On Thursday, the Financial Times posted an unsigned article that describes an encounter with young people responsible for some of the violence in Rosny-sous-Bois, a mostly white banlieue of 40,000 inhabitants east of Paris where three cités (housing projects) were involved in the recent disturbances. -- The "young, mostly black men . . . were, for the most part, dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, and black rain jackets with large hoods. Happy to speak to reporters -- and wanting above all to appear before cameras -- they seemed obsessed with Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister who called the gangs 'scum' and on Wednesday threatened to expel foreigners involved in the violence. 'He has to resign, he has to resign, that's our demand,' they shouted." ...
COMMUNITY LOOKS FOR ANSWERS IN RIOT-TORN SUBURBS
Financial Times (UK)
November 10, 2005
Traumatized families streamed to the town hall on Wednesday evening for an "extraordinary" meeting called by the mayor of Rosny-sous-Bois, a town of 40,000 people scarred by the rioting that has swept through France. Policemen stood watch outside the hall; two women handed out stickers, including one that said "Stop the Violence."
Visibly touched by the town's large turn-out, Mayor Claude Pernès outlined the damage suffered by this mostly white, middle-class Paris suburb that is also home to three cités -- the low-income housing blocs where many immigrant families live.
The toll was not as bad as in other parts of the country, but it was still heavy: 52 cars torched, 18 public garbage bins set on fire, an attempted burning of the post office and of a municipal garage.
"We are startled, and we are asking why?" Mr Pernès continued. "Have we failed in treating this delinquency?"
He moved on to defend his record, citing the investments in housing rehabilitation, job creation, and a youth center, and saying the city would do more.
But not all the audience was convinced. "There are social issues, lack of housing and jobs, and there are issues of discrimination. The mayor usually recognizes that," said El-Hassan Guerrab, head of the Muslim Association of Rosny, a cultural group that has been sending members to reason with the bands of youth.
Sitting in the audience, with his two teenage daughters, Mr. Guerrab, a tall Moroccan man with a thin beard, pointed out that the mayor had thanked many associations for helping out during this crisis, yet omitted the MAR. "That, in itself, is a form of discrimination," he quipped.
Later that evening, Mr. Guerrab took a group of reporters on to the streets of Rosny, driving through the deserted, run-down cité of Bois Perrier, one of the areas hit by the violence. He stopped in a parking lot in a shopping square. "This is the usual meeting place of one of the suspected bands, they spend most of the night here," he said. "But we have to wait a while before the kids come out. They're all watching the football match." France was playing against Costa Rica on Wednesday.
Sure enough, an hour or so later, a group of young, mostly black men, appeared. They were, for the most part, dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, and black rain jackets with large hoods. Happy to speak to reporters -- and wanting above all to appear before cameras -- they seemed obsessed with Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister who called the gangs "scum" and on Wednesday threatened to expel foreigners involved in the violence.
"He has to resign, he has to resign, that's our demand," they shouted.
Lamine, a 19-year-old school dropout who sometimes works as a pizza delivery boy, is the apparent leader. His family -- his father married four times and has a total of 30 children -- came from Senegal in 1980. The parking lot, he says, has become his refuge. "We're here, it's our territory, we watch," he said.
He admitted that he had been thrown out of school because of bad behavior yet he insisted he should be offered better job opportunities. "I look for jobs but I'm discriminated against, someone with a French name is always favored," he said.
Some of the youth expressed real grievances of largely Muslim immigrant communities in France. Others, however, were cheeky, speaking of the riots as a game that, much to their own surprise, had worked, provoking a political crisis.
"We tried to express ourselves differently but the only way to get attention and to get the cameras here is through rioting," said 20-year-old Karim, a French-born man of Algerian origin.
The real enemy of these young men, aged between 15 and 21, was government authority. "You burn state property because you want to make the government pay. But the government also has to compensate citizens if private property is destroyed," added Karim.
French insurers yesterday estimated the riots had caused 200m euros of damage.
Thanks to a heavier police presence in Rosny, and the threat that a curfew could be imposed, the riots have subsided in recent days. The youth said they could still be arrested but claimed not to be afraid of the police.
"If a curfew is imposed, they will detain us and we'll get angrier. They'll force us to go home but that's like going to prison," said one member of Lamine's group, who refused to give his name.
Suddenly, the young men heard that Mr Pernès, the mayor, was touring the town. They rushed out of the parking lot to speak to him. Some of them tried to be polite but asked, in a forceful tone, how he planned to respond to their demands.
Others were impertinent. "I won't speak with you," one of the younger kids told the mayor. Why, asked Mr Pernès. "I just don't like you, I just don't like the way you look," was the answer.
Another young man used the occasion to mock Mr. Sarkozy. "Have you ever met Sarkozy," he asked the mayor. "Is he a really small man?"
With Mr. Guerrab and his colleagues standing near him, the mayor tried to control his exasperation. He said he wanted to establish a dialogue with the youth -- and might even invite television crews to film a discussion -- but that silly remarks like these made his efforts harder.
He answered the more serious questions, acknowledging, for example, that it was a challenge for blacks from the poor suburbs to find jobs. But his overall message to the band was that the riots would make employers even more reluctant to hire young people like them. "If it is already difficult to find jobs, it's going to be even more difficult now," he said.