UPDATED: Hundreds of residents of the small town of Verdal in Nord-Trøndelag marched in a torchlight parade Thursday evening, to protest what’s widely believed to be a racist attack on a man from Liberia. Three young people charged with assaulting an African man in Verdal have denied any racist motivation or culpability.
The parade was organized quickly this week by among others Maren Veie Rosvoll, who said she was deeply moved that so many people showed up. So was the mayor of Verdal, who claimed that town residents wanted to distance themselves from any form of racism or violence.
Meanwhile, the Norwegian Police Directorate (Politidirektoratet, POD) said it has lowered the threshold for reporting hate crimes, amid concerns victims weren’t coming forward.
Jacob Kuteh, a Liberian man in his 50s who has lived in Norway for 10 years, told police an attack outside his home last Saturday was racially motivated. He was taken to hospital for treatment. One of the five youths taken in for questioning, a 23-year-old, said the group followed after Kuteh because they mistook his car for an acquaintance’s, reported newspaper Adresseavisen. The youth claimed the group was not racially motivated, rather it was Kuteh who accused them of being racist, and the man fell and hit his head in the tumult that followed.
Verdal police told newspaper Dagsavisen that interviews with the victim, accused youths and some neighbours were ongoing on Thursday. “What’s clear is that there are different explanations coming out,” said investigating officer Knut Olav Røstad. “The young people deny that the motivation is racism, and they deny culpability. What we’re doing now is verifying the individuals’ explanations against each other.” He said the alleged perpetrators had no prior police records.
Concerns victims not coming forward
The case is one of several recent incidents that have reignited debate over racism in Norway, reported Dagsavisen. In late December an Asian man in his early 20s was knocked down and his face was slashed with a knife in a brutal attack at Flaktveit, outside Bergen. Police said the “clearly racially motivated violence” was one of the ugliest and most serious they’d seen in a long time.
Despite the headlines, the POD said its criminal register showed police receive few reports of hate-related crimes. Crime statistics showed that the total number of racist hate crimes reported dropped from 235 in 2010 to 141 in 2013. Yet there’s concern the falling reports don’t reflect less instances of hate crimes, but that victims find it too hard to make a complaint.
“We think it is a big problem that those people affected don’t make contact with us, and want to lower the threshold for reporting hate crimes,” said Ingvild Hoel from the POD’s department working to prevent and combat crime. “Therefore we have implemented a number of measures in order to ensure that these are cases where the police are doing what we can to investigate and resolve.” She said the POD is changing the way it registers hate crime reports, and that officers are being trained to recognize the cases, handle them more sensitively and make sure they’re investigated and taken further.
Hoel said police are also improving the way they communicate with alleged victims when a case is dropped. “Previous complainants’ experience has been not to hear anything from the police before a letter is dumped in their postbox and simply says the case is dismissed,” she said. Now if the investigation does not lead to charges, the person will receive an explanation over why the case was dropped. “Those who report hate crimes will mark that we take their situation seriously.”
Work is also underway to build up confidence in the police among those parts of the community subject to racially motivated crime.