Tuesday, October 24, 2006

French Media Fear New Riots in Impoverished Suburbs.

This has not made the international headlines… yet, at least (and hopefully it never will if things stay as they are), but in France, there has been a lot of talk of a possible new wave of suburban riots. October 27 is the anniversary of last year’s riots in French impoverished suburbs and the media have all hyped about it.
From what the French news have said in the past few weeks, there has been a steady increase of violent clashes with the police lately. Most French media have even talked about “
a series of ambushes targeting the police in the Paris outskirts”. The police have even mentioned “a near-perpetual and increasingly violent conflict between police and gangs in tough neighborhood”, and even fire fighters and rescue workers have been targeted and some now receive police escorts in certain areas.

In fact, with the anniversary of those riots approaching in the coming week, spiking statistics for violent crime across the area tell a grim tale of promises unkept and attention unpaid. Residents and experts say that fault lines run even deeper than before and that widespread violence could flare up again at any moment. (Herald Tribune)

Despite many commitments and promises with regards to measures to improve life in the suburbs (extra funding for housing, schools and neighborhood associations, or for counseling and job training for unemployed youths), not much has been done. This is definitely a major failure of the current governing right-wing majority- and of both Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

Then last Sunday, it got a little bit worse yet:

A gang of youths forced passengers off a bus in a Paris suburb yesterday before setting it alight and then stoning fire fighters. The attack - which happened in broad daylight on Sunday - is the latest in a string of similar disturbances in housing estates surrounding the French capital. (Telegraph)
What is new here is precisely the fact that the attack was not only planned but that it took place in broad daylight (even though the attackers were wearing masks). No one was injured though and two youths were subsequently arrested.

In the wake of the attack, Le Figaro (the French conservative newspaper) reported a secret report by the General Intelligence (RG) agency that said that "most of the conditions that a year ago led to the unleashing of collective violence across a large part of France, are still in place." (IHT)

The whole of the Ile-de-France region -- greater Paris -- "is the source of very deep concern... it is to be feared that tensions get more acute as we approach October 27," it said.

I guess we will see. The problem maay also be exacerbatedby the French presidential campaign is already in full swing:

Nicolas Sarkozy, the front-runner for the nomination of the governing center- right party [and also the Minister of the Interior in charge of the police forces], has staked his reputation on an uncompromising attitude toward young offenders. But his increase in the number of police officers in the suburbs - many of them from far-away parts of France - has meant more harassment and random searches of young people, fueling complaints of unfairness.

I quite agree with The Herald Tribune here. It seems his tough-on-crime approach may simply be backfiring. Obviously, if tough policy is needed, you also need to implement positive measures too. But what does he propose exactly that would be perceived as “positive”?

Not to be outdone, the front-runner for the Socialist Party, Ségolène Royal, has offered her own proposals to curb youth violence, including military-led training programs to deal with young offenders and parenting school for parents of unruly primary school children.
Clearly, the French favor a tough line on security issues. According to an Ifop poll for Le Figaro published last month, 77 percent said that the judicial system was not harsh enough against young offenders.

In reality, the problem is the result of some of 40 years of bad management by all political parties - both left and right are utterly responsible.
The Herald Tribune is also quite right when it links the suburban violence to a sense of alienation by both parents and youths alike, caused in part by racism – something not every French person is ready to acknowledge. Of course racism is not the only reason. As we have mentioned before, there is, one must admit, also some pretty bad parenting going on as well.
But on top of that, there is the terrible perception of the police in those neighborhoods. The police have often been heavy-handed in their dealings with the youths, demanding their papers and frisking them down for no apparent reason. All those things have fueled a sense of injustice.
The bad urban planning (the ugly massive projects) certainly increases a sense of being let down by the state:

"Our main problem is this," a 36-year old self-employed businessman of Algerian origin said, pointing at a 15-storey housing estate. "We live like ants on top of each other." (Wash. Post)

This is a recipe for disaster and the pressure cooker may be ready to explode again. There is no excuse for rioting of course, but one must look beyond possible crisis management and see the deeper reasons why it has come to that, and those are some of the explanations.

In the meantime, it looks like some of the youths in those areas want a celebration of their own:

“We are getting the impression these youths want a 'remake' of what happened last year,” said Fred Lagache, national secretary of the Alliance police union. “The youths are trying to cause a police error to justify chaos.”

However, I would advise for caution about how the media and the police unions tend to report those incdients. I think they, as in the US, often play the dramatic card and hardly ever investigate the events, or even give all the facts.

Hopefully, we will have nothing else to post on this topic any time soon.


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