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French riots: wounds show no signs of healing soon


French riots: wounds show no signs of healing soon

Yet more rioting in France has once again exposed the country’s deep-seated social inequality.

Although the most recent bout was confined to the outskirts of Paris, and were by no means the worst France has seen, this is not an isolated incident.

The sight of protesters clashing with police has become all too familiar.

In the infamous suburban ‘ghettos’, where the harsh quality of life, mixed with rampant unemployment, lack of prospects and feelings of injustice make for an at times violent cocktail, it has become almost commonplace since the 1990s.

Riots of 2005 linger on French conscience

For 12 years, the country has been haunted by the memory of 2005, when several weeks of violence rocked France, and culminated with three deaths, countless injuries and close to 3,000 arrests.

What was considered to have been yet another police blunder led to the deaths of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, who hid in an EDF substation in an effort to evade the lengthy questioning that youths in the housing estates said they often faced.

They were electrocuted, igniting longstanding tensions between the juvenile population in France and the police, and riots that began to erupt in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, began to spread across the country.

Thousands of vehicles were burned, along with public buildings.

Volleys of rocks and tear gas between rioters and police were seen in cities across France, and a state of emergency was called, allowing local authorities to ban public gatherings, impose curfews and conduct house-to-house searches.

Indeed, after more than a decade, France is still licking its wounds.

‘Judicial apartheid’

Ten years of preliminary proceedings led up to the trial of two police officers, Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein, who were accused of contributing to the deaths of the two boys.

After a court in Rennes acquitted the officers of their charges, the decision once again triggered public outcry.

The lawyer for the families of theteenagers accused the court of ‘judicial apartheid’, following the verdict.

Meanwhile in the ghettos, relations between residents and police had worsened, and the dim view many take of police shows no sign of improving.

A demand for equality

Each side feels victimised by the other.

The police feel outnumbered and under attack, while those living in ghettos feel forgotten; left behind while the rest of society thrives.

Such tensions are only perpetuated by the persecution both sides face every day.

Sociologist Sébastien Roche believes that the problem must be solved in government, not on the ground.

He said: “There is a demand for equality. The problems we are seeing right now are not just police problems, they are not just problems of a policeman who does not do his job. It is the problem of a lack of policy that aims for equality.”

Prejudice is fuelled in part by the implementation of a ‘facial control’ procedure – a policy which focuses on the appearance of a person being checked by police.

Characteristics can range from age and gender to skin colour and nationality.

One ghetto resident said they feel people are “at war with police”.

“After they handcuff you and put you in the care, they start calling you a dirty Arab, a dirty black. They think they are allowed to,” he said.

Another told of constant insults.

He said: “I think if my skin was a different colour, I could have a better life.”

Even those who play no part in the violence against police feel they have all been painted with the same brush.

One man said: “It’s an image that we have been give: the young people in the suburb who destroy to be heard. It’s unfortunate.”

Tensions bound to continue

To say that the police and those living on the outskirts of society don’t see eye to eye is an understatement.

Feelings of persecution are rife on both sides, and until prejudices are put aside, anger and violence are sure to continue.


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