The major news in Umeå today is the reaction of the city’s police to the shooting death of an officer in Gothenburg yesterday evening. Umeå’s police and first responders gathered at Rådhustorget at noon, to observe a minute of silence for their fallen colleague (photo above). One of the Umeå officers, Carina Henrydotter, told Svergies Radio P4 that her emotion today was one of mourning.
Why are police in Umeå holding moments of silence for a killing in a city in another part of the country? First of all, the incident’s shock touched Sweden in its entirety. The violent death of a police officer is rare in the country; the last such killing took place in 2007, and it has happened only 31 times in the last 120 years. Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén expressed grief and anger today, and called the shooting “an attack on our rule of law as well as on our entire open, democratic society.” This is despite the fact that police have not determined for sure that this officer was the actual target of the shooting. The say that it is possible that the officer — whose name has not been released publicly — may have got caught in the crossfire between, for example, rival gangs who are very active in Biskopsgården, the district of Gothenburg where the shooting occurred. Biskopsgården is considered one of Sweden’s “especially vulnerable areas” (särskilt utsatt områden), where criminals are influential and police have difficulty fulfilling their roles.
Umeå does not have any areas labelled especially vulnerable, but it does have people who are vocally against the police. The acronym “FTP” — which uses an epithet, and then “the police” — is graffitied in various parts of Umeå, particularly in Ålidhem. Furthermore, a year and a half ago, someone spray-painted “ALL COPS ARE TARGETS” on the Police Education building at the university.
Umeå also has violent gangs. In January 2020, several young people were attacked and beaten by gangs of about 20 young people in the city center. A year earlier, one man was killed and two injured in a suspected gang shooting in Ersboda.
Who is writing “FTP” around Umeå? No one knows for sure, but in May 2020, an officer named Manuel Andersson told Västerbottens-Kuriren that he hears the phrase particularly from young people who have committed crimes. Andersson also said that once juvenile delinquents meet him, they “notice that you are actually a person.” “FTP” culture is indeed prominent enough in Umeå that in 2019, the police put together a field group called “The Person Behind the Uniform” (Människan bakom uniformen) with the goal of increasing contact between young people and law enforcement staff.
Other possible writers of “FTP” are political anarchists, who are also zealous in Umeå. If you look at places like street light poles or Umeå Energi electrical boxes, you will find anarchists’ stickers — like “FTP” graffiti — all around the city. “FTP” appeals to an anarchist for probably obvious reasons; if someone doesn’t believe in a government, then he probably also does not believe in police who enforce laws. Of course, not all anarchists — in fact, probably very few of them — are violent. But their endorsement of “FTP” overlaps with that of violent criminals.
Why is all this important for you, an Umebo, to understand? You may walk every day by “FTP” graffiti without giving it a second thought. This symbol, scattered around our environment, might indeed be just the harmless vandalism of bored but ultimately non-dangerous youth. On the other hand, this symbol might represent an undercurrent of dislike, or even dangerous hatred, of the Umeå police. If you are part of the approximately 10% of Swedish residents who say they have very little trust in the police, then maybe these stickers, in fact, express your feelings. However, if you are part of the 50% of residents who say they highly trust the police, these symbols might give you something else to ponder. A police officer was shot last night in Gothenburg, in an area with gangs. What kind of violence — physical, or just verbal — might the Umeå police be facing on a day-to-day basis? Do you think they deserve it? And what might you, as an Umebo, do about it, if anything?