OFF THE WIRE
Municipalities in Sweden ought to have the right to ban vests bearing symbols associated with known motorcycle gangs in order to fight organised crime, a leading Social Democrat has suggested.
“The vests are what these characters use to strike fear in those around them,” Social Democrat justice policy spokesperson Morgan Johansson told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.
“They signal 'I am a member of Hells Angels or Bandidos or whatever and I'm dangerous. If you don't obey me, I've got a bunch of guys behind me that will come and deal with you.'”
According to Johansson, who is also chair of the Riksdag's justice committee, by taking away motorcycle gang members' symbols, one also revokes “a large part of their violent capital”.
He has proposed giving officials in Sweden's 290 municipalities the authority to ban vests with controversial biker gang symbols from being worn in local pubs and nightclubs.
Up until now, the vests have received constitutional protections under Sweden's freedom of speech laws, thus scuppering local authorities' previous attempts to implement bans.
In June 2009, for example. Eskilstuna in central Sweden banned biker gang vests at area night spots by including a clause in alcohol regulations stating that guests would “not be allowed to bear clothing which shows membership to a gang or group which could be considered criminal”.
But a court nullified the ban, arguing it violated Sweden's speech freedom laws.
Nevertheless, Johansson believes that banning the vests could be a useful tool in the fight against organised crime.
“In weighing between, on the one hand, freedom of speech, and, on the other hand, the importance of combating organised crime, one must be ready to review legislation to make it possible for municipalities to have rules like these in the future,” Johansson told SvD, adding that society can't be “naïve” in the fight against organised crime.
Johansson's suggested biker gang vest ban was rejected by both the Left Party and the Liberals (Folkpartiet).
“I don't believe in the idea at all. We have a constitution that we need to uphold,” Liberal Party justice policy spokesperson Johan Pehrson told SvD.
The far-right Sweden Democrats, however, expressed support for the idea, while the Christian Democrats also left the door open for a vest ban.
“Symbols are important means of expression for many criminal gangs and it's possible that it's time for a change,” said Christian Democrat justice policey spokesperson Caroline Szyber.