Killing challenges Norway

Sunday, January 27, 2002

OSLO, Norway -- On a chilly January night a year ago, 15-year-old Benjamin Hermansen left his mother's apartment to go swap cell phone covers with his best friend.

If Benjamin had been white, he would have made it home that night. Instead, the Oslo-born son of a West African father and Norwegian mother was stabbed to death.

Two young Norwegian men, linked to the neo-Nazi group calling itself Boot Boys, were sentenced to 15 and 16 years in prison this month for what appears to have been a random slaying that the court said was clearly motivated by racial hatred. A woman with them was sentenced to three years as an accessory.

The murder last Jan. 26 shocked this oil-rich Scandinavian nation of 4.5 million people, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, proud of its record of tolerance and progressiveness, especially in social issues like sexual equality and gay rights.

But a year later, advocates for racial equality say not much has changed in Norwegians' unease toward the blacks and foreigners in their midst since the murder of Benjamin, an outgoing boy nicknamed Baloo by his friends.

"It was a big wake-up call when it happened," said Grete Brochmann of the Norwegian Institute for Social Research. "Then it quieted down. Attention came back a little with the trial, but very little."

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