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'A power struggle’: What lies behind the anger in France’s banlieues?

'A power struggle’: What lies behind the anger in France’s banlieues?
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Monica Pinna
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The killing of a 17-year-old boy by a police officer in a Paris suburb in June saw France gripped by mass violence and nationwide riots. Euronews Witness heads into France's poorest neighbourhoods to discover the origins of the unrest.

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France still bears the scars of more than five nights of fierce rioting in June sparked by the killing of Nahel, a 17-year-old boy of Algerian descent, by a police officer.  But what lies behind the anger felt by the French suburbs? 

In this latest episode of Euronews Witness, our reporter Monica Pinna went in search of answers in the suburbs, or so-called “banlieues”, outside France's southeastern city of Lyon.

Euronews
An overgrown football picture and tower-blocks in Les Minguettes, VenissieuxEuronews

Les Minguettes is one of 1,500 high-priority districts in France. Close to five-and-a-half million people live in low-income areas like this, located in Vénissieux, to the southeast of Lyon.

Many of those living in disadvantaged suburbs are immigrants or third or fourth-generation French citizens. Residents there are three times poorer than the rest of the country and unemployment is rampant, especially amongst the young.

Euronews
Apartment-block walls advertising the sale of drugs, Les Minguettes, VenissieuxEuronews

Drug-related crime in French banlieues is higher than the national average and has led to greater insecurity for everyone who lives there. 

Relations between residents and the police have become a problem.

"They check me three or four times a day. When we ask them why, they reply 'Shut up and face the wall.' They beat us and throw tear gas at us," says one teenager from Les Minguettes.

“We're afraid of what's going on around us,” reveals a mother of two who agreed to meet me in a local playground. 

“We're afraid of the police. They make us feel insecure when they throw tear gas at us, just like that, in the children's garden. There's no dialogue. It's a power struggle,” she adds.

Euronews
Tower blocks in Les Minguettes, VenissieuxEuronews

The number of alleged victims of police violence is growing in France. After Nahel’s death, the United Nations called on France to “seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement”. 

A study reports that black people or young men perceived to be of North African origins are 20 times more likely to be checked by the police than the rest of the population. 

But police unions and the government systematically deny accusations of racism and, instead, highlight the growing challenges faced by police officers.

"Nowadays, the police can't stop to talk in those areas, it's too dangerous. We will be attacked," says Sébastien Gendraud, of the UNITE police union. "We lack resources, we are understaffed, and we lack sufficient training," he added.

Azouz Begag, a sociologist and former French Minister for Equal Opportunities, however, rejects the link between ethnicity and criminality. 

He says it's important to consider socio-economic factors, even though others may "not want to hear about it."

"That is pure racism,” Azouz concludes.

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