Thursday, May 23, 2024

France Must Now Deal with Its Ghettos

On 27 June 2023, a police officer in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, France, pulled over Nahel Merzouk, a young man with ancestry in North Africa. After an altercation, the police officer shot Nahel dead. Residents started a protest outside the police headquarters on 27 June. Video footage revealed the police officer shot Nahel as he was driving off. The video surveillance disproves the officer shot Nahel in self-defence as the officer stated. As soon as the video footage aired many protests escalated into rioting as demonstrators set cars alight, destroyed bus stops, and shot fireworks at police.

The twelve days of burning cars and warlike streets have shocked France and the world. Police brutality is often synonymous with the U.S., but it is an issue in French society. The combination of immigration and ghettoization of suburbs breeds racism, especially in the French ghettos known as ‘banlieue’. Banlieues are large working-class suburbs that straddle big French cities like Paris and Lyon. These suburbs are home to many immigrant communities, both legal and illegal. Infested with violence, unemployment and despair the banlieues hide the massive problems within French society.

As a society, France does not like to acknowledge racism. Race-based statistics are not kept in France at all. While the idea of race blindness is great without the evidence showing the dramatically different lifestyles for those of a different colour France will continue to see disproportionate violence in its nonwhite communities. If the nation is serious about stopping violence by police or citizens then it needs to deal with the banlieues.

France Must Now Deal with Its Ghettos

Banlieues for you, Paris for me

France is a beautiful country. Its capital Paris is one of the most visited places on Earth, with well-manicured streets and cozy cafés everywhere. Visitors to the country could be there for months and not realize what the real France looks like. The Real France is often in these banlieues.

Banlieue poverty and immigration in France are closely intertwined issues that have plagued the country for decades. These areas predominantly house immigrants and their descendants, creating a complex dynamic where marginalization and exclusion intersect with cultural diversity. The roots of this issue can be traced back to the post-war period when waves of immigrants from former French colonies were recruited to fill labour shortages.

As France has transitioned from a heavy manufacturing country into a service-led economy labour needs have changed, and companies have fired many French workers, especially those immigrants who came after the 1950s. The job prospects in these suburbs have only deteriorated since then. In the 1,500 priority districts (suburbs) in France, where 4.8 million French people live (7% of the population). 76% of neighbourhood residents live in social housing, and 40% live in poverty compared to 16% of the general population. The youth unemployment rate exceeds 40% in some cities (Sarcelles, Grigny, or certain municipalities of Seine-Saint-Denis).

 However, integration efforts have fallen short over the years due to various factors including discrimination, limited economic opportunities, inadequate education systems, and segregation between different ethnic groups. As a result, banlieue poverty persists as a symptom of larger societal challenges that demand comprehensive solutions such as targeted policies promoting equal opportunities and social cohesion initiatives emphasizing inclusivity and intercultural dialogue.

How To Fix The Situation in France

Police brutality, ghettoization and violence have always been problems in the banlieues. In 2005, the working-class neighbourhoods revolted after the death of Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré in Clichy-sous-Bois. 14 years later, urban violence is still there, in Chanteloup-Les-Vignes in early November 2019, in Mantes-La-Jolie or in Mureaux in recent weeks, with permanent tension between young people and the police. As the police have spent the past decade hunting and targeting suspected terrorists, they have bullied and over-policed immigrants in these suburbs. No solution that does not deal with the relationship of the police to its communities can help.

France Must Now Deal with Its Ghettos

To fix the situation between police and citizens in the banlieue it is important to understand the motivations of each group. Young people in general are looking to find work, purpose and meaning in their lives. If a society cannot provide an environment where kids can learn and grow then they will take their energies to negative activities. But only a small percentage of youth even in banlieues are involved in criminal activity. In 2020 France had a crime rate of 1.3 per 100,000.