on notions of security and insecurity in encounters with police and police stops in Oslo, it was found that young ethnic minorities are prone to develop a view of the police as not a source of help and security, but of insecurity. This view is especially prevalent if they experience frequent police stops and negative encounters where police officers do not explain the reason for stops. These police stops often reflect stereotypes held by the wider Norwegian society about BIPOC.

In Norway, police operate differently than in the United States on many levels. The Norwegian police force is on the whole highly educated and tends to have a high level of trust among white Norwegian residents. It is an institution influenced by the welfare state model that distinguishes the Nordic countries. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, police officers in Norway are not heavily armed, hence there are few incidents involving the use of firearms by the police. Nevertheless, police stops are common practice in Norway. The police can stop and check individuals if they believe there is a reason to suspect criminal activity. No data exists regarding how many and who gets stopped and interrogated by the police, however, many young men of ethnic minority background say that they often experience police stops.

The tragic stories of victims of police killings echo the history of systematic racism, discrimination, and violence against BIPOC in the United States and around the world. From imperialism and slavery to the racial caste system of the Jim Crow laws, to modern prison expansions and disproportionate mass incarceration of Black people: the recent global uprisings protest the continued policing of BIPOC. 

The recent protests in Norway challenge the circumstances of racial profiling, violence, and inequality under which people live. The massive turnout in Oslo and other Norwegian cities underscores the global scope of the continuing struggle.

Further reading:

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton, eds. Published by Verso in 2016.

The End of Policing, by Alex S. Vitale. Published by Verso in 2017.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode entitled “Mistaken Identity.”

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. Published by The New Press in 2012 and 2020.

Video webinar: Anthropology of Policing: The Persistence of Racialized Police Brutality and Community Responses

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in The Norwegian American are not necessarily those of the newspaper, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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