You’re Still Here? | Media’s focus on ethnicity belies the facts

September 2nd, 2012 7:30 am| by admin

One question posed in the Danish Institute for Human Rights’ schools pack is: “What effect does repeatedly hearing the background of a criminal have on a reader?” A local bar may have answered that question when they decided to refuse entry to all African people.


Tracing the bar’s logic is an exercise in frustration. A wallet was stolen. The victim said it was taken in the bar and by a black person, neither of which were true. Police are now investigating the bar for discrimination.


Last year, a play area tried to ban anyone with a Somali-appearance. The reasoning? A group of Somalis caused trouble one time, but the police did not even get involved.


Perhaps it is not surprising that many think that foreigners are inherently criminal. That is what we are told on a regular basis. When 1 percent of Somalis fiddled their taxes, the newspapers gave the impression it was a problem with their community. But tax fiddling in the general population is also around 1 percent.


The newspapers are most certainly in part to blame for this generalised racism. Many have run headlines with racial slurs. For instance, ‘Neger’, which translates roughly as when an idiot says ‘negro’ or when a racist says ‘n****r’, has been used four times in local newspaper headlines about crimes in the last 12 months.


The newspapers have their excuses, claiming that had the suspect been redheaded, it would have been in the headline. ‘Redheaded’ was used once in a headline about a suspect in the last year.


Another excuse is that journalists were merely copying the wording of a police report. Either police reports are selectively descriptive or their wording, in most cases, is ignored. Neither ‘white man’ nor ‘blonde’ were used in headlines taken from police reports in the past year.


So who is really committing crime in Denmark? Let’s take theft, a crime that usually includes a description of a suspect or perpetrator in news stories. In 2010, 11,000 of the 12,000 convicted had a ‘Danish background’. Those numbers are similar across the criminal board: 120,000 convictions of people with Danish backgrounds compared with 17,500 immigrants and 5,000 ‘descendants of immigrants’.


And yet, when the newspapers give a description of a perpetrator from the police reports, they are ten times less likely to reference his background if he is Danish.


My town, Fredericia, recently ran a news story about a “suspicious woman” taking photos of houses at around 4pm. When she was confronted, she stopped taking photos and left. The police said: “Maybe she’s an architecture student or maybe she is a burglar.”


Why should this behaviour have been suspicious in the tourist high season, you ask? It was probably due to her physical description: “Other ethnic origin than Danish, late teens/early 20s, long black hair, wearing ear phones.” Frederician cops must have their minds blown every time they catch a burglar and it turns out to be a 40-year-old Danish man, so convinced are they that young photography enthusiasts are the cause of the domestic crimewave.


Exposed to this media onslaught, it is no wonder that many see crime as a foreign problem and foreigners are seen as trouble. No wonder all it takes is an allegation for all people from one group to be treated like criminals. No wonder non-Danish résumés are placed in the ‘round file’. No wonder black-haired young women cannot take photos in the middle of the day during their summer holidays without being suspected of criminal intent.


The good news is that these situations are starting to be dealt with. The play area backed off, the bar is being investigated and some ‘neger’ headlines were changed. I would like to see more efforts taken in this direction. If the police feel describing a suspect’s appearance will help bring justice, then they should describe even what they consider the ‘default’. If the media think a reference to family background is newsworthy, then they should make sure they reference ‘obvious’ Danish backgrounds.


This is the only way that a true picture of crime in Denmark can be built up and stereotypes about crime can be destroyed. The alternative is that businesses and individuals continue to act on their prejudices, giving Danes a reputation for intolerance and ignorance.


The author’s blog can be found here.

We know Lear couldn't recognize his daughter, but did the English even know their favourite son?
Crazier than Christmas: To tell or not to tell
There is a murder mystery about Shakespeare that could rattle the foundatio...
The two groups of students worked hard and expressed themselves on stage.
Out and About: Breathing life into the Aalborg Music Festival
This year, Denmark was treated to the annual Aalborg Music Festival. Two gr...
You better make that second beer to go
Under the Raydar: Taking it easy – in 1986 and 2016
Challenger blew up 30 years ago last month … a moment most Americans reme...
(photo: CCO)
School News in Brief: Case competition rise
More companies and educational institutions are using case competitions t...
February 14 will offer time for quiet reflection, but more importantly: love!
Quietly remembered in a city where love will conquer all
The morning of 14 February 2015 was like any other Valentine’s Day in Cop...
The Danish-German border (photo: Arne List)
This Week’s Editorial: Refugees at work
The Danish politicians have digested the L87 austerity package and found a ...