How do we control crime

Criminal gangs terrorize and control Gothenburg

Shootings and attacks, illegal lockups and heavily armed criminals controlling citizens - the gang war in Gothenburg has escalated in recent weeks. The police say they have the situation under control.

There is a red alert in Gothenburg. The police in Sweden's second largest city have been on standby since the conflict between the two dominant gangs escalated in August. The trigger was an argument at a gas station, which led to an exchange of fire. Shortly afterwards there were several shootings and one man was seriously injured. Although rival gangs from two suburbs are fighting, the conflict has spread to other parts of Gothenburg. Last week, certain quarters were temporarily deserted after residents were asked to stay in their homes. The gangs set up roadblocks at which young men, armed, with protective vests and some even masked, checked cars. The gangs do not shy away from the lively city center either: on Wednesday afternoon, a large number of criminals met in a hotel near the main train station for “peace negotiations”. When they were turned away, a dozen of them refused to leave the place. Only the police succeeded in a large-scale operation to calm the situation.

Gothenburg's police chief, Erik Nord, contradicts the claim that the streets are in the grip of criminals. In his opinion, it is a show of force: "The gang members will flee if we come or we will arrest them." Nord does not want to downplay the fear of the residents. The police are coming as fast as they can. It is not yet clear whether the gangs' peace talks will have been successful. After a long period of calm, fear, frustration and anger at the escalating violence prevail in the affected ethnically segregated districts. The city council of northeastern Angered has commissioned a security service to escort the employees of schools, old people's homes and other municipal facilities to the workplace if necessary.

Clans create parallel societies

According to Police Chief Nord, the roadblocks are a consequence of the parallel social structures that exist in several Swedish suburbs. Gothenburg's underworld has long been dominated by the Ali Khan clan, whom the journalist Johanna Bäckström Lerneby knows very well after years of research. In the recently published report book “Familjen”, she describes the Ali Khans as an extensive network of relatives with a long criminal record, ranging from gun possession, drug trafficking, fraud, threats and blackmail to abuse and murder. The leader of the Angered clan is a 63-year-old Lebanese imam. In contrast to his male family members, the man who immigrated to Sweden in the 1980s has no criminal record, and he could not be charged with any crimes. Another branch of the notorious family is said to be up to mischief in Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia. The Gothenburg police and a number of authorities have been trying for some time to break the power of the Ali Khans in a coordinated effort. According to Bäckström Lerneby, the clan is under very strict police surveillance.

More severe penalties in Denmark

One problem with fighting gang crime is limited legal remedies. Sweden has a reduction in sentences for young people under the age of 21, which is why minors often commit serious crimes and even murder. It is completely different in Denmark what five members of the «death patrol» had to experience. The gang from the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby has long been at war with former cronies who call themselves Shottaz - at least ten people have been killed within five years, but no one has been convicted of the murder so far. On Friday, however, a Danish court sentenced three 20- to 25-year-olds to life sentences, and two who were 17 at the time of the crime had to be behind bars for 20 years. The members of the "death patrol" lured some Shottaz to Denmark last summer, where they killed two of them with machine guns. Since the getaway car had been found with traces of blood and weapons and part of the crime had been captured by a camera, the district judge did not hesitate: The men were not only convicted of double murder, but also of belonging to a gang, which doubled the duration of the sentence. A shock for the criminals, because in Sweden they would have got away better: The youngest would have threatened four years of detention, the 19-year-old at the time of the crime would have enjoyed a youth discount.

In Stockholm there is hope that the situation will calm down, as all the leaders of the “death patrol” are serving sentences and the Shottaz are also weakened. However, experts fear that the gap will be closed quickly. Many young people without jobs or prospects are ready to do brutal acts to fill the leadership vacuum. In addition, new groups sense opportunities. Encouraged by the court case in Denmark, calls for tougher sentences are growing louder in Sweden. Last but not least, the youth discount must be abolished in order to put an end to the brutal violence. Because as the Danish public prosecutor said: "Anyone who commits 'adult crimes' cannot expect to be treated like a child."