Racism is not a common problem in Denmark. That is our national myth. A myth that was emphatically repeated across the nation when a 28-year old Afrodane Phillip Mbuji Johansen had been murdered in north woods of Borholm Island, in a time when public discourse had set focus on Black Lives Matter and George Perry Floyd Jr.
The indictment states that two culprits kicked the victim, stabbed him with a knife, hit him with a wooden beam and bottle and knelt on his neck. However, in this case, the media and police department have done a very remarkable job of preventing it from getting the type of coverage that one would expect a Minneapolis inspired murder would get, especially in a time where the world has focused its attention on black people being oppressed globally. The Danish administration has managed to cover up what should have sparked another global outrage considering the obvious parallels between the brutal murder of P. M. Johansen in the silent woods of Denmark only a month later after the killing of Floyd.
So what happened?
On the 23rd of June on a Tuesday morning, the body of 28-year-old Johansen was recovered. So far two related suspects have been arrested. According to the charges, Johansen was stabbed, bludgeoned with a wooden beam and a bottle. The perpetrators also kneeled on his throat, causing him to suffocate.
It has been confirmed that both suspects are brothers and are known in the area as white supremacists. One of the culprits has been identified with a swastika tattooed on his shin with the White Power slogan. To avoid legal ramifications his face will not be shown in this article.
The culprit is known to have connections to the controversial rightwing Hard Line-Party while showing support on Facebook for lawyer Rasmus Paludan who has recently been convicted of racism.
Despite the obvious connections and motive behind the killing, police have for months now been hesitant to call the murder a hate-crime. They insist that “nothing suggests a racist motive behind the murder on Bornholm”.
The media headlines have repeatedly also obscured the incident by quoting prosecutor Benthe Pedersen Lund’s assessment of the killing as “a personal relationship gone wrong”. Whatever the prosecutor means by a personal relationship, one thing is for sure; friends don’t kill each other. “Gone wrong” is also a gross understatement given the slow and painful death Johansen suffered on that horrific night.
This attempt at dissuading the public from seeing what happened is probably a blatant example of how institutions work together to uphold systemic racism. In Denmark, incidents happen to occur more subtly which is why topics of anti-blackness are often effectively silenced.
How does systematic racism work in Denmark?
In the Danish government there is an intense competition for funding within various ministries to make themselves viable, especially within the Ministry of Justice.
In this competition, ministries are constantly on outlook for political signals given by those in power at any given time. When influential politicians issue a public statement concerning a controversy, state owned institutions must deliver data, figures and numbers defined in way that fits the agenda.
In many cases, the data being delivered does not have any connection to reality, but if it can be pieced together in a politically-spun narrative, then that is what will go mainstream.
To demonstrate this, take the murder that occurred on Wednesday 19th of March 2008 that shocked the nation. 16-year-old Deniz Özgur Utzun was beaten to death with a bat and a steering wheel lock when he was delivering newspapers. The former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned the killing but also assured that there was nothing racially motivated behind the murder. To avoid diplomatic inconveniences with Turkey, the Danish ambassador, Jesper Vahr, stationed in Ankara also stated the same thing.
The following year when A.F. Rasmussen was appointed Secretary General of NATO, Vahr was immediately promoted to director of his private office.
Turkey was important at that time because it played a pivotal role in Rasmussen attaining his position, especially after Denmark gained international notoriety in the Muslim world for the satirical cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad ﷺ.The last thing Rasmussen’s career needed was now a hate crime getting in the way of a promotion he had long been working for. Turkey had the power to block it and Vahr was rewarded for getting him off the hook, because he understood the signal given to him by the prime minister.
Subsequently no Danish media even explicitly stated that it was a hate crime, even though the case had been thoroughly investigated and confirmed that racial slurs were being used during the attack.
Thus, it becomes apparent why, as police investigator Adam Diderichsen put it; “it is striking how rarely, accusations of hate crimes are actually raised, especially considering the amount of people who report them”.
There is a Bermuda triangle between the elites, institutions, and media. It is all about maintaining a positive image in world of multi-national corporations at the cost of civil society where black minorities are the underdog.
The same month when Johansen was murdered, former spokesperson of parliament, Pia Kjærsgaard, said that “To say that there is racism in Denmark is offensive”. No clearer political message could have been sent. Politicians, especially experienced ones with a long career, are not oblivious to what they say. They are constantly surrounded by advisors and spin doctors that give counsel on what to say and when to say it.
Her statement was immediately broadcasted on the government owned channel, TV 2 News, which prior to the broadcast already conveniently had a Megaphone survey ready, revealing that 51 percent of respondents disagreed that racism is a widespread problem in Denmark, while 32 percent said that they completely or partially agree that racism is widespread.
But on the hand so far, TV 2 has reported little to nothing about the murder in Bornholm. After an extensive search, this report has failed to find a single article from TV2 that even mentions the victim by name. It is disconcerting that Danes must read the New York times that has covered a murder case in Denmark, more extensively than any Danish Media has.
Considering Kjærgaards statement, this is a message meant for the ministry of justice: namely in the climate we’re in, where black lives matter protests are filling the streets of Copenhagen and global citizens are turning their attention to any place where black people are maligned, you better not register crime as racially motivated.
What if the police and the media do not comply?
Then let us not overlook the fact that police as well as the Danish Broadcasting Corporation are all dependent on an annual Finance Act that determines government spending on state institutions. Politicians whose primary function is to legislate, have the power to determine the funding of each institution making it an obvious move for state institutions to refrain from doing anything that will compromise needed financial resources.
Those who end up losing are civil society who have no idea of what is being communicated and how it impacts our lives, especially Afrodanes, who unlike most other minorities are scattered across the nation, disunited and weak.
Abu Kwanza, Correspondent
Abu Kwanza was born in Uganda, and is of Ugandan and Danish descent. He converted to Islam in 2017 and has a background in economics, Middle Eastern studies and holds a degree in the Arabic language. He is currently studying Information Technology and has formerly been a member of the pan-African organisation, African Empowerment Centre in Denmark.
Abu Kwanza: In memory of Phillip Mbuji JohansenTweet