“Anything could have started it. When you’re an immigrant here, you’re just stuck in your shit. Does it really surprise you it’s going up in flames?”
– Momo, Age 26, Aulnay-sous-Bois
“The thugs will disappear, I will deploy the force necessary to clean this up… We will use the Karcher treatment [referring to a cleaning product]. We will send in special teams and then, if necessary, the riot squads.”
– Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of Public Security, June 20th, La Courneuve
A bit of background
Nicolas Sarkozy is the Minister of the Interior and Town and County Planning, and is widely seen as a leading presidential candidate in 2007. He has staked out the right of the political field, excelling at outrageous macho statements, all in an attempt to curry favour with the white racist vote. And it seems to be working, as he is considered the most popular politician in France. (Sarkozy pledges police crackdown after riots in Paris, The Guardian, Tuesday November 1, 2005)
France has a powerful far right – this is the country of Jean-Marie Le Pen – and has long been a strategy of all kinds of bourgeois politicians to try and win votes from these fascists by trying to outdo them at their own game (what has been called the “lepenization of the mind”). Perhaps in this vein, in June Sarkozy provoked public outcry when he promised to give the suburb of La Courneuve (in Seine-Saint-Denis) the “Karcher treatment”. Just a week befor ethe events discussed here he referred to local youths as “thugs” and “trash” when he visited Argenteuil (Val-d’Oise), another Parisian suburb. (Clichy-sous-Bois: Nicolas Sarkozy seul en première ligne, le Nouvel Observateur, November 1st 2005)
And then came the night of October 27th, in the last week of Ramadan, in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. Home of 28,000 people, “many of whom are immigrants from North or Central Africa. Most live in rundown, low-rise public housing estates. Unemployment rates are among the highest in France and many locals see the police as ‘the enemy’.” (Fires of ‘civil war’ erupt in Paris, The Guardian, Sunday October 30, 2005)
A Certainly Incomplete Timeline
Thursday October 27th
Clichy-sous-Bois, 6:12pm: A group of a dozen or so teenagers have been playing soccer. They are on their way home for their evening meal (Moslems fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan.) The police routinely harass young people in the heavily immigrant suburbs that form a working class ring around Paris (the “petite couronne”). So when the teenagers spot police checking people’s IDs they run. Ziad Benna (17 years old), Bouna Traoré (15 years old) and a third friend are chased into a power substation where they hope to hide; they are all electrocuted and Benna and Traoré die.
Initially, Minister of the Interior Sarkozy accused the dead teenagers of being thieves, while also claiming that the police never in fact chased anyone, but that this was all some kind of misunderstanding or hallucination on the part of the teenagers. (Heure par heure, le Nouvel Observateur, November 3rd 2005)
Later on, everyone will acknowledge that the teenagers were not thieves and had no history of run-ins with the police.
The police will continue to deny that they ever chased the teenagers, but several eyewitnesses contradict this story. According to Sofiane, a 16 year old friend of the victims, the police chased the youths right up to the substation. (Incidents épars en Ile-de-France, France2.fr)
That evening neighbourhood youths clash with police, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, setting cars on fire, and vandalizing buildings. A shot was reportedly fired at police. (France hs strict gun control, so the use of liv ammunition by rioters has caught everyone’s attention.) Police responded by firing tear gas at the rioters. About 27 people were detained. 23 cops and 1 journalist were wounded. The number of rioters injured is not known. (Wikipedia: 2005 Clichy-sous-Bois riots)
Friday October 28th
Clichy-sous-Bois: over 200 riot police battle neighbourhood youth. At least one shot was fired at the police, 19 people were detained and 15 cops and one journalist were injured.
‘There’s a civil war under way in Clichy-sous-Bois at the moment,’ Michel Thooris from Action Police CFTC police trade union, said. ‘My colleagues neither have the equipment nor the practical nor theoretical training for street fighting.’
Saturday October 29th
Clichy-sous-Bois: roughly 1,000 people hold a silent march, many wearing T-shirts bearing the message: ‘Dead for Nothing’.
Sunday October 30th
Clichy-sous-Bois: During evening services a tear gas grenade is fired into the Bourgets mosque; as they flee the building Moslem women are insulted by police who call them “whores” and “bitches.” The police deny that he tear gas grenade was the kind that they use.
Monday, October 31st
Rioting spreads to Seine-Saint-Denis. In nearby Montfermeil, the municipal police garage is set on fire. (Wikipedia: 2005 Clichy-sous-Bois riots)
The cops are forced to admit that the tear gas grenade used in the attack against the Bourgets mosque was indeed the kind that they use.
As night falls the Clichy-sous-Bois police station is attacked with a molotov cocktail. (Heure par heure, le Nouvel Observateur, November 3rd 2005)
Tuesday November 1st
Over the previous night rioting has spread to nine other suburbs. A total of 150 arson attacks on garbage cans, vehicles and buildings were reported. The unrest was particularly intense in Sevran, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Bondy, all in the Seine-Saint-Denis region, which is considered to be a “sensitive area of immigration and modest incomes.” Three cops were slightly injured. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, rioters threw Molotov cocktails at the town hall and rocks at the firehouse; police fired rubber bullets at advancing rioters. (Wikipedia: 2005 Clichy-sous-Bois riots)
Prime Minister Dominic de Villepin meets with the parents of the three teenagers, promising a full investigation of the deaths and insisting on “the need to restore calm.” (Clashes continue in Paris suburbs, The Guardian, Wednesday November 2, 2005)
Wednesday November 2nd
Reports suggest rioters briefly stormed a police station while 177 vehicles were torched during the previous night. One government official claims that live rounds were fired at riot police. Two primary schools, a post office and a shopping centre were damaged and a large car showroom set ablaze. Police vehicles were stoned as gangs turned on police. Rioting spreads west-ward to the area of Hauts-de-Seine where a police station was bombarded with home-made Molotov cocktails. Jacques Chirac, the President of France made appeals for calm, and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin held an emergency cabinet meeting. (Wikipedia: 2005 Clichy-sous-Bois riots)
Aulnay-sous-Bois: “youths lobbed molotov cocktails at an annex to the town hall and threw stones at the fire station” (Clashes continue in Paris suburbs, The Guardian, Wednesday November 2, 2005)
Sarkozy cancels his upcoming trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Prime Minister de Villepin cancels his trip to Canada. (Heure par heure, le Nouvel Observateur, November 3rd 2005)
Thursday November 3rd
Over the previous night protestors set fire to 315 cars in the Paris area overnight, half of them in Seine-Saint-Denis, where nine people were injured, officials said. (French youths open fire on police, The Guardian, Thursday November 3, 2005) Throughout the Paris suburbs rioting is reported in Bondy, Aubervilliers, la Courneuve, Saint-Denis, Gennevilliers and Asnières-sur-Seine. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, “gangs of youths set fire to a Renault car dealership and incinerated at least a dozen cars, a supermarket and a local gymnasium.” (French youths open fire on police, The Guardian, November 3rd 2005)
Rioting is also reported outside of the Paris area, notably in Dijon, where several; cars were set on fire. (Incidents épars en Ile-de-France, France2.fr)
The families of Ziad Benna and Bouna Traoré file a formal complaint against persons unknown for non-assistance of a person in danger. (Heure par heure, le Nouvel Observateur, November 3rd 2005)
1,000 police, including 12 new mobile and anti-riot units, patrol Seine-Saint-Denis at night (Heure par heure, le Nouvel Observateur, November 3rd 2005)
Sarkozy goes on television, claiming that “What we have seen in Seine-Sainte-Denis is in no way spontaneous, it is prefectly organized. We are working to find out by who and how.” (Heure par heure, le Nouvel Observateur, November 3rd 2005)
Prime Minister de Villepin addresses the Senate, saying that “The Republican state will not give in” and that “law and order will have the last word.” (Heure par heure, le Nouvel Observateur, November 3rd 2005)
to be continued…