Thursday, 29 November 2007
The riots in Paris seem to be calming down. They have been occurring in an area just north of Paris in Villiers-le-Bel. Two teenagers were struck and killed by a police car which is what most sources say set off the rioting. At first glance, it seems a strong reaction for an accident. But some don’t see it as an accident, some observers say there was intention, or at least carelessness on the part of police, and others present say it was an accident.
Villiers-le-Bel is a poor immigrant neighborhood. Back in 2005, there was massive rioting in Paris suburbs with hundreds of cars and several buildings burned. This followed the accidental electrocution of two youth who were hiding from police in a power substation. The youth were playing in a lot when they saw policeman running toward them. In order to avoid being dragged into the police station and questioned for several hours for doing nothing wrong, they decided to run and not deal with them (according to a youth who survived the shock).
Prior to this event, people in the poorer neighborhoods felt that they were being habitually harassed and brutalized by the police, and wanted some relief from high unemployment (25% for the general population in the area, and up to 50% for young men and teens), which the government seemed to not be doing enough about.
So there was already a level of discontentment and animosity toward police lingering from 2005. So, the death of the two youth upon collision with a police car brought about much of the same resentment and frustration which led to fire bombings and pelting police with rocks. Many, including President Sarkozy, feel that the riots are unacceptable and must be stopped. On the evening news, a man who appeared in his 40’s, said that he didn’t blame the youth for acting like they are (rioting). “The police are always on their backs”, he said.
In 2005, there was a 3 month state of emergency called. As such, civil liberties such as freedom of assembly could be waived, and a curfew could be instituted. It’s a little unsettling to think that freedoms can be taken away like this.
A curfew was imposed in 2001 in Cincinnati, where similar rioting for similar reasons was taking place. In Cincinnati, Police shot a man who they thought was going for a gun, but who was just pulling up his loose pants. In Cincinnati, there have been cases of excessive force and shooting a suspect prematurely. And as in Paris, this violence took place in a disenfranchised neighborhood with a minority population. There is ongoing tension. Of course, handguns are legal to own in Cincinnati, so the level of violence is high.
As a result of the Cincinnati rioting, the Mayor instituted a curfew. It was quiet and eerie, and disturbing to know there was no leaving the house. And yet, in the face of such destructive violence, it seemed that something had to be done.
I don’t know what the solution is. People in all communities need to have a voice that is heard, and need to be responsible for their actions.
* Top picture from Associated Press