Shelter where murder occurred
Swastika-tattooed lower leg pressed upon his victim’s chest, knee thrust under his Adam’s apple. Blood flow cut off. Heart pumps out. Knife slashes, body burns, tree branch bashes spurting blood over his body, eye popping partially out.
After prolonged torture, perhaps hours long, African-Danish-born Phillip Mbuji Johansen gasped his last frightful breathe.
The 28 year-old died somewhere between 0039 and 0611, June 23. He was found by a passer-byer at a shelter fireplace in the North Woods on the island of Bornholm, east from Denmark’s capital.
Two white power proud brothers were arrested for the murder of their Tanzanian-Danish “friend” later that day. Reporters were told that one of the brothers admitted in a closed courtroom to beating the man but without intending to kill. The brothers had invited him for beer at the bonfire-shelter after a party. They were good buddies and racism is out of the question, white islanders say.
Phillip had just finished his engineering studies, and hired to help build a bridge. He was visiting his family and friends at Bornholm where he had lived most of his life. Bornholm with 40,000 residents, few people of color, is normally a peaceful place overflowing with nature’s bounty. It has an average of only one murder every two years.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) in Denmark asserted that race is an issue in this murder in which a white murderer’s knee caused the black man to stop breathing, a replica of what had recently happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis. Soon after Floyd’s murder, one of Phillip’s killers placed the racist-inspired slogan “White Lives Matter” on his Facebook cover.
Chief police inspector Jacob Ipsen told the private national daily newspaper Extra Bladet that a racist motive is part of police investigation albeit remote. Ipsen’s statement was repeated by the state sponsored broadcast and online medium Denmark Radio (DR).
In the same June 25 story under the conclusive headline, “Police: Nothing Points to a Racist Motive in the Killing at Bornholm,” one of the killer’s attorney, John Joergensen, contradicted the leading police officer by contending that the motive was only personal. “My client was not even asked about that.” This denial is backed up in the same article by the Vice-Police Inspector Henrik Schou, “At this point, there is nothing that points in the direction of racism.”
The next day, Chief Prosecutor Benthe Petersen Lund actually called several media to refute the possibility of racism as a motive.
TCBH spoke with Lund about the murder and motive. “It was only personal, a relationship that went wrong. We know that it was not racially motivated and that will come out at the trial,” she replied firmly. The trial is not expected to take place until September leaving room for speculation.
TCBH pointed out to Lund that George Floyd and several other black men have been killed by white policemen choking them to death, which unleashed the current uproar against systemic racism and racist police brutality. That uproar is supported by many people in much of Europe, including Denmark, where people of color also experience discrimination and racial hatred.
“Is it not possible that choking Phillip with a knee, burning him as well indicates racism hatred? How much and where was he burned and cut,” I asked the chief prosecutor.
“Forensics is still underway” [now three weeks on] “so we cannot say anymore,” Lund replied.
The police charged the brothers with “killing by agreement or in common understanding.” The charge indicates a planned murder, I suggested. Lund had said that it was only a personal attack “that went wrong.” Lund would not elaborate about it being planned.
While Lund is emphatic that the motive was not racist, she did admit that “officially” the case is still under investigation and other motives “are not ruled out”. Police no longer speculate about motive in public, however.
Denmark’s Black Lives Matter wrote: “We are appalled to hear about the murder that took place on Bornholm, and would urge the police, legal authorities and the government to take the racist motivation behind this assault seriously.”
The murderers—still to be proven so—are referred to as 25 year-old Big Brother (BB), and 23 year-old Little Brother (LB). A judge has forbidden their names to be publically used, fearful for their lives. According to a defense lawyer, their names should be kept secret because many threats against them have been made on social media where their names have been used. The attorney hopes that “one day my client and next of kin can walk the streets in peace.”
Oejvind Hesselager, chief editor of the island’s only daily newspaper, Bornholms Tidende, wrote an editorial about the murder on June 29. He explained that the police fear the killing could unleash a “riot” on the island.
While the judge forbid publishing the murderers’ names most everyone on the island knows who they are, and the prosecutor told TCBH that the trial is expected to be open to the public.
This case is quite personal for me. I lived in Nyker (2003-7) just six kilometers from where Phillip was murdered. I sometimes wandered in those woods, and I wrote op-ed pieces for Bornholms Tidende. I spoke to one of its reporter’s about the case. He speculated that there were both personal and perhaps racist motivations in the extreme nature of the killing.
The brothers clearly have racist attitudes and one uses racist symbols.
A week after the murder of George Floyd “Big Brother” changed the cover photo on his Facebook to read “White Lives Matter”, a slogan that is used by a Nazi-applauding organization, Den Nordiske Modstandsbevaegelse (Nordic Resistance Movement).
Phillip’s Facebook page states: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
On June 12, just 11 days before Phillip’s murder, BB showed up at a swimming pool party organized by Stram Kurs (Hard Course), an extreme right-wing, refugee-hating political party. BB wore shorts, which showed his leg tattooed with two swastikas and the words “White Power”. Such a provocation was even too much for Stram Kurs and he was told to leave.
Stram Kurs leader Rasmus Paludan has been judged for using racist language against entire peoples. His sentence was two weeks suspended jail time, which did not deter him from continuing to provoke people of color.
Paludan is filmed on You Tube burning the Koran. He is always accompanied by many policemen at his one-man demonstrations where people of color live. His pet provocations are against black Africans and Middle Eastern immigrants. He even showed up to protest against BLM leader Bwalya Soerensen at her home. She is from Zambia married to a white Dane.
Zetland, an online subscriber-sponsored newsmagazine, interviewed two dark-skinned men, one from the US and the other living at Bornholm. They tell what BB said to them at a birthday party.
“Why are all niggers so black?” One of them replied, “We are all the same color underneath.”
“No, we are not,” BB responded. “I am human, you are not.” The dark-skinned youth left after BB accused one of them of having AIDS because he was black.
Zetland’s writers, Theis Ehler Molin and Frederik Kulager, spoke with many others about these attitudes. BB is well known for often using condescending and racist terms to and about people of color. He speaks of them as “niggers”, “perkers”. He told one brown Bornholmer that he should return to his “banana land and pluck bananas.”
BB’s “Little Brother” was not so racist in his speech, but is known for his violent temper and fisticuffs. Zetland spoke to a source who recalls LB telling him how he hated immigrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle-East. He said that refugee children should drown at sea, and someone should pour gasoline and light afire a specific black person.
Dark-skinned people often are spoken to in racist terms, also by older adults.
Denmark into Denial
Black Lives Matter and friends of Phillip laid flowers and cards where he was murdered. BLM’s card reads: “May everyone wake up to the fact that we also have a responsibility for your death and for the justice that still does not exist.”
Tobias Krähmer, an ethnic white Danish-German, speaks to the media as a good friend of Phillip and the murdering brothers. He is certain that racism had nothing to do with the grotesque slaying. He was so angry with the notion that racism played any role that he tore down a BLM banner, “No lives matter until black lives matter,” posted in a park near the courthouse following the murder.
White Dane Sara Krogh told Zetland that “Negro” Phillip was quite charming and a good dancer. She said that Phillip gave himself the forename “Negro” Phillip. “No big deal for him,” she said.
Sara said that when he asked women to dance they almost always did, something that one can speculate as perhaps provoking jealousy in the two murderers. Zetland wrote that they were angry with him for some sort of “violation” against their mother, perhaps of a sexual nature although “rape” was not a question.
Krogh also denies any racist motivation, because, “They were friends”. “I don’t know why [Big Brother] had swastika tattoos but he liked to show them off.”
Another friend who denies any racist motivation, Emma Saksaa, is Danish-Pakistani. She lets people call her their “favorite paki”. “Paki” is a denigrating term for someone from Pakistan. She tells the media that her white friends “don’t mean anything by that”.
Daniel Villaindulu was a close friend of Phillip, and one of very few black people living on Bornholm. He told the New York Times, June 30 (“A Black Man Was Tortured and Killed in Denmark. The Police Insist It Wasn’t About Race.”), that his friend “was tortured for hours. They say there was jealousy over something, but when you add everything up and you know these guys [one of them] has a swastika tattoo and are right-wingers, you can image why it ended like this.”
Villaindulu told Bornholms Tidende , “It surprises me that people try to cover up a racist motive. It is sad to see his own friends use so much time to oppose this.”
Two weeks following the murder, July 6, the liberal daily Politiken ran the front page story headlined: “When the stench of racism spread from a brutal killing in the North Forest.”
All of Phillip’s Bornholm white friends the newspaper interviewed denied any racist motive. However, Anne Lise Marstrand-Joergensen, a well-known ethnic Danish author and friend of BLM, told Politiken that attitude is “passive and leisurely”.
“’I think that the Danish press has been too slow, and that it has too uncritically taken note of the police’s first report. If one just uncritically quotes a police prosecutor to say that it is not racism, and does not bore further, it risks becoming a very narrow measure of what racism is… It is a very naive and simplistic way of looking at racism,’ says the author, who calls it tasteless when police prosecutor Benthe Petersen Lund describes torture and death as a ‘personal relationship that went completely wrong.’”
Anne Lise concluded: “This tragedy gives us an opportunity to define-understand what racism is, how it works. This murder could be motivated by both racism and a personal dispute.”
Of course, racists can have warped friendships with people of color, especially when they go along with racist language. Rapists also can be “friends” with women they rape.
During Parliament’s last day in session before summer break, the Red/Green (Enhedslisten) leader Pernille Skipper raised the matter of racism in Denmark. She pointed especially to what is known as the “ghetto law”, in which “non-western immigrants” can be sentenced for certain crimes twice as much as others. Furthermore, there is no provision for future generations of such original immigrants to no longer be considered “non-western immigrants”.
Pia Kaersgaard, founder of the rightest-nationalist Danish People’s Party (DF) replied that there is no racism in Denmark other than one “racist example” she offered. At the last anti-racist demonstration in Copenhagen, BLM leader Sørensen encouraged black people at the rally to come forward in front of whites.
Pia Kaersgaard was judged by the Supreme Court, in 2003, to use racist language in public against an entire people, which by law can be punished with fines and/or up to two years in jail. She received no punishment.
A day after this extremely rare exchange about racism in parliament, Phillip was murdered.
Two years ago, a center-rightest government introduced the “ghetto law”. Ghetto is defined at neighborhoods where more than 50% are Muslims/Arabs, people of “non-Western background.” They can now be forced to leave their homes, and must find somewhere else to live opening the way for whites to come in.
Muslim immigrant parents who send their children to their country of origin for “re-education trips”, to maintain their roots, can be incarcerated up to four years in prison. Punishment for murder is just one year more than that “crime”.
“Local [anti-racist] activists see a pattern of denial in Denmark when it comes to racially motivated crimes, some of which they attribute to rising anti-immigrant attitudes. In one prominent case, in 2017, the police ruled out race as a factor when a 16 year-old Afghanistan boy was set on fire by four white Danish schoolmates,” wrote the NYT. The boy survived the fire.
The “hate law” does not provide extra punishment for racist-motivated crimes. The last murder trial that could have involved race was in 2008. Three white teenagers were charged with killing a Turkish-Dane teenager, Deniz Uzun. The 16 year-old paperboy dreamed of being a policeman.
Deniz sat with a friend in south Copenhagen as the Danes drove by in a car. They stopped and glowed at Deniz, accusing him of having stared at them. The youngest, 15 year-old Kenni Blegvad said to Deniz, “Should you be battered perker pig?” He then swung a baseball bat at him, knocking him out forever. Blegvad, his older brother and a friend laughed and drove away.
Police and then Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (later NATO chief) spoke publically about the case before the trial, and denied any racist motivation. The judge spoke for the society-in-denial that the words spoken at the time of murder were only “cuss words”. No racism involved.
Kenni Blegvad and his two cohorts received three to five years jail time. He served three of five years. Shortly after release on parole, he committed a robbery. No jail time. Then another robbery in which he beat a 82 year-old man in his home. In 2012, then 20 years-old, Blegvad was sentenced to two-and-one-half years for breaking and entering, robbery, and violence.
Political authorities don’t want to dig into Denmark’s colonial past, don’t want to remove statutes or street names of slave traders and racist political leaders. They don’t even apologize for their racist treatment of Greenlanders as inferior. For decades Danes had dug up Greenlanders craniums from graves to measure them, in order to “prove” that Danes are superior beings.
Author Jonas Eika, 28, won the coveted Nordic Council Literature Prize last year for his short story collection Efter Solen (After the Sun). His October 29, 2019 speech was attended by Scandinavia’s prime ministers.
Eika came to the point right off. He rejected to serve the “ruing order”, whose culture is “based on patriarchal power relations”. As a human being and author, Eika said he seeks to serve “a community that does not require racial exclusion, a classless society in which our creative and loving forces do not serve the state and capital’s death machines, but serve all of us and all life, in all its forms, human as well as non-human.”
“I speak to the Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, who is at the forefront of a social democracy that has come to power by taking over the previous government’s racist language and policies.
“Mette Frederiksen, who calls herself the Children’s Prime Minister, but pursues a foreign policy that divides families, makes them poor, and exposes both children and adults to a slow, destructive violence in the country’s so-called Departure Centers…” camps for rejected asylum seekers.
“Mette Frederiksen and the Social Democrats, who say that they are fighting for welfare and affordable housing, but are carrying out the largest attack on the public housing sector to date.
“Mette Frederiksen and the Social Democrats who say that ‘In Denmark we are all equal’, but with the so-called ghetto plan discriminate against citizens according to origin and class. In Denmark, racism is both cultural and legal. In Denmark we have state racism.”
Eika’s speech is relevant to how this murder case is being handled already by authorities and much of the mass media. I predict that the murderers will be found guilty of charges less than the maximum, and that we will never know what they said to their victim during those grueling hours of torture. I am convinced, however, that they treated him with words and onerous deeds as an unworthy-to-live “nigger”. Sorry brother Malcolm.
RON RIDENOUR is a US-born journalist and anti-war activist living in Denmark. He is a member of www.thiscantbehappening.net His books, “The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert” and ‘Winding Brook Stories’ are available at Amazon and Lulu. His other work can be found at ronridenour.com; firstname.lastname@example.org