Friday, November 04, 2005

Clichy-sous-bios Riots : Youth Accuse the Police

Police provocations and repression
Sunday October 30th 2005, by David Cadasse

Following the insurrectional reaction to the two teenagers who died of electrical burns in a substation as they tried to “run from the police,” young people in Clichy-sous-bois (a suburb of Paris) are accusing the forces of law and order of throwing fuel on the fire, knowingly provoking them and even shooting them with rubber bullets for no reason. Afrik has obtained a video in which one can see this police violence, and has also collected several accounts during a meeting, Sunday, between the mayor and neighbourhood youth.


Sunday, 3pm, Clichy-sous-bois. The mayor has organized an informal meeting with young people from the neighbourhood, all of whom are very disappointed and upset by the attitude of the police the night before. Yesterday the city had organized a silent demonstration in honour of the two teenagers, Ziad and Banou, who were burnt to death last Thursday in an electrical substation after being chased, or at least thinking they were being chased, by police. But if, after two days of rioting, the tension seemed to have subsided, the youth accuse the police of fanning the flames and keeping people’s hatred alive by committing more and more provocations, abuses and needless repression.

“Everyone has made tremendous efforts to calm things down. The demonstration was peaceful, but that night the CRS [riot police] made a point of harassing the youth, provoking them,” admitted a municipal official who requested anonymity. In the parking lot at city hall, over 150 youths, almost all of African origin (Black and Arab), came to listen to the mayor. The mayor made a point of reminding them that all of the damage that has been done will be paid for by the city, which means by the taxpayers. He suggested that the solution should be between people in the city and seemed to leave aside the question of the police. Everyone expressed themselves quite freely.

In the crowd everyone was talking. Little groups formed here and there to discuss the events of the night before. Everyone condemned the provocations and abuse of the police. Many people witnessed or were themselves victims of abuse.

Jeremy, fed up, explains: “They [the police – Afrik] are more hot-headed than usual, they are provoking us more. The brother of one of the dead kids was with us, as usual, in front of his building when the police came by with their flash balls [a gun that fires rubber bullets – Afrik] and started checking us out, finally telling him ‘you, go home to your mother.’ He took a few steps towards the cops to talk to them when one of the cops told him ‘Stop or I’ll shoot you.’ We ran in and up to the tenth floor, and they started shooting gas into the lobby.”

Mothers Insulted As They Leave The Mosque

“They all say shit, especially the journalists,” says Youcef, looking over at the Capa camera crew (Le vrai journal) surrounded by young people, taking pictures and getting quotes. “First of all, they started by attacking the reputation of the victims, when today even the prosecutor from Bobigny admits that the police had not ever suspected them of anything bad. The media wants us all to look like trash, whereas it is the police who provoke the youth, trying to get any excuse to hit or shoot.”

With barely contained anger, Morad tells us this: “We were leaving the mosque when the police surrounded us with their flash-balls drawn. They took us aside, but what really shocked us was when they started insulting the mothers who were leaving the prayers: ‘Get out of here you gang of whores and keep a better eye on your kids!’”

Morad does not seem like the type who would look for a confrontation with the police, but not everyone is so cool-headed.

Forces of law and order… or disorder?

You can feel the tension in the air. All the more because three police cars are stationed just 50 meters from the town hall. One of the officers has his flash ball in his hand with his finger on the trigger. The crowd takes this as yet another provocation. Tempers are rising. Two people start shouting that the crowd should attack the police: “Come on, we out-number them, we’ll all go together and smash them up,” says one of them. Luckily, calmer heads prevail, and manage to disperse the line of youths that had formed in front of the police.

“They are provoking us too much, I have friends who had been shot at, just like that, for no reason, with plastic bullets. This can only lead to more violence. Everyone is angry. Now if it’s going to explode, it’s going to explode. I am not afraid of them and their weapons. We will get to a point where we will get weapons . It’s going to get like in America here,” predicts Jonathan.

“The police stopped me at 4am. I was alone in my car. They searched the car and found a baseball bat in my trunk. When they asked me why I had the bat, I told them that there is no law against having a bat in your trunk. They answered me, saying ‘Well is there against a law against me ramming it in your face?’ Then they started going on saying ‘This isn’t Beirut here’ and calling me a ‘little faggot.’ One of them really wanted me to cry. He came right up to me and shouted ‘Cry!’ Luckily, just as this was happening some reporters drove by. I called out and they stopped. Before they got there the cop said he didn’t like reporters, but there was nothing he could do and he had to leave me alone.”

Nicolas Sarkozy Supports The Police

There are two different versions of the dramatic events at Clichy-sous-bois, regarding whether or not the police were chasing the teenagers after their soccer match. The police say one thing, and the young people from the area say something else. The problem is, there are witnesses. One of the young people who were chased explains that he hid while his three friends ran straight to the power substation. Even without this testimony, some people just don’t understand how the police version makes any sense. “Why were some young people arrested if they were not being chased, seeing as they all ran away?” “Why else would the teenagers have decided to climb a 3 meter high wall with barbed wire on top?” Just more questions that the police sweep aside.

Sunday at 8pm, the Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy stated on channel one that, according to the information he received, “The police were not chasing the youths.” If he does intend to “tell the truth to everyone,” he also made a point of paying “homage to the remarkable work the police have been doing” and to “congratulate them” for the arrests they have made. A law-and-order discourse that many people feel leads to a dangerous conclusion – that those who have been arrested [during he riots] are all thugs – and which gives the police carte blanche to do what they please with impunity.

A damning video for the forces of law and order

Once again, Nicolas Sarkozy repeated that he will maintain a policy of “zero tolerance” towards urban violence. Discounting community policing, he insists on the need for more and more arrests. “Real young people” will have nothing to fear from the police. In the meantime, on Sunday a security force of over 400 CRS [riot police], guardsmen and police took up positions throughout the city.

Can the police, supported by the Minister of the Interior, do as they please? A video, recorded with a cell phone, is circulating throughout the neighbourhoods. A file called “Sarko’s new keufs” [keuf is slang for police] was given to Afrik, and part of it can be viewed online. We see a police car parked with its door open. We think we can make out that someone has thrown something at the police. The response is immediate. We can clearly see plainclothes police firing again and again with heir flash-balls. We see them chasing the young people, calling out “Come back you bastards!”

“Some of the rubber bullets are even signed,” says Kader. “There is a guy who was hit by one that had ‘Boum boum on your ass, see you soon, Luc’ written on it.”

There seems to be a great divide between the police and the youth. Between the politicians who approve of the police’s behaviour and the media, which is accused of distorting and falsifying reality, the hostility and exasperation are feeding feelings of hatred that may unfortunately lead to worst.

To view the video please click here (you will need QuickTime)

Please note that the above text about the past week’s riots in Clichy-Sous-Bois come from the website of Afrik in France and translated by yours truly. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original document can be seen in French.

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!

For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.

Or see on my blog:

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