Saturday, October 21, 2006

A disgusting end to a disgusting country.

A year later, France fears renewed unrest
By Elaine Sciolino and Ariane Bernard The New York Times
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2006-->Published: October 20, 2006

EPINAY-SUR-SEINE, France When the call came about a car burglary in this raw suburb north of Paris one night last weekend, three officers in a patrol car rushed over, only to find themselves surrounded by 30 youths in hoods throwing rocks and swinging bats and metal bars. Neither tear gas nor stun guns stopped the assault. Only when reinforcements arrived did the siege end. One officer was left with broken teeth and in need of 30 stitches to his face.

The attack was rough but not unique. In the past three weeks alone, three similar assaults on the police have occurred in these suburbs that a year ago were aflame with the rage of unemployed, undereducated youths, most of them the offspring of Arab and African immigrants. 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.

"Tension is rising very dramatically," said Patrice Ribeiro, the deputy head of the Synergie-Officiers police union. "There is the will to kill." The anger of the young is reflected in the music popular in the suburbs. In her latest album, the female rap singer Diam's accuses Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy of being a "demagogue" and the police of hypocrisy. The rapper Booba proclaims that "Maybe it would be better to burn Sarko's car," while Alibi Montana, another rapper, warns Sarkozy, "Keep going like that and you're going to get done."

Next Friday is the one-year anniversary of the electrocution death of two teenagers as - rumor had it - they were running from the police in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. The tragedy triggered three weeks of violence in which rioters throughout France torched cars, trashed businesses and ambushed police officers and firefighters, plunging the country into what President Jacques Chirac called "a profound malaise."

Last month, a leaked law enforcement memo warned of a "climate of impunity" in Seine-Saint-Denis, the notorious district north of Paris, where clusters of suburbs like Clichy-sous- Bois and Epinay-sur-Seine are located. It reported a 23 percent increase in violent robberies and a 14 percent increase in assaults in the district of 1.5 million people in the first half of 2006, complaining that young, inexperienced police officers were overwhelmed and that the court system was lax. Only one of 85 juveniles arrested during the unrest had been jailed,it added.

In all of France, according to the Ministry of Interior, 480 incidents of violence against the police were recorded in September, a 30 percent increase from the month before. On the other side of the debate, however, local officials and residents are disheartened that the shock of the unrest last year did not trigger a coherent plan to create more jobs, better housing and education and more social services - or even to raise the consciousness of the citizenry.

"Ours is a population that truly has been abandoned to its sad fate," said Claude Dilain, the mayor of Clichy- sous-Bois and a local pediatrician who recently wrote a book about the plight of his town. "French society wants the poor to be squeezed into ghettos rather than have them living right next door. It says, 'Put the poor out there in the suburbs, but avoid violence at all costs so that all goes well and we don't have to talk about them anymore.' Our people feel betrayed. All the conditions are there for it to blow up again."

Clichy-sous-Bois is worse off than many other suburbs. It has no local police station, no movie theater, no swimming pool, no unemployment office, no child welfare agency, no metro or inter- urban train into the city. For even some of the most crime-ridden suburbs, it is a 20-minute ride into central Paris; for Clichy-sous-Bois, depending on whether there is space on the bus, it can take an hour and a half. Unemployment is at 24 percent, and much higher among young people. Thirty-five percent of the population consists of foreigners, many non- French-speaking.

The town's only municipal gymnasium and sports center was burned during the unrest last year. When Nadia Boudaoud, a 27-year-old part-time educator, was asked why her family moved from Clichy-sous-Bois two years ago, she gave three reasons: the noise, the garbage and the rats. But on the same evening that young people were attacking the police in Epinay-sur-Seine a few dozen kilometers away, Clichy-sous-Bois's only cultural space held the kind of special event they have in places like Paris: the opening of an ambitious photo exhibit about daily life in the town of 23,000 people.
The exhibit featured the works of a dozen world-renowned photographers, including Marc Riboud, William Klein and Sarah Moon, who mingled with hundreds of local residents. Visitors were met at the entrance with a long white panel bearing the photos of the two teenage electrocution victims, Bouna Traore, 15, and Zyed Benna, 17.

The one disappointment of the evening, Dilain said, is that not one French official showed up. "It is symptomatic of the absence of interest in us," he said. "I'm ashamed for France." Indeed, interviews with residents and officials in several suburbs ringing Paris in recent weeks made it clear that many are convinced that the government's main interest in them is to maintain security in advance of the presidential election next spring.

Sarkozy, the front-runner for the nomination of the governing center- right party, 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. 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. After the unrest last fall, the government announced measures to improve life in the suburbs, including extra funds for housing, schools and neighborhood associations, and counseling and job training for unemployed youths. None have gone very far.

New legislation promoting the "equality of chances" passed with much fanfare last March largely has been ineffectual. An initiative to create blue- collar apprenticeships for teenagers from the age of 14, has been criticized for removing children from the universal educational system at early an age. Another law aimed at curbing illegal immigration - and deporting youthful offenders - ignored the fact that most suburban youth are French, and a law to spur youth employment was abandoned following massive street demonstrations against it last spring.

The government said this week that it needed more "experimentation" before implementing the law requiring corporations with more than 50 employees to use anonymous résumés aimed at curbing discrimination against job-seekers with foreign-sounding names from troubled neighborhoods. In any case, many young job-seekers and community activists consider the initiative gimmicky, even humiliating. "We have to fight discrimination - not disguise differences as if differences are a crime," said Samir Mihi, a founder of ACLEFEU, an association created in Clichy-sous-Bois to promote the suburbs.

In an exercise that aims to celebrate the identity of the applicant, APC, another organization, has created a project - the videotaped résumé - that trains job-seekers how to sell themselves on camera. At a training and taping session in the Paris suburb of Nanterre this week, Mariama Goudyaby, 33, said that she has been looking for a job as a receptionist for six months, but has been turned down 15 times.

"When I come, they see, 'she is black,'" she said. "And then they say, 'We've already found somebody.'" With the video, she said defiantly, "You like me; it's me. You don't like me, too bad." Certainly, there have been changes since last year, though many of them seem symbolic or cosmetic. The television channel TF1, for example, assigned Harry Roselmack, a 33- year-old black journalist of French Caribbean descent, to anchor the main evening news for six weeks this summer, the first time a Frenchman of color has served in that role. He became an overnight sex symbol and national hero.

The Henry IV public high school, one of the best in Paris, in September recruited thirty students from underprivileged backgrounds for its preparatory program that feeds some of France's most elite universities. Marking anniversaries is deeply embedded in French tradition, so a number of events are scheduled in the run-up to Oct. 27. At a town meeting in the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois on Wednesday, some speakers worried aloud about the street chatter they are hearing from young people about how best to "celebrate" it.

"The most violent of them think of it in terms of a celebration," said Franck Cannarozzo, a deputy mayor of Aulnay- sous-Bois. "For them last year was a victory over authority." But for a 25-year-old man who lives in Clichy-sous-Bois and asks to be called Karim, the day will be one of mourning, not celebration. Karim had been showing the two teenagers how to play a new video game in the basement of his building the night before they were electrocuted.

"It is the anniversary," he said, "of a death."

1 Comments:

Anonymous Chaya said...

The two deaths, lack of jobs, lack of prgrams are all just an excuse for the riots. Whatever happend to peacefully marching to expres your displeasure?? I also wonder what kind of video game he was teaching them.

11:41 AM  

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