Rissa Seidou has been a police officer for eight years. Now in her late thirties, she was born in Togo in West Africa and grew up in France. When she was 20 her parents brought her to Sweden. Sweden had yet to join the European Union and didn’t recognise her French education. So she had to go back to high school, into a class of 16-year-olds.
Despite opposition from friends and family, Rissa decided she wanted to join the police.
"My family laughed at me and said it wouldn’t be possible, because they’d never seen a police officer with African parents. But I wasn’t going to give up."
Rissa says she is the first Swedish police officer with two African parents.
She chooses her words carefully when asked if she has experienced racism from her police colleagues.
"I had a little bit of a tough time at the police training school. And when I left, I think the police, I mean the institution, was not so prepared to receive a woman with an African background. I didn’t fit. I was a little bit different.
"There are always some people who don’t believe that a foreigner can also be a police officer.
"I cannot say there are not racist police officers," says Rissa. "If I say that, I am lying to you."
And did she think, as was widely reported, that police officers had used racial insults during the riots?
"Yeah," she says, "I think it’s possible."
Rissa is a neighbourhood police officer, based in Kista, a suburb adjacent to Husby, north of Stockholm city centre. Nearly 85% of Husby’s population of 12,000 are either first or second-generation immigrants. Unemployment is high, particularly among men under 25, and educational achievement is low.
Husby is where the riots began, riots that spread first to other Stockholm suburbs and then into the provinces. Cars and buildings burned for several nights and young men pelted the police and firefighters with stones.
The disturbances exposed Sweden’s reputation for tolerance and equality to international scrutiny. They also exposed fragile relations between the police and some of the residents of Sweden’s more deprived communities, some of whom complained of racism.
The reasons for the riots are disputed. Some people in Husby connect them to an incident a few days earlier in which a police officer had shot an elderly man dead in his flat in Oslogatan. The police said he had been threatening people with a knife.
"The people in Husby thought the police reacted wrong and they did this to punish the police," says one local teenager about the riots.
Another young man points to more general dissatisfaction. “The people are tired,” he says. “They are stopped by the police three or four times a day. People who are not from Sweden have a lot of trouble with the police here.”
Read more about Rissa Seidou’s experience as a police officer in Sweden.