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Black man tortured and killed in Denmark, police claim it wasn't a hate crime

One of the arrested suspects is a supporter of Danish extreme right party. He also has a swastika and "White power" tattoos.

Black man tortured and killed in Denmark, police claim it wasn't a hate crime
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Trigger Warning: Hate Crime, Racism, Descriptions of Murder

Racism isn't just an American problem. On the remote island of Bornholm in Denmark, Phillip Mbuji Johansen, a young Black man, was tortured and then murdered by two White men. One of them had affiliations with right-wing extremists and a swastika tattooed on his leg. Despite the obvious indications that the murder was a hate crime, police and law officials refuse to acknowledge the act as one. They claim that because the victim knew the perpetrator, it was an issue of a "personal relationship gone wrong," The New York Times reports.



Johansen, 28, was an engineering student of Danish and Tanzanian descent. He had made the trip to Bornholm in order to visit his mother last week. According to his mother, he attended a party on Monday and was invited to have a beer in the woods later that night. The very next morning, his mutilated body was discovered at a campsite. As per a preliminary indictment, he had multiple stab wounds, a knee had been planted on his kneck, a knife had sliced through his throat, and "his skull was broken after he was beaten several times with a wooden beam." Reports indicate he died early on Tuesday morning.



Two brothers, aged 23 and 25, were identified and arrested on manslaughter charges on Wednesday. Their identities were not released to the public, but the one with the swastika tattoo also has "White power" tattooed on his leg. Further to this, he expressed support for a Danish extreme right party called Stram Kurs, or "Hard Line," and posted the statement "White Lives Matter" on Facebook.

While the pair admitted to torturing him, they deny killing him. The other suspect's lawyer urged that his client had no connection to right-wing groups. He stated, "My client has no sympathies or affiliation with any political party nor has he expressed any sympathies for racist or right-wing agendas." Johansen's mother informed local news outlets that one of the men was her son's friend.



Owing to this connection, law officials and police officers have attempted to claim that the crime was not racially-motivated. Prosecutor Benthe Pedersen Lund for instance told a local newspaper that the killing had absolutely nothing to do with "skin color." Rather, it was about "a personal relationship that [had] gone wrong."

Daniel Villaindulu, a close family friend, refutes these sentiments. "He was tortured for hours," he said. "They say there was jealousy over something but when you add everything up and you know these guys had a swastika tattoo and are right-wingers, you can imagine why it ended like this." He also noted that he and Johansen were two of the few Black men on the island.



The case is marked by signs of systemic racism. Like in many other cases where the victims are Black,  there is slow-moving decision-making, bureaucracy, and ignorance. Johansen's murder is only another example of how institutions perpetuate a system of discrimination.

Awa Konaté, a Danish-Ivorian activist who teaches African cultural awareness, explained, "It took three days for the police inspector and state prosecutor to completely refute that it is racially motivated, despite all the evidence pointing toward it. This shows this is a systemic issue."



"In Denmark, people are mostly ignorant of how systemic racism plays a role in society. Conversations about racism exist often on the periphery through conversations by activists and community organizers—rarely by politicians or public figures," Konaté expressed. "The extent of racism in Denmark is the absolute denial of its existence. Although there is so much evidence pointing to the murder being racially motivated, the police, the prosecutor, and even the victim’s friend, who is white, deny any connection."

The European Union reported in 2018 that racially motivated hate crimes in Denmark more than quadrupled between the years 2007 and 2016. Will Johansen's murder be any different from the hundreds that went unnoticed? Only time will tell.



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