WHAT DOES A HATE CRIME LOOK LIKE IN OSLO, NORWAY?
On July 22, 2014, the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Norway, I was assaulted by three men while sitting alone in Birkelunden Park around 3 pm, Norwegian time. I was approached by two of them, who learned that I was gay and they began to beat me with their fists, with another smashing a glass bottle over my head.
It’s been well over a month since the attack took place. I have mostly avoided discussing the incident on my blog, largely because I was unavailable due to traveling and have recently relocated to New York City. I recovered from the attack quite immensely and rapidly, thanks to the outpouring of support, well-wishes, and thoughts from my family, friends and loved ones back home, along with Norwegians, both known and unacquainted. However, I wanted to share what happened in full detail. To make it easier, I’ve divided this post into three parts: A minute-by-minute account of what I experienced in my own eyes, followed by the aftermath and reflections from the incident, and links about the attack in media.
2:55 pm: While waiting to meet my friend M*, I’m sitting on a bench in Birkelunden Park. I’m sitting alone, listening to music while wearing my headphones and sunglasses. Two individuals, who appear to be of Somalian or African descent, walk past me roughly 20 feet away. One of them stares at me several times and pause.
2:56 pm: Both individuals approach me. One of them asks softly in broken English: Hey … are you gay? I hesitate, and answer yes, while withdrawing my hands. One of the individuals snatches the phone out of my hands and slams it to the ground, destroying it. The other individual who asked if I was gay begins to punch me on the right side of my head.
2:56-2:57 pm: Both individuals attack me, punching me in my face and on my extremities. The attack proceeds to the fountain in the middle of the park, and I nearly fall to the ground. I grab the first individual’s left leg and, in self-defense, bite it, and he shouts. I rise up and strike his right eye with my thumb.
2:58 pm: A third individual arrives from behind me, armed with a glass bottle. When turning around, the individual yells and slams the bottle on the top left side of my head. The bottle crushes, resulting in blood spilling from my forehead onto my clothes.
2:58 pm: A shirtless, bald man who had been sitting in the park with his family steps in to break up the attack, speaking in Norwegian. The attackers pause, and I run to grab my cell phone, with the screen completely shattered and coming out of its casing. The individuals flee the park to an unknown location. I walk with the other man to the fountain to wash off the blood, gasping and shouting in Norwegian that they attacked me because I was gay.
2:59 pm: While sitting at the fountain, I hold my head up and look to the sun, covering the gash in my head. I wait with the man at the fountain, continuing to explain what happened, although he asks me to relax. A woman who had been in the park with her family is standing near and says she has contacted the police.
3:02 pm: An ambulance arrives, shortly followed by the police. While sitting down, I explain what happened to a young police officer, who uses somewhat broken English. He asks about the description of the assailants, where they went and other questions.
3:03 pm: My friend M arrives. After taking a moment to realize what happened, he sits beside me, holding me next to him.
3:04 pm: The EMT staff looks at the injuries on my head and asks if I feel dizzy. They determine I need stitches.
3:10-3:11 pm: I walk with the EMT staff to the ambulance. M rides with me in the front seat. I feel slightly light-headed, while one of the EMTs makes smalltalk about the seatbelts.
3:20 pm: We arrive to Legevakten, a hospital located in central Oslo. After a brief registration, M asks if I have travell insurance, and after telling him no, I wonder about the costs of my treatment. He assures me that it is not like the United States, and that the bill will be very low, and that the healthcare system was generally designed to be of no cost to admittees. A nurse finds M and I and takes us to a room.
3:30 pm: I sit on the stretcher bed, while the nurse washes away blood from the gash and disinfects it. She is speaking in English, although I mention that I also understand Norwegian, which amuses her and I laugh a little. I still feel lightheaded, and sore on my head and my left arm. I notice the blood stains on my green tank shirt, which are quite wide.
3:37-3:46 pm: The doctor arrives, speaking in Norwegian at first, but later switching to English. She examines my head, and asks what happened. I’m given a tetanus shot followed shortly by anesthesia that is injected into the gash on the top left side of my head and my left eyebrow. It stings a bit. Out of curiosity, I ask my friend M to take photos of the top of my head and me lying on the bed. I notice the gash for the first time; the deepness isn’t as severe as I imagined, I think.
3:47 pm: After shaving around my head and part of my eyebrow, both the nurse and doctor being to sew stitches into my head first. They select blue stitches so that they could easily be found and removed later. I do not feel any pain, only the withdrawing and insertion of the thread and needle into my skin. The doctor humorously mentions that she is a perfectionist and wants to get the stitches “just right.” Roughly 10 minutes later, they begin to sew into my left eyebrow. There are five stitches sewn in each area.
Roughly 4 pm: The doctor explains that the stitches need to be removed after 7-10 days. She places a large bandage on my left eyebrow, and tells me to make sure not to get it wet or wash the affected area my head. She leaves, but later returns with a form I can use to present to the Oslo Police. I thank her generously (in either English or Norwegian), and shake her hand. M and I wait outside of the room and comments that the doctor was really nice. A counselor finds us, and takes us to another area in the hospital.
4:15 pm: While M waits in the hallway, I’m led to another and more private room. The counselor, who is speaking entirely in Norwegian, asks if I would like to change t-shirts. She returns with a greyish green shirt that says “Malibu”, which happens to be my size. Switching to Norwegian, I explain what happened and describe my feelings at the moment. She mostly listens but after talking, she advises me that the feelings of grief and anger are ok and to follow up with speaking to someone after the incident. I’m given a brochure that offers several psychological services, that I can take part in anytime.
4:35 pm: M and I end up leaving Legevakten, and we wait outside briefly. I ring my host to explain what happened. After a minute, I hug M tightly and we later start heading back to my hosts’ home near Sentrum.
4:45-5 pm: While walking through Grünerløkka, M recieves a call from the Oslo Police. After he hands me the phone a man explains that two of the attackers have been captured and if it would be possible for me to stop by the police station within a couple of hours. I agree to come to the station around 7 pm.
5:20 pm: We arrive back to my hosts’ home, where I ultimately explain what happened and our recent call from the police station. I feel a bit lightheaded still and sore, but not hungry or thirsty. M leaves to get some food, while I retreat to the bed in the room I was staying in, taking a brief nap before M returns. M and I later walk to the police station.
7:02 pm: M and I, after walking through the sunset in Grønland, arrive to Oslo Politistasjon. I meet a young police officer, dressed down in a t-shirt and skinny jeans, who escorts us up to his office.
7:05-7:40 pm: The police officer explains that I will have to give a testimony in his room, which will be videotaped. I am allowed to have M in the room and M agrees to stay. The police officer asks if I would like to use English or Norwegian, and I elect to use English for the sake of being as clear as I possibly can. I describe the attack in full detail and in some instances the officer asks me to specify the locations in the park, how I was positioned at certain moments during the attack. I later draw a diagram of the park and how the attack proceeded, and where each of the attackers were located. After this stage, the police officer provides instructions for me. He gives me several sets of photos of suspects in custody or those who had been involved in criminal activity before. I am only allowed to look through each set only twice. I recognize the first attacker acutely in the first set and the third in another, although I find it difficult to be sure about the second and third entirely. After going through all the sets, the police officer takes them and enters data into his computer.
7:45 pm: Wrapping up, the officer asks if I have any questions. He later mentions that the incident will likely be prosecuted as a hate crime. He leaves to retrieve a camera to take photographs of what I’m wearing and asks to keep my tank, which was stained with blood. The blood would be analyzed to see if it matched the attackers’ blood and DNA. My photo identification will be less of a role in light of the DNA comparison. I stand by a rear wall, wearing the shirt I had changed into earlier and my shorts and shoes, stained with blood.
8:06 pm: M and I are escorted out of Oslo Politistasjon and we walk back through Grønland. The sun has already set, and I feel safe walking with M, although cautious about staring at people or being stared at. He mentions his recent time and return to India, as we both are only in Norway for a limited amount of time.
8:30 pm: M greets me goodbye, and I walk back to my hosts home, closing the gate behind me. I greet my hosts, but avoid talking to them for the rest of the night. I immediately text my sister to call me on Skype and to make sure that my mother was around. Are you ok, Chiefy? She responds back. I am, but something really important happened and I can’t explain it over the phone, I write.
9:05-10 pm: After a tearful and heartwrenching conversation through Skype, I assure my sister and my mother that I am in a safe place and that I will be ok, despite tears gushing from my battered head. My mother is too devastated to speak for most of the conversation, while my nephews pop into the repeatedly screen to say hi Uncle Chief. When she returns, I tell them I love them, and that I will be sure to take precautions whereever I go and that I will check in on them tomorrow. I upload photos of the incident taken with my digital camera to my Facebook profile, and later fall asleep.
As I currently type this, the case is still pending in the Oslo Tingrett (courthouse). I gave a testimony in English (and some Norwegian) before a judge, a prosecutor, three defense attorneys through use of an interpreter Friday of the same week. I was accompained by three friends and a representative from the American Embassy in Oslo, who waited with me throughout the entire testimoney. There is a possibly for me to return to Norway for the later stages of the case, but the American Embassy has mentioned that they can represent me if I am able to return.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people have asked me how I feel since it happened. At the moment, I am in good spirits and feel that I have moved on. I rarely think about the incident anymore. To my own surprise, I have only cried once after the attack, which was the night I spoke with my family after it happened. I even returned to the scene the following day to record an interview with NRK (linked below). I walked back to the park within 24 hours, alone.
There are triggers, however, that I hadn’t expected to erupt. Sometimes I feel millisecond bursts of anger, which range from the unjustice of the attack and my own vulnerability of fighting back alone. For maybe four days after the attack, it was hard for me to look people in the eyes while walking through the city. Perhaps the longstanding feelings I have are those of puzzlement, as I still struggle to deduct how this happened.
Other things that puzzled me and eventually led to frustration were the questions or comments I received from the attack, primarily from Norwegians. There weren’t many, but some of them were focused on the nationality and ethnic background of the attackers, particularly when I mentioned that they appeared to be Somalian or African descent. Since the attack, I have heard the following from a variety of people, Norwegian and non-Norwegian:
- "It was tragic, but it could have happened anywhere."
- "I’m so embarrassed for my country, this type of thing never happens in Norway."
- "What race/ethnic background were your attackers?"
- "It’s a good thing your attackers weren’t ethnic Norwegians, that would have just been horrible."
- "This type of behavior from Somalis does not surprise me. They are the least integrated group in Norway."
- "Do you think you might have provoked them being gay?"
This weaves into my lasting impressions about Norway. I still struggle to find a rationale for how this could occur: I take myself back to the very bench in Grünerløkka, a popular neighborhood where many of my friends live, and replay the scene on occasion. I can see the blows and hits unfold and myself nearly falling to the ground, with the attack being encircled by passerbys and families with their toddlers, all uninvited to be witnesses. I wonder what led to the assailants roaming the park at that time and if they were, as some have speculated, paperless, and if Oslo had become terrorized by lawless gangs and wheter this was related to current issues and controversies regarding the country’s immigration system and their treatment of refugees. I find myself questioning how Norwegians could resort to xenophobia and racism in reactionary ways, a saddle my country had bore for nearly all of its history. Any lingering imprints I had about Norway being a secure and a placatory utopia have nearly vanished and have been replaced with paradoxes and even more questions. My concept of home and belongingness there has been shattered along with my considerations of moving to the country. Quite honestly, I would not feel safe walking around in Oslo if I were to return, a feeling I rarely have anywhere else, companied by a melancholy irony I am only coming to terms with.
And in the midst of this nebula of confounding thoughts and attempts to reconcile the violence, I think about my own strength, psychologically and even physically. Without my family, friends, M, and global network of the most amazing people, I wouldn’t have had a shot in recovering so quickly while being thousands of miles away from home, even up to returning to the scene the very next day. Taking the opportunity to say “thank you” and showing my gratefulness for others, even beyond condolences from the attack, is a practice I’ve now adopted and strive to do earnestly and abundance. I feel so lucky to be loved, but somewhat dejected when I think of others who have also survived similar experiences and had no one to turn to, legally or emotionally, or live in countries and regions where this is their everyday reality.
Sometimes, I brag with others about how I was able to defend myself against three men and chuckle afterwards. And then I think about what I said before they attacked me: I said yes. I never lied about my sexual identity, which gives me pride, resilience, and the necessary empowerment to continue my previous work in helping to fight for the rights of all those who are oppressed or marginalized because of their identities. I needed to keep going, and somehow, I did.
As mentioned above, NRK did an interview with me the day after the attack, which aired Friday of the same week. There were a couple of articles also written, with on of them appearing on NRK’s homepage. I also also interviewed by Blikk, one of Norway’s most read LGBT magazine. Lastly, my story appeared on the LGBT blog Towleroad and was released in a statement by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. Feel free to click the links below for more.
NRK Distriktsnyheter Østlandssendingen Interview (Norwegian, video, begins at 7:59): http://tv.nrk.no/serie/distriktsnyheter-oestlandssendingen/DKOA99072514/25-07-2014
NRK Article (Norwegian): http://www.nrk.no/ostlandssendingen/slatt-ned-da-han-sa-han-var-homofil-1.11845069
NRK Article (Norwegian): http://www.nrk.no/ostlandssendingen/ble-slatt-ned-med-glassflaske-1.11843696
Towleroad (English): http://www.towleroad.com/2014/07/gay-man-attacked-with-glass-bottle-in-oslo-after-being-asked-if-he-is-gay.html?utm_content=buffer05433&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
In all totality of my spirit and well-being, I am wholeheartedly humbled and deeply appreciative of all of the support, well-wishes, prayers, thoughts, comments, texts, messages, calls and uplifting sentiments I have received and continue to since the attack. I literally could not be typing these were it not for you. I thought so many times about take a permanent hiatus from the blog, but I decided to continue doing it, in spite of uncertainty about how its format in the future. I’ll be sure to update everyone about the case as it proceeds legally, and hopefully resume regular posting on the website.
*Name of individual changed for post.
Top photo credit: Stig Morten Waage/NRK