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November 6, 2005 - Riots Continue - Politicians Wrangle While Suburbs Burn

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Our Man in Paris is Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. His weekly columns appear here and often in a slightly different version the next day on his site from Paris, with photographs. Here, a report, from Friday, on the widely-reported rioting outside the city.

Riots Continue - Politicians Wrangle While Suburbs Burn

PARIS, Friday, November 4 - The illusion that France is in control of itself dissolved during the week as suburban youths took to the streets night after night to conduct running cat-and-mouse battles with armed riot police, to trash and burn, in an 8-night orgy of mayhem.

The government, meeting in crises daily, seemed incapable of mastering the situation, perhaps because it cannot - or refuses to - comprehend how it has gone wrong. In France the government is supposed to manage the country, but it seems that the best it can do is react.

It all started when interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy paid a public relations visit to Argenteuil on Tuesday, October 25. In a regular show-the-force junket he was greeted by boos and catcalls, and when he called the reception committee 'rabble' and said he was going to 'cut out the gangrene,' he had to start dodging thrown rocks and beer cans.

Two nights later three teenagers returning home in Clichy-sous-Bois thought they were fleeing from a police identity check. To escape they climbed a barrier topped with barbed-wire to seek refuge in an electro-transformer station and two were electrocuted.

News of the deaths set off the anger of local youths. A week ago they torched cars and garbage containers and assaulted riot police with rocks and other missiles.

Some observers think events were launched by the offensive action and aggressive words of the competitive interior minister. Other observers, with over-heated nightmare visions of common delinquency run amok coupled with international terrorism, placed all blame on the teenagers.

In the following days, ones that followed consecutive nights of blazing riots and battles with riot police, the interior minister 'persisted,' announcing on the TFI Sunday evening news that the government would exercise 'zero tolerance.' As cooler heads began to prevail in Clichy-sous-Bois, the nightly battles shifted to many other suburbs outside Paris.

On Wednesday some members of his own party had enough of Sarkozy. In a heated session with the prime minister present, one UMP deputy was reported as saying, 'he gives an impression of being what his detractors say he is.' Another said, 'he's happy to throw oil on the fire - a minister who acts but achieves no results.'

If anything, with its constitutional guarantees of equality and respect for human rights, France has the best intentions. The ruptures come from the discrepancy between the promise and the reality.

It is no secret to the government that 'sensitive' housing areas throughout France have a population of five million, located in 750 'sensitive zones,' where the unemployment rate is 20 percent, double the national average. Average individual income in these areas is 10,500 euros annually - less than the minimum wage - and more than a third less than the national average of 17,100 euros.

What is a secret is the reason the government believes that problems with youth and unemployment will go away if they are ignored. Not so ancient history has shown that everybody gets tired of riots and they tend to stop without being squashed by repression. Now we see, yet again, how they flare up because the fuse is never extinguished.

The leaders of other countries with similar problems do not envy the French. If anything they hope the French can invent a doable idea that they can successfully borrow.

Meanwhile opinion makers who live in countries where there is a potential for unrest, but with less than no tolerance for material destruction, plentiful willing courts and endless jail capacity, feel free to tell the French what they are doing wrong.

It is not aloofness that prevents the French from listening. Tonight the Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who cancelled a planned trip to Canada on Wednesday, met for two and a half hours with 15 teenagers from the 'sensitive' suburbs to learn what they have to say. For one thing, they do not like the incessant identity checks.

According to tonight's TV-news some voices were characterizing Nicolas Sarkozy as a pyromaniac, and others were calling for his resignation. On the other side within UMP ranks, some were urging the government to get tough.

The communist mayor of Stains, Michel Beaumale, was his Thursday night town when he happened on some teenagers hanging out in the Rue Mandela. While discussing the situation with them, somebody else broke a window on the mayor's car and popped in a Molotov cocktail. The mayor put it out before much damage was caused.


A note on the photos:

"After the guy got killed taking photos when he was told to stop, I am not going out to the suburbs for a couple of stock photos when I can get them in the safety of Paris. Photos therefore, taken in Paris 14, although a couple of them are of public housing - what we call HLM here.

"I did, after all, live out in one of 'those' suburbs for twelve years. What things 'look like' isn't so different from anyplace else. I mean, folks out there aren't... gypsies!
" - Ric

Editor's note:
Riots Put a Fear in the French
With clashes ongoing in largely Muslim suburbs of Paris, officials deploy 1,000 police in hopes of reining in restive Arab and African youths.
Sebastian Rotella - Los Angeles Times - Friday, November 04, 2005

"... police in nearby Epinay arrested three men who allegedly beat a visiting photographer to death. The man worked for a lighting company and had stopped his car at a housing project to take pictures of light fixtures when he was assaulted in front of his family, police said."


Ric and I have discussed this in many an email.  This death may have nothing at all to do with the riots.  See the note at the bottom of this column

The photos:

Paris Slums - Autumn 2005

Paris Slums - Autumn 2005

Paris Slums - Autumn 2005

Paris Slums - Autumn 2005

Paris Slums - Autumn 2005

The photographer who died:


The whole story is that this dude, with his wife and daughter in the car, maybe on his day off, stops to take a photo of some street device. He works for some outfit that makes them, or wants to bid on a contract to supply them. He gets out of the car and points the camera...


And three guys approach the photographer and tell him not to take any photos. The dude insists, they argue, the dude babbles about his 'rights,' they snatch the camera and whack on the head with it, and then they take him apart. He dies later in hospital.


I have mentioned before that you have to be careful taking a photo here of anything, and especially of anybody. If you are told not to, you had better size up the opposition before deciding what to do. It is simple prudence.


It is unknown whether this has anything at all to do with other suburban events.


The guy died because he was stupid. There are people who are so stupid they think that the law is on their side, even when it is not AT their side. Of course, these three guys did not know that they were going to kill him when the incident began.


I can't find the item now, but I believe they might have turned themselves in; the incident was recorded on video, and there were witnesses.


In fact, Sarkozy is a video fan. There has been a lot of video shown this week, but it has not prevented one car from being torched or one police station from being demolished. It's something to remember if anybody asks you if you want your tax dollars spent on video so that Big Brother can watch you do stuff, but not stop you.
   - Ric

Photos and Text Copyright 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

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