Posted on December 4, 2006

The Racist Attack That Never Was

Jouni K. Kemppainen and Tommi Nieminen, Helsingin Sanomat, Nov. 26, 2006

Kajaani District Court handed down a decision on Tuesday concerning scuffles that had taken place between Finns and immigrants at a shopping centre in Kajaani in July 2005. The Jordanian owner of a pizzeria was sentenced to 40 day fines for assault. Two immigrants who worked in the restaurant got 60 day fines for assault. An immigrant who was eating in the restaurant at the time was sentenced to ten day fines for possession of a knife.

The Finns involved in the incident, six men, were suspected of aggravated disturbing of the peace. Charges against them were dismissed.

The event appeared quite different in August 2005 when it was fresh news.

“The restaurant Istanbul in Kajaani was the target of a racist mob attack”, wrote the local Kainuun Sanomat on August 2nd.

“Powerful Attack. Mob of Men Send Pizzeria Workers to Hospital”, was the headline in the same day’s edition of the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat.

The story involved 15 Finnish racists who planned and executed an attack on the pizzeria — some through the front door and some through the back door — beating four immigrants who had to be hospitalised. A local police inspector “confirmed that the act had powerful racist overtones”.

The following day the chairs of the Kajaani City Board and the City Council went to the pizzeria for an anti-racist lunch. The story of a racist attack in Kajaani became a fact in the media, and reference was made to it in stories concerning racism.

How did this come about?

Pekka Vasala, managing editor of Kainuun Sanomat says that the first story was based on a statement from the police.

“We had nothing but that one story, that the police initially believed. The police soon got a different picture of the events, but they did not tell it to us.”

Responsibility for giving out information was with Ari Kylmäniemi of the Kajaani Police. He was the one who first speculated that the act might have involved a racist element. Kylmäniemi says that under the classification rules surrounding criminal complaints the crime had to be classified as a case of racism, because there had been shouting with racist content.

“Because these are sensitive matters, we easily interpret them as racist.

There was also plenty of pressure from above. Interior Minister Kari Rajamäki called for an internal investigation. Already in the following week two inspectors from the Police Section of Oulu Province came to investigate possible racism in the Kajaani police.

“It seems as if many had lost bowel control when the predominant view was that it would have been a racist crime”, Kylmäniemi ponders.

The Kajaani police were reprimanded by the Police Section of Oulu Province for inadequate dissemination of information. The erroneous information should have been rectified.

“We couldn’t publicly clarify a matter that was incomplete.”

The incident was very bad for Kajaani. Ilta-Sanomat pondered if Kajaani was “the most racist city in Finland”. The expression soon spread to other papers. The claim was based on an investigation by the Police College of Finland according to which the per capita rate of crimes classified as racist in 2003 was greater in Kajaani than in other cities.

There had been a total of 11 reports of such crimes. In three cases the plaintiffs withdrew the complaints. With the exception of three assaults, all of the cases involved verbal abuse. In other words, in Kajaani, a city with 36,000 residents, two fights were reported to police in which three immigrants were harmed — not very much for “the most racist city in Finland”.

So what really happened at the shopping centre in July 2005? The court found that insults had been exchanged on both sides in the yard of the shopping centre. As a result, a scuffle broke out between the immigrants in the pizzeria and the Finns. One of the Finns lost consciousness and fell to the ground, when he was struck in the back of the head with a wooden object. Another was struck in the back with a chair.

Two Finnish men fought back. In the midst of the melee one of the Finns stepped into the pizzeria, threw the cue stick from a pool table at the employees and left. Nothing else happened in the pizzeria.

Naturally, it is possible that the court system made an unfair decision. That possibility will be examined by the Court of Appeals.

However, it seems clear that in the name of tolerance, the media made news about a gruesome attack in on a pizzeria — a crime that never happened.