Sunday, November 20, 2005

My Neighbourhood in the Days of the Field-Marshal

What follows was written on May 18th, 2005 – over five months before the rebellion was sparked in Clichy-sous-Bois, a similar “at risk” neighbourhood where the police act as an occupying troop. In my opinion, it provides some necessary context to the 2005 Fall Rebellion. - translator

It all started about a month before Ramadan. A troop of CRS [riot police] in full battle regalia raided a low-income family home to arrest a young man. It was a Wednesday, in the middle of the afternoon. It was nice outside. All of the kids from the Reynerie neighbourhood (in Toulouse-le-Mirail) were outside. They were there when the building was surrounded and closed off, they saw the invasion by an army of police. They saw the arrested man’s mother and young sister (4 feet tall) violently taken to the police station, and they knew that all of this was for some tiny infraction… It almost turned into a riot, the whole neighbourhood was deeply disturbed, and it had been relatively calm up until then. For once, even the adults felt threatened by this uncalled for police aggression. There was a collective and largely spontaneous reaction. The next day, between 150 and 200 of us gathered at Abbal Place, to publicly protest and denounce the police violence. And a few dozen of us met together over the next weeks, to talk about the problems in our neighbourhood and to try and bring about some solidarity between the generations, and between residents who come from very different places.


Although we wanted to live together in peace, the police provocations did not stop, and this provoked a cycle of revolt (cars set on fire, vandalism…) and repression (counter-productive police ID checks, arrests, riot police…)

In this matter, there was the highly symbolic charge of the riot police, preceded by tear gas grenades – on Christmas day. It was around 5pm and the target was a group of children aged 12 and 13, who were playing on Kiev Street.

But this was just the beginning. A kind of taste of things to come. For two months, in Mirail and also in twenty four other neighbourhoods throughout France that are “to be tamed,” we are living as if we were under Field-Marshal Petain [translators note: Petain was the man who set up a pro-Nazi government in France after the German invasion in World War II]. This is the spontaneous description that the oldest one of us said. It is true that he is wafting through the neighbourhood like the stink of occupation. This is how the police create lawless areas.

For the pretext for this abuse of power was largely the creation of the media : there are apparently “lawless areas” where the police “cannot set foot” and within which “criminal activities” take place.

In Mirail – as is certainly the case in the other neighbourhoods concerned – this pretext is completely ridiculous.

How can they say that the police “cannot set foot” here, when there is a big brand new police headquarters right in the middle of Mirail, between Reynerie and Bellefontaine, and police stations all over the place? The police does not need to come into the area: it is already here all the time! In passing, please note that in order to justify this police headquarters (which was built following the murder of a young man, Habib, at the hands of the police, with the support of all of the political parties), they said that once it was built there would be “no more violence” and life would be peaceful again. Now we have the headquarters, the problems that come with the headquarters, and less peace than ever.

As for “lawlessness,” let’s talk about it. But let’s talk about it properly: one of the most basic rights [translators note: in French the word for a right is also the word for the law: “le droit”; thus “lawlessness” and “without rights” are both covered by the same phrase – I have translated “zone de non-droit” consistently as “lawless area” but it could also be translated as “a place where people have no rights”] is the right to come and go - as one pleases. When we go out or come back from work, we have to pass through two, sometimes three, police checkpoints. The neighbourhood is surrounded, closed off. All of the roads going in and out are blocked. Day and night. There are groups of police who are also set up within the neighbourhood. They are so close together that from one checkpoint you can see the next. Sometimes there are less than 200 meters between them.

Of course, as my neighbour said (he changed his mind after the fourth body search) “Why worry if you have nothing to hide?” Why worry? Because, to pass through one of these checkpoints means to risk being arrested, having to show your papers (you had better not have forgotten anything!), having your vehicle searched, having to get out of your car and have hands all over your body, hands which are not exactly gentle. It means being viewed with suspicion, having to listen to them laughing at you and making their little comments… It means wasting a lot of time and being truly humiliated.

When you cannot leave your home without being subjected to this treatment several times a week, you do in effect live in a lawless area [translator: or “a place where people have no rights” – see above]. A lawlessness that has been built from scratch by the police and the justice system.

And as for the famous “criminal activity,” we can be just as clear: by searching through our vehicles and our pockets, yes, the CRS [riot police] have certainly found some marijuana, some stolen cell phones and car radios, and other things like that. Perhaps they even found some stolen cars. But they can search the neighbourhood from top to bottom and they will not be able to find a single person who traffics in 600 square meter apartments, or people who abuse social assets, or people who loot public moneys, nor will they find anyone who makes use of the “services” of Patrice Alègre. Those types live elsewhere, far from police searches. They are protected by the police.

Startegy of Tension

We realized that what those in power were doing was carrying out a veritable strategy of tension which, as in other such cases, has two results.

The first is that people are trapped in their neighbourhood, on their block, in a true ghetto. You hesitate before going to see a movie, because you know that you will have to go through two CRS checkpoints at night in order to get back to your home. And so you stay at home. Your friends hesitate before coming to visit you. You understand: they don’t want to have to go through a body search at one of the police checkpoints. You have less and less contact with the outside world.

Within the neighbourhood, people are getting more stressed. That’s the point. One example, that occurred on Saturday March 26th, during the Easter weekend. Everything was calm, and one of us took the car to go into town. He was not out of the neighbourhood before a CRS police car sped past him, turned around and stopped in front of him, while two others came up behind him, and three or four others closed off each of the side streets. So he was surrounded by ten police cars. What had he done? Was this a war? No, and in fact they were not even interested in him; he made his way through as the cops were jumping out of their cars with their shields and guns, charging into a building. A few minutes later when he came back, there was nothing to see. What happened? Why such a show of force? We will never know. But, even if one is not particularly sensitive, the risk of suddenly finding oneself at any moment caught in the middle of a western, is quite stressful, to say the least. Many residents cannot deal with it, most notably the many elderly people who still live here.

Being shut up in a closed space, rising tensions anxiety, this is a recipe for the rise of fundamentalisms. We already had some little girls who wore the veil. Thanks to de Villepin’s policies, within the past two months we have seen the first boys in the neighbourhood going to school in djellaba [translators note: a long, loose, hooded garment with full sleeves, worn especially in Muslim countries]. And within just the past few days, there have been school students who, when their teacher tries to teach them a song, take out notes explaining that Muslims do not sing. These are definitely the results of policies carried out in the name of “Republican values,” and they will only grow unless something changes.

The second result is that the repressive machine gets bigger. The permanent surveillance of even the tiniest detail, the shows of force on a background of poverty, are just so many provocations that lead to reactions, of individuals or groups “taking action.” Sometimes, when he is pulled over for the umpteenth time that day, a resident will crack and “tlk back to” a cop. Sometimes the anger sets fire to garbage cans or cars (sometimes just a few meters away from the police checkpoint)… And all of this serves as an excuse for the next police searches, a greater police presence, more arrests… and then it starts all over again. The State would like to provoke more riots in Mirail, that’s why it continues to act this way. This is becoming more obvious every day.

What Is The Cost? What Is The Goal?

Another thing that should not be forgotten: all of this is very expensive. But those in power, those who count every penny they can save at the expense of workers, they make sure not to ever put a number on it. Hundreds of CRS, officers with the Anti-Criminal Brigade, the Intelligence Services, police of all sorts are permanently set up in the neighbourhood. Apart from their fat salaries (take a look at the propaganda leaflets at the Bellefontaine headquarters), they all get bonuses for working at night, on the weekends, danger pay… without counting the maintenance costs for all of their equipment. The total must be out of this world.

And what does it get them? In regards to the official objective (to have a peaceful neighbourhood) it is useless. We are living in one of the most tense periods within the past ten years. The money spent makes no sense. Unless of course the official objective is not the true objective.

Be Clear About Who The Real enemy Is
Caught between the State’s strategy of tension, the falling back onto one’s identity and the some people’s idiocy (those whose latest national incarnation is the campaign ‘against anti-white racism”), people don’t have a lot of space left. But, as in the past, anarcho-syndicalist neighbourhood activists insist that we must be clear about who the real enemy is.

We are saying and we will continue to say that our enemy is not our neighbour, whose misery is also our own. Our real enemies are those who humiliate us. Those who exploit us when it’s worth their while, and who fire us when it becomes convenient. Those who raise our rents and utility bills. Those who evict us when we can no longer pay. Those who cut back on social spending. Those who leave us with no future apart from being warehoused in a ghetto. So let’s be clear. Even if it is more difficult than ever, we should respect each other, support each other and continue to work to build a different future.

The CNT-AIT residents in Mirail

Please note that the above text life in a “sensitive” neighbourhood comes from the website of the CNT-AIT

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

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