Thursday, June 18, 2009

Villiers-le-Bel Revisited

A long article in Le Monde updates the situation in the town of Villiers-le-Bel, department of Val-d'Oise and scene of a major uprising in November 2007, when two youths on a motorcycle (photo above) were killed by a police car during a chase. Their deaths triggered several days and nights of violence and vandalism. You can review the event at four of my posts from 2007, in chronological order: one, two, three, four.

The article, that had to be abridged, moves from a description of the current situation into a more politically correct analysis of the events, emphasizing the feeling of abandonment and hopelessness among the young residents and their accusations against the police:

During the night, a small group of teens, probably about 15 years of age, opened an electrical box. Wires were pulled out, a short circuit ensued and the city's lights went out. It is 11:00 p.m. on Friday, June 12, and the sensitive neighborhoods in Villiers-le-Bel are preparing for another tense night. Like almost every weekend for the past month, in a frightening routine, the face-off between adolescents and police is about to begin. A half-hour earlier, broken bottles had already been hurled at a patrol car. This time, the police and firemen are the targets of "mortar shells" - fire crackers launched from a plastic tube several yards away.

A dozen deafening explosions, then bouquets of sparks fly above the police. The arrival of reinforcements equipped with helmets, shields, rubber bullets and tear gas grenades puts an end to the confrontation ten minutes later. "They will calm down this evening, but they'll start up again tomorrow", comments one disabused father watching the scene from a parking lot. The teens scatter inside the apartment complex. Until the next time.

A year and a half after the riots of 2007, the climate has once again deteriorated in this city of 27,000 inhabitants, north of Paris. Since early May this is the fourth time that groups of youths violently attack the police.

The article describes similar events that occurred on May 9, June 5 and 6, and June 11. Young adults known as the "big brothers" who act as spokesmen for the youth have stated that the situation is "very troubling". These "big brothers", following the advice of a rapper named Larsen whom they trust, agreed to meet with Fadela Amara, Sarkozy's minister on urban affairs.

These unofficial "managers" of the neighborhood - shop owners, heads of associations, self-made CEO's - say they fear an implosion and are sending out a warning concerning the relations between the young persons and the police and mayor. Concerning too the indifference of French society towards the difficulties endured in the sensitive suburbs. "We are two steps from a catastrophe. There was hatred in the youngsters, today it is worse. It has deteriorated in a year," explains Saïd, 28, a well-known figure in the neighborhood. "When there are no standards, no future, they turn to kamikaze-style behavior," added another merchant who wished to remain anonymous.

A police patrol arrives and the two groups - police on one side, residents on the other - stare at each other like statues. The police, armed with Flash-Balls (rubber bullets) hug the sides of the buildings to avoid being hit by projectiles. They belong to the UTEQ (Neighborhood Territorial Unit) a measure dreamed up by Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, to replace the neighborhood police. But for now, their ability to form ties with the inhabitants remains largely theoretical.

At night, more reinforcements - six vans of riot police, at least three civilian cars, a patrol wagon, and two armored vans are stationed permanently close to the police on their beat. The police authorities explain that this deployment of forces is temporary: "The objective is for the patrols to eventually be able to operate without them. But if we let our guard down too quickly, there will be incidents immediately." A neighborhood spokesman laments: "The police come here as if to fight guerilla warfare. They're dressed like Robocop and act as if they are in occupied territory."

Note: They got that right.

The rest of the article is largely devoted to complaints of the residents of Villiers-le-Bel.

Both police and "big brothers" agree on one point - the profile of the rioters. They are between 13 and 16 years of age, an age and a time of year when school closings create destructive behavior. But for the police, it is a question of criminal behavior: "Our presence disturbs the 'thugocracy'. The incidents are caused by the youth - a minority - who use a guerilla strategy on us. They fight for their territory," explains commissioner Auréal, who also mentions the trafficking of cars and marijuana.

The "big brothers" insist that the "youngsters" were traumatized two years ago: "First there was the death of our friends. Then two nights of rioting when they took power. Do you know what that does to the minds of adolescents?" Rapper Larsen adds: "They are closed up in Villiers-le-Bel, in their schools, in their neighborhoods. With the same buddies, who have the same view of things. When there's an airplane crash they send in psychologists. For the kids who experienced the 2007 riots, there's nothing."

The article closes with a discussion of the deterioration of housing units, the slowness of the government to act on urban problems, and the feeling that there will never be "justice" for those who suffered through 2007. The investigation into the 2007 riots is still underway. Neighborhood resident Saïd summarized his feelings:

"The widespread belief is that there is one justice for the police, and another for the youth in the ghettoes."

I have very little to add. We have been through similar things here and we still experience serious crimes on a daily basis committed primarily by blacks and Hispanic immigrants. We spent millions trying to help the ghettoes - in vain. We gave up our standards in favor of affirmative action - in vain. Bush apologized for hurricane Katrina, even though he had nothing to do with it - in vain. This is the plight of white European societies who have either caved in to the demands of the non-assimilable elements, or who have deliberately opened their doors to them, out of suicidal naïveté (or is it diabolical conspiracy?)

The photo below of a burning car is from my files. I'm not sure which riot it was - does it really matter?

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