Thousands of people joined a rally in Helsinki to support the Black Lives Matter movement in America, to protest the death of George Floyd in police custody, and to highlight Finland’s own problems with racism.
Police estimate that 3,000 people were in Senate Square, with many of them carrying banners and signs denouncing violence and racial intolerance. Speakers included politicians and young members from Finland’s racialized community, while many more people of colour and white allies were in the crowd.
There was a low-key police presence at the peaceful event but after an hour Helsinki Police tweeted that they had asked organisers to bring the rally to a close, as the number of people attending exceeded the 500 allowed.
“The call is based on an increased risk of [coronavirus] infection due to the large population” Helsinki Police tweeted.
Organisers say they were overwhelmed by the huge turnout, especially since the event was arranged at such short notice.
“I want to say thank you to all the people who have come here, right now I’m so emotional because when it’s about humanity, I thought people hadn’t thought about this, but when I saw these people I was so proud” says Zahra Karimy.
“This is unbelievable. I remember in 2016 when we had the first Black Lives Matter demonstration in Finland it was only a few people, there was maybe 20 persons. But now look at this. Thousands!” says Helsinki City Councillor Suldaan Said Ahmed (Left).
“I think the people they are just waking up in Finland that we have also here racism, not only in America. This is just the beginning. We need to unite our brothers and sisters in Finland and our allies” he explains.
Said Ahmed says he believes the government and the country are listening, as thousands chanted “Black Lives Matter – and cites examples where people of colour have been turned down for jobs and housing in Finland because of their ethnic background.
“I think everyone must listen to this message we’re sending today from here. We need to take action. We don’t just need words in the papers. We must end racism against black people, against immigrant people, we need to look at racism in the system” he says.
Activist Fatima Verwijnen says that many of the people who came to Senate Square on Wednesday were simply tired, and looking for change.
“I feel like people are tired of the covering up of institutional racism and the hush hush culture around it. People came up here to show we’re tired and care” she says.
Backdrop of ongoing riots and protests in America
The Helsinki rally comes against the backdrop of continue protests in America – some of which have turned into riot and looting – as police are accused of heavy-handed tactics, and politicians are accused of lacking compassion and leadership.
Protests took place for an eighth night in dozens of US cities, with hundreds of people arrested in clashes.
Writing about the issues this week, Finland’s Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) said that violence in the United States has been fueled by inequality and police violence.
“If society is unable to provide security and fair treatment for all its members, trust in society will be lost” she says.
“There is structural racism in the US police, which is particularly evident in the deaths of young black men by the police. Dissatisfaction and distrust of policing is widespread among minorities in the United States” the minister adds.
Ohisalo also criticised “the harsh use of force” by law enforcement officers in America against members of the media, and said that Finland also had work to do to eradicate racism. She said there was ongoing work between minority representatives and the police to build more trust and safeguard fundamental human rights.