Following the insurrectional reaction to the two teenagers who died of electrical
burns in a substation as they tried to “run from the police,” young people
in Clichy-sous-bois (a suburb of Paris) are accusing the forces of law and
order of throwing fuel on the fire, knowingly provoking them and even shooting
them with rubber bullets for no reason. Afrik has obtained a video in which
one can see this police violence, and has also collected several accounts
during a meeting, Sunday, between the mayor and neighbourhood youth.
Sunday, 3pm, Clichy-sous-bois. The mayor has organized an informal meeting
with young people from the neighbourhood, all of whom are very disappointed
and upset by the attitude of the police the night before. Yesterday the city
had organized a silent demonstration in honour of the two teenagers, Ziad
and Banou, who were burnt to death last Thursday in an electrical substation
after being chased, or at least thinking they were being chased, by police.
But if, after two days of rioting, the tension seemed to have subsided, the
youth accuse the police of fanning the flames and keeping people’s hatred
alive by committing more and more provocations, abuses and needless repression.
“Everyone has made tremendous efforts to calm things down. The demonstration
was peaceful, but that night the CRS [riot police] made a point of harassing
the youth, provoking them,” admitted a municipal official who requested anonymity.
In the parking lot at city hall, over 150 youths, almost all of African origin
(Black and Arab), came to listen to the mayor. The mayor made a point of reminding
them that all of the damage that has been done will be paid for by the city,
which means by the taxpayers. He suggested that the solution should be between
people in the city and seemed to leave aside the question of the police.
Everyone expressed themselves quite freely.
In the crowd everyone was talking. Little groups formed here and there to
discuss the events of the night before. Everyone condemned the provocations
and abuse of the police. Many people witnessed or were themselves victims
Jeremy, fed up, explains: “They [the police – Afrik] are more hot-headed
than usual, they are provoking us more. The brother of one of the dead kids
was with us, as usual, in front of his building when the police came by with
their flash balls [a gun that fires rubber bullets – Afrik] and started checking
us out, finally telling him ‘you, go home to your mother.’ He took a few steps
towards the cops to talk to them when one of the cops told him ‘Stop or I’ll
shoot you.’ We ran in and up to the tenth floor, and they started shooting
gas into the lobby.”
Mothers Insulted As They Leave The Mosque
“They all say shit, especially the journalists,” says Youcef, looking over
at the Capa camera crew (Le vrai journal) surrounded by young people, taking
pictures and getting quotes. “First of all, they started by attacking the
reputation of the victims, when today even the prosecutor from Bobigny admits
that the police had not ever suspected them of anything bad. The media wants
us all to look like trash, whereas it is the police who provoke the youth,
trying to get any excuse to hit or shoot.”
With barely contained anger, Morad tells us this: “We were leaving the mosque
when the police surrounded us with their flash-balls drawn. They took us aside,
but what really shocked us was when they started insulting the mothers who
were leaving the prayers: ‘Get out of here you gang of whores and keep a
better eye on your kids!’”
Morad does not seem like the type who would look for a confrontation with
the police, but not everyone is so cool-headed.
Forces of law and order… or disorder?
You can feel the tension in the air. All the more because three police cars
are stationed just 50 meters from the town hall. One of the officers has his
flash ball in his hand with his finger on the trigger. The crowd takes this
as yet another provocation. Tempers are rising. Two people start shouting
that the crowd should attack the police: “Come on, we out-number them, we’ll
all go together and smash them up,” says one of them. Luckily, calmer heads
prevail, and manage to disperse the line of youths that had formed in front
of the police.
“They are provoking us too much, I have friends who had been shot at, just
like that, for no reason, with plastic bullets. This can only lead to more
violence. Everyone is angry. Now if it’s going to explode, it’s going to explode.
I am not afraid of them and their weapons. We will get to a point where we
will get weapons . It’s going to get like in America here,” predicts Jonathan.
“The police stopped me at 4am. I was alone in my car. They searched the
car and found a baseball bat in my trunk. When they asked me why I had the
bat, I told them that there is no law against having a bat in your trunk.
They answered me, saying ‘Well is there against a law against me ramming
it in your face?’ Then they started going on saying ‘This isn’t Beirut here’
and calling me a ‘little faggot.’ One of them really wanted me to cry. He
came right up to me and shouted ‘Cry!’ Luckily, just as this was happening
some reporters drove by. I called out and they stopped. Before they got there
the cop said he didn’t like reporters, but there was nothing he could do and
he had to leave me alone.”
Nicolas Sarkozy Supports The Police
There are two different versions of the dramatic events at Clichy-sous-bois,
regarding whether or not the police were chasing the teenagers after their
soccer match. The police say one thing, and the young people from the area
say something else. The problem is, there are witnesses. One of the young
people who were chased explains that he hid while his three friends ran straight
to the power substation. Even without this testimony, some people just don’t
understand how the police version makes any sense. “Why were some young people
arrested if they were not being chased, seeing as they all ran away?” “Why
else would the teenagers have decided to climb a 3 meter high wall with barbed
wire on top?” Just more questions that the police sweep aside.
Sunday at 8pm, the Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy stated on channel
one that, according to the information he received, “The police were not chasing
the youths.” If he does intend to “tell the truth to everyone,” he also made
a point of paying “homage to the remarkable work the police have been doing”
and to “congratulate them” for the arrests they have made. A law-and-order
discourse that many people feel leads to a dangerous conclusion – that those
who have been arrested [during he riots] are all thugs – and which gives
the police carte blanche to do what they please with impunity.
A damning video for the forces of law and order
Once again, Nicolas Sarkozy repeated that he will maintain a policy of “zero
tolerance” towards urban violence. Discounting community policing, he insists
on the need for more and more arrests. “Real young people” will have nothing
to fear from the police. In the meantime, on Sunday a security force of over
400 CRS [riot police], guardsmen and police took up positions throughout the
Can the police, supported by the Minister of the Interior, do as they please?
A video, recorded with a cell phone, is circulating throughout the neighbourhoods.
A file called “Sarko’s new keufs” [keuf is slang for police] was given to
Afrik, and part of it can be viewed online. We see a police car parked with
its door open. We think we can make out that someone has thrown something
at the police. The response is immediate. We can clearly see plainclothes
police firing again and again with heir flash-balls. We see them chasing the
young people, calling out “Come back you bastards!”
“Some of the rubber bullets are even signed,” says Kader. “There is a guy
who was hit by one that had ‘Boum boum on your ass, see you soon, Luc’ written
There seems to be a great divide between the police and the youth. Between
the politicians who approve of the police’s behaviour and the media, which
is accused of distorting and falsifying reality, the hostility and exasperation
are feeding feelings of hatred that may unfortunately lead to worst.
Please note that the above text about the past week’s
riots in Clichy-Sous-Bois come from the website of Afrik in France and translated
by yours truly. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning
that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology
i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original
document can be seen in French.
This originally came from my blog - Sketchy Thoughts
- and is one of a number of pieces i wrote or translated regarding the
riots that rocked France in October and November 2005. To see the a complete
list of such posts, i suggest you check out the 2005 Riots In France page on the Kersplebedeb