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Transatlantic Initiative: Responding to Extremist and Hate-Motivated Violence

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— 2 minutes reading time

In May 2023, the Strong Cities Network co-hosted with the City of Oslo a transatlantic dialogue on Responding to Extremist and Hate-Motivated Violence: Building Strong and Resilient Communities. The workshop provided mayors, city officials and civil society an opportunity to share approaches for mounting an effective, community-oriented and long-term response in a (post) crisis environment.

The event convened more than 80 representatives from local governments and civil society in Europe and North America, as well as international partners such as the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) and Nordic Safe Cities. Participants from European cities, including Amsterdam and The Hague (The Netherlands), Copenhagen (Denmark), Essen (Germany), Greater Manchester (United Kingdom), Helsinki (Finland), Madrid (Spain), Mechelen (Belgium), Strasbourg (France), Dąbrowa Górnicza and Wroclaw (Poland), and Kristiansand and Oslo (Norway), joined US participants from Alexandria (Virginia), Aurora and Denver (Colorado), Boston (Massachusetts), Chicago (Illinois), and Highland Park (Illinois).

Oslo Governing Mayor Raymond Johansen, framed the importance of mayoral leadership and a community-centred response in his keynote address, drawing on his city’s experience and lessons learned in responding to the 22 July 2011 attacks that killed 77 adults and children, and the 25 June 2022 anti-LGBTQ+ violence that killed two and injured more than 20. Great Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham shared his experience of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing that killed over 20, including what newly-elected mayors – as he was then – need to know about preparing their city to respond to an attack.

Participants heard from many inspiring leaders, including Oslo’s Vice Mayor for Employment, Integration and Social Services, Usman Mushtaq, on the city’s response to the 2022 attack, and Kamzy Gunaratnam, a member of the Norwegian Parliament, and survivor of the 2011 attacks, who focused on current and future challenges, including how artificial intelligence could further proliferate disinformation/misinformation and how local governments communicate with communities in post-attack or heightened contexts. Panel discussions covered topics ranging from mayoral leadership in a post-attack environment, the role of national-local cooperation (NLC), interfaith communities and law enforcement after an incident, as well as the importance of long-term trauma-informed care for those impacted, including survivors and first responders.

The event also included a guided visit to the island of Utøya, one of two sites targeted in the 2011 attacks. Participants learned how the attack unfolded and how the island has been reimagined, through extensive consultations, as a memorial and centre for democracy promotion and youth engagement. The programme ended with a tour hosted by the City of Oslo, where participants had the opportunity to see up close the City’s approach to protecting soft targets while upholding principles of openness, accessibility and inclusion.   

Among the themes and lessons that emerged from the dialogue:

  1. Mayors play a vital role in both the immediate and long-term response to crisis, particularly around coordination, communication and support for victims and frontline workers.
  2. An effective post-crisis response requires a multi-stakeholder in approach, leveraging local partners that have access to and can deliver vital long-term support to impacted communities.
  3. Preparedness is key: while there is no such thing as a perfect response, having structures, relationships and protocols in place prior to an attack helps facilitate an effective response.