Views from France: Police shooting, subsequent riots and mending a divided society

Our members in France gave their views on the recent police shooting, the riots that followed, and proposals to bridge this societal discord

Protests have been rampant across France since a police officer executed a 17-year-old boy during a traffic stop, with riots so intense at one point that there was fear of the country slipping into civil war.

While things appear to have cooled down, at least for now, we reached out to our members in France for their first-hand view on the specific incident and the protests that followed, as well as the wider matter of police brutality.

In addition, we wanted to know what the root of this public anger is, and what could the solutions to bridge the resentment between police and citizens could be.

“A government that doesn’t listen to the people”

Riots are not just related to the killing of the 17-year-old boy, but a multi-layered grievance against a government that has turned its back on the people, according to DiEM25 member, François.

“What’s at the root of the anger in France? A government that doesn’t listen to the people, that takes untimely decisions (retirement, ecology) when what people are waiting for is the right to live healthily and serenely,” he added.

“The right to demonstrate – and therefore to speak out – is being trampled on. The Minister of the Interior is directing his troops, the police, to stop any demonstrations by force and is developing the police’s licence to kill.”

François adds that, even though he does not join such riots, some people fairly feel it is the only way to express their contempt for the powers that be.

“We are no longer in a state governed by the rule of law and democracy, and the only way to make ourselves heard is through violence – although I don’t practise it and disapprove of it,” he said.

“The only solution is for our president to listen and not decide alone on the pseudo-solutions he wants to put in place. Number one: Universal Basic Income, which will contribute to everyone’s right to live.”

“Absurd, self-destructive violence”

A member of ours, who preferred to remain anonymous, from Seine-Saint-Denis, an area of Paris with one of the highest crime rates in the city, gave an account of the violence that took place in his town. He expressed his concern for the chaos and lawlessness that took place in response to the shooting, blaming both societal issues and Macron’s failed policies.

“I’ve lived in Romainville, a commune in Seine-Saint-Denis near Paris, for five years. On the night of Wednesday, June 28, I started to hear mortar fire in the distance as night fell. At 3am, groups of people came screaming down my street and bins were set on fire at the bottom of my building. Neighbours searched for a fire extinguisher to put out one that was burning just under a window.

“The next day, there were no buses leaving the town and municipal lorries were clearing the debris around the town hall, whose windows had been attacked. A black man offered to take people in his car to the nearest underground station. As he drove he said that on the one hand he was sad about what was happening, but on the other he thought it was the only way to make his voice heard. That he was afraid that one day his own child would be killed in the same way.

“The following night, at 2am, the shooting resumed. I found out later that the shops in the centre of the neighbouring town of Montreuil had been looted. In Romainville, a newly-built crèche was set on fire, shops were more or less vandalised (and not necessarily the most luxurious ones) and rubbish bins were burnt. Luckily, it seems, no vehicles were involved. Absurd, self-destructive violence. I remembered 2005 as soon as it started.

“For years, the same social and policing problems have been going on and getting worse. Macron had held out the promise of an ambitious policy in this area before throwing it all in the bin and simply doing Thatcherism.

“Now we’re back to square one, only worse. The government is pandering to the electorate and the far-right police unions. There is nothing to hope for, at least as long as we continue to drift in this direction, which is preventing us from cleaning up our security policy at the very least.”

Problems and solutions on a social and economic level

Nicole provided some insight and suggestions on what needs to be done on a social level to bridge the divide between French citizens of migrant backgrounds and the police.

In her opinion, the lack of understanding between the police and certain young people has several causes. On a social level, she identified the following problems:

  • The third or even fourth generation of immigrants (some of them) don’t fit into society and suffer even more than other young people from malaise
  • The history of colonisation is not ‘digested’ on either side and is very poorly taught
  • Police training as a whole is inadequate. It would be interesting if every police officer, at every level, knew this history and above all did not control individuals on the basis of their facial features. The nineteenth-century “mite of the savage” is still part of the atavism
  • Many secular associations have left the field for lack of human and financial resources, leaving young people to wander or, worse still, to be taken over by extremist religious, sectarian or political movements

On an economic level, there is also plenty of work required. This is what Nicole proposed:

  • Finding a job is more difficult for someone with an Arabic-sounding name. It’s not enough just to cross the road, as our dear President said
  • Social and often cultural ghettoisation is not conducive to exchanges. It is necessary to create a social mix and to distribute so-called social housing in all the neighbourhoods of an urban area.
  • The mandatory 20 percent of social housing per municipality must be spread across the whole area to enable this mixing and integration. The allocation of social housing is often poorly done, accentuating ghettoisation
  • The disappearance of public services in neighbourhoods and of local police forces has broken social ties. The privatisation of the post office has also played a role. Economic profitability does not work with social cohesion

“All these factors have been known for a long time, but politicians want to ignore them,” she said. “Politics should not be seen as a job, but as a service to the people. Now every politician is only interested in getting re-elected. The 1958 constitution is no longer appropriate, and there is no longer any such thing as a providential man.”

Not enough media coverage of concrete solutions

Another member, who has mainly been living in Berlin the last year, but whose home town is near Perpignan, believes the riots have been more prominent in France’s bigger cities while the media has not done enough to provide impartial, solution-based coverage.

“Even near my home in France, in Le Boulou near Perpignan, I’m not sure that there have been riots comparable to those in the big cities,” he said.

“In my humble opinion, there is not enough media coverage – not to say hype, in contrast to the dominant biased discourse of the ruling press – of concrete alternative solutions and projects for society, as proposed by the left, be it NUPES, GDS, DIEM25, EELV or even PC and PS.”

Hatred without limits

“There is good reason to be angry when a person, even an active offender, is killed, when the murderer had no right to do so,” said our member Daniel. “We should protest and demand justice. As for the violence that followed, it was not an expression of anger, but of hatred, which is not the same thing. A hatred without limits, linked to confusion encouraged by the digital communication of collective networks.”

Join our livestream

What does all of this mean for people in France, and what lessons can be learned by those elsewhere in Europe?

We would love for you to join our discussion on this very subject on Tuesday, July 11, where you can contribute by putting your questions across to Yanis Varoufakis, Julijana Zita, Erik Edman and the rest of our team, as well as our special guest, Stathis Kouvelakis.

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