French riots


The Guardian has a short piece on a statement by some French policing unions. The statement calls for order to be restored and regrettably uses the term “vermin”. The Guardian quotes the French Green party leader, Marine Tondelier, as saying: “Can we finally say that we have a structural problem in the police? This text is an appeal for civil war”. However, Marine Tondelier is a step behind. This is already a civil war. The police are in the thick of it. Did she not pay attention when the mother of the killed 17 year old rode on top of a van into Paris calling for a “revolt” – in a scene straight out Les Misérables.

Needless to say that the “well-liked kid” with “great potential” (quote by the leader of a community rugby club where the young man played) had quite a free attitude to the law. He was driving illegally, apparently, (unless the occupant of the car who ran off and has yet to appear was an adult supervising him and he had a license), and had a previous charge of failing to stop when requested by police for which he had a pending court appearance. Just before he was shot he had been driving erratically – in bus lanes and according to one translation of the prosecutor’s remarks on the pavement. He had just driven off from one stop, shooting a red light in the process. When he was shot he was driving away from a second stop and knocked into a policeman in doing so. The liberal media describes this as “pulling away”, “driving off” or, even in one particularly nice example, “leaving”.

The liberal media has the narrative all ready to go. This is about racism and systematic injustice. The racism charge is slightly undermined by the number of successful black professionals who appear in the news reports; the family lawyer seems to be himself of North African origin and a police representative who speaks up for the policeman also appears not to be a white Frenchman.

The French police may well still have colonial and racist attitudes in their ranks. I don’t know. But; there is a danger is making assumptions. If the police stop a young North African man coming out of a store with a rucksack but not a young white man, is that racism or simply an action based on their operational experience that the young North African man is more likely to be involved in crime?

Other than the “racism” charge which is spread about pretty freely the other “cause” is said to be “social inequality”. This doesn’t sound very convincing; capitalist societies are, by nature, very unequal. It is part of the ideology of these societies that if you are poor you can get on, get qualifications or learn a trade or profession. Some of the people who suggest that “inequality” is the problem sound like they do not accept this basic tenet of capitalist societies (which is fine but it is quite a radical Robespierrean position). Perhaps. more usefully, I have heard the view that there are practical problems for people in the banlieue; even if they can find a job it is likely to be in central Paris and involve a very lengthy commute.

One further point on the policing question; the Guardian carried quite a good piece by a journalist who have visited one of the suburbs of Marseille with a strong North African population. He spoke to a youth worker. The youth worker’s main complaint is that the police have “abandoned” the quarter. Well, yes. But given that there is widespread access to AK47s by criminals (I have seen this in other sources as well about Marseille) I, personally, don’t blame the police for abandoning foot patrols. But then the youth worker complains: “They come for a few hours and fine everybody for lack of insurance or stupid things. Yet if they put 20 police all day and night in front of the traffickers, it would stop the violence.”. Stupid things; perhaps like a driving license? (I am thinking of the young man who was shot). This young man, the youth worker, seems to think that compliance with the civil regulation aspects of the law is a “stupid thing”. This could be part of the problem. He also supports legalisation of cannabis. One can see what kind of environment he would prefer; one free of hardcore gangsters but where legal documents for cars were optional and weed was legal. That sounds like something outside of the law. If this young man is the ‘acceptable’ face of the banlieue France has a real problem with integration.