Parisians have seen their city burning once before, during World War II. Paris is burning now again, lit by anger over the racial bias of its police force. On June 27th, cops killed one Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old delivery driver. He was shot dead in Nanterre, a working suburb west of Paris. As the fury over his wanton killing continues to rage for the fourth day, the riots that followed have resulted so far in 2,560 fires on public roads, arrests of more than 1,300 and burnings of 1,350 cars. As the street outside Nahel’s Pablo Picasso banlieue sinks under multiple layers of ashes, major cities across France are gasping in an immense ferment. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/07/01/world/france– protests– arrests–hundreds–intl–hnk/index.html
Acquiring Racist and Political Overtones
First, the unfortunate killing of Nahel and then the uncontrollable riots, the arson and the loot. France has never seen such spontaneous outpouring of anger. Parisians have never seen such a fury in recent times. The killing of Nahel by two traffic policemen for driving through a bus lane and a red light, and not stopping when the police tried to stop him, has infuriated banlieue residents like never before. A simple traffic offence received such a fatal punishment, only because the offender was the son of African immigrants.
Making matters worse, the French fury is acquiring dangerous racist and political overtones. What began as a public display of anger in Nanterre is now a full-fledged civil war covering 12 cities, from south-west to south-east, including Toulouse and Lyon. Now, there are as many as 45,000 police and gendarmes out there to contain the unrest. More rioters are being rounded up continually. Yet, there seems to be no let-up. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/frances–macron–hold– new– crisis–meeting–after–third–night–riots–2023–06–30/
Video Courtesy: YouTube/Global News
Mr Macron in the Eye of the Storm
Riots have reached meanwhile cities beyond Paris, like Marseille and Lille. Social media has to accept a fair share of the blame for the riots. As videos after explicit videos went viral with alarming frequency, the centrist president Emmanuel Macron is in the eye of the storm. Despite sounding stern and strict, Mr Macron is looking lost, like the new Alice in Tinderland. After all, that look suits Mr Macron, who is like any other politician, with an eye on the next elections.
Ironically, when the Parisian banlieues began to fall prey to arsonists on June 27th, Mr Macron was in Marseille to assure improved lives for its residents. Bad luck, not long ago, Mr Macron was in the eye of the storm over his controversial pension reform, which veered around raising the retirement age of French workers. https://poliphoon.com/the–macron–nation–is–in–labour/ The burning banlieues must be a déjà vu moment for him now, though public anger is directed at the police today. Beyond Mr Macron’s wildest imagination, Nahel’s killing has assumed perilous racist colours, as he was of Algerian-Moroccan descent.
Fighting Police Bias Futile
Without doubt, the French now feel their police officers are racists. Discrimination is rampant within France’s armed police force. Fighting this police bias has proved time and again futile in a country where racial discrimination is institutionalised. The result is there for all to see now. France is burning and getting ready to see more riots and violence in banlieues across all major cities, including northern Lille and Mediterranean Marseille. This is the prospect facing France, despite Mr Macron condemning the violence as “unjustifiable”.
The volatile situation in France has led to racism, policing and politics coalescing. Votes-hungry politicians and racist police officers are comrades-in-arms. As Mr Macron attempts to apply the humble balm to fatal gun wounds, his hollow placatory words will not be able to contain the arson that is consuming France. With reason. Nahel’s killing is emblematic of the deeply-entrenched racism in the partisan police establishment. Clearly, the French police has a long notorious history of targeting hapless racial and religious minorities. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jun/30/fr ance-racist-police-violence-riots-nahel
The Politico-Racist Cauldron
This is why the blacks and other immigrants of Arab and North African descent, living in unenviable banlieues are leading the riots. As France continues to convulse, as unholy racism and politics coalesce and as left-right polarisation distracts the nation from the crisis on hand, Mr Macron is sure to find himself stuck in a storm. In a racially-sensitive France, Mr Macron must be better prepared for similar situations soon in the coming days. Ask Gérald Darmanin, Mr Macron’s interior minister and a staunch supporter of the police action against Nahel. Even Mr Darmanin is critical of Mr Macron now.
An upset Darmanin has already deployed 45,000 officers across France, way high from 9,000 the day before. As blighted suburbs and banlieues burn, France is turning into a politico-racist cauldron. For Mr Macron, who does not enjoy an absolute majority in the parliament, the raging riots and fires are compelling reasons to attempt a difficult balancing act between the left and the right. https://poliphoon.com/lessons–from-emmanuel-macrons- debacle/ Difficult because while the former is extremely angry over Nahel’s killing, the right is condemning the post-killing protests. This dichotomy makes Macron’s balancing job quite difficult and puts his famed centrism under severe test now.
As the current crisis snowballs, even an artful balancer like Mr Macron may lose balance. He may not be able to take shelter for long in feel-good factors like the recovering economy, low unemployment of 7.1 per cent and rising foreign direct investments. Despite these comforting signs, banlieues on the periphery are fermenting with rage and rancour. The blighted banlieues are crying hoarse over how they are being discriminated in education and economic opportunities. As Mr Macron remains unmoved, the perception that he is pro-rich is growing. Against such a backdrop of negatives, the current post-Nahel crisis can explode into an all-consuming civil war. In desperation, Mr Macron may even declare a state of emergency. However, that will only be a futile attempt to bottle the storm.