Tuesday, August 14, 2012

France's Interior Minister Manuel Valls, 'Amiens Riots - How can I get a job? How can I get a Future?

A lot of people in one of the rougher neighborhoods of Amiens, a small city in northern France, had a sleepless night last night—and much of the rest of the country will be on edge tonight. The reason: a breakout of riots that one French tabloid likened to "urban guerrilla" activity. Someone even shot at the cops with live ammunition, which is still considered a rarity in France. Sixteen police were injured in the violence. And no arrests have been made. The question now is whether the rioting will spread.

For decades, young people in the housing projects and isolated immigrant-filled suburbs on the outskirts of French cities have taken out their frustrations by burning cars and clashing with cops. Mostly that's happened on long, hot summer nights, when school is out and jobs are in short supply, especially for young men from African and Arab families. Then in October and November 2005, riots spread throughout the country. Around the world, headlines asked, "Is Paris Burning?"

It wasn't. But thousands of cars were torched in scores of housing projects on the distant outskirts of the French capital and other cities. Unlike riots in the United States, which often result in fatalities, nobody was killed by the violence in 2005. But the French establishment was shaken. Many vows were made to increase funding for these neighborhoods and bring the young people there into the national mainstream.

Almost seven years later, few of those promises have been kept, and much of the political discourse about immigrants in France has come to be dominated by right-wing politicians playing on racism and xenophobia.

One of the main concerns of authorities now is to keep the death toll down to zero. The 2005 riots started when two teenagers who were being chased by police tried to hide out in a power company substation and were electrocuted. The stories that circulated about their deaths ignited the latent anger in similar neighborhoods throughout the country.

In Amiens, there had been some signs of violence on Sunday night, but it really took off about 11pm on Monday as a group of about 100 young men reportedly started burning trash cans and cars and throwing up barriers across the streets. As about 150 police arrived on the scene, according to local reporters, street battles erupted that lasted for about three hours. A nursery school and some other buildings were burned while tear gas canisters flew and a police helicopter overhead called for reinforcements.

When Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the scene this afternoon, a 25-year-old from the neighborhood named Youssef reportedly tried to confront him amid some pushing and shoving. Youssef demanded that Valls "answer his questions," said the report, but Valls slipped out of the crowd and into the town hall.

It's easy to imagine what those questions might have been: How can I get a job? How can I get a future? Will the children and grandchildren of immigrants who are black and brown and in many cases Muslim ever really be accepted in France? What's harder to imagine is that Valls, or any other government official, really has the answer.

- The Telegraph, By Christopher Dickey

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