Patterico's Pontifications


Was It Drug Gangs Who Put an End to the French Riots This Past Week?

Filed under: General — JVW @ 5:11 pm

[guest post by JVW]

If you’ve been following the overseas news in recent weeks you have probably heard stories of the contretemps that have been roiling France the past couple of weeks. It’s been uneasy going in the birthplace of the Enlightenment, ever since French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this spring exercised his prerogative under the French Constitution and unilaterally raised the nation’s retirement age to 64, breaking a legislative stalemate in the National Assembly (eat your heart out, Joe Biden). Simmering tensions exist among the French working class, especially among the young whose employment rate consistently lags way behind peer nations such as the U.K. and Germany. It was thus not surprising when street violence broke out at the end of last month, after a 17-year-old French boy of North African descent, speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, was shot dead by a policeman as he was attempting to drive away from his detainment.

This has inevitably become France’s own Michael Brown and George Floyd moments all rolled into one. Riots immediately commenced and raged for the better part of a week. By the time the mayhem subsided there had been 5,600 automobiles torched by rioters, over 1,000 buildings damaged, and 720 law enforcement officers injured in at least some slight way. Somewhat miraculously, it seems that there has thus far been only one death attributable to the unrest.

But what exactly quelled the riots? Was it the forcefulness of law enforcement and their 3,500 arrests? Was it the pleas from the grandmother of the victim, who complained that rioters were destroying the same immigrant neighborhoods where she and her grandson resided? Was it a general weariness and exhaustion with rioting, once all of the cars had been burned and the buildings were fully vandalized and looted?

Or was it the drug gangs who saw business come to a halt and demanded that their neighborhoods get back in line so commerce could resume? That is the suggestion made in this piece published in The Spectator:

It wasn’t President Macron who brought six days of rioting in France to an end, nor the brave bands of mothers who called for calm in some of the inner-city estates. It wasn’t even the presence of 45,000 police and gendarmes on the streets that persuaded the rioters, arsonists, vandals and looters to stand down. Instead, it seems that it was the drug gangs who decided enough is enough. Having so many boys in blue patrolling the streets was bad for business and so gang leaders exerted their influence and ordered the young hoodlums back to their bedrooms.

That, at least, was the news broken to Macron at the start of this week when he dropped by a police station in the 17th arrondissement of Paris. Pressing the flesh with his worn-out police officers, Macron asked: “But these kids, who do they listen to?” Back came the response: “The dealers, Monsieur le President.”

According to the article, this quote from the police officers to the president has been repeated all over the French media, robbing M. Marcon of any real claim to have imposed his will upon the unruly banlieues. Instead, it’s the underworld who calls the shots:

So brazen are the drug gangs in cities such as Marseille, Lyon and Paris, that they paint the prices of their products on walls and these trading posts can see a turnover of up to €100,000 ($109,000) a day. It is also a way for the drug gangs to demonstrate their power and influence to the Republic. They let the kids run wild for a few days and then orders were issued. “Letting these young people go to loot, break and burn also meant marking their territory,” said [French crime scholar Frédéric] Ploquin. “They say to the police: ‘Keep out of the way, this is our place, we’re the law.’”

It wasn’t lost on the French media that while the city center of Marseille suffered serious pillaging during the riots, the housing estates to the north were relatively calm. This is where the drug gangs are based. It also goes some way to perhaps explaining why Marseille — the capital of France’s drug trade, which is a €3 billion ($3.25 billion) industry — has avoided any significant Islamist outrage, despite its large Muslim population.

Those who have any memory (or have heard the tales) of organized crime in immigrant-heavy cities in the first half of the last century, or who may have seen the uneasy nexus between urban street gangs and law enforcement in the latter half of the century, will readily recognize this dynamic:

Karine Sabourin, a magistrate in Marseille since 2013, said that there is a form of “social contract” between the police and the drug lords. “There is no institutionalized lack of respect for the police and the justice system,” she said. In return, a blind eye is often turned to the activities of the drug gangs, such as the existence of drug dealing points in close proximity to police stations.

Over at City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple (who owns a home in France) describes the frightening authority wielded by these gangs:

[A]n excellent article in the Guardian describes the horrors, not of policing, but of the absence of policing in Marseilles, where some of the worst violence has taken place, and where last year 32 people were murdered by drug gangs; this year, the tally is 23 so far. The author describes the experience of a resident, Amine:

The vacuum of effective policing . . . allowed a twisted cycle of brutality to fester; ferocious violence that Amine knows too well. On 29 December 2020 his brother disappeared. For six days his mother scoured the city until tipped off that the 21-year-old would not be coming home. Brahim Kessaci was found beside another body in the boot [trunk] of a burned-out car on a road heading out of the city. A third body had been sliced into pieces with a chain saw and images sent to his traumatised father.

There was no widespread rioting in response to these horrible crimes.

Things have quieted down in France for the time being. The French left and French right are naturally pointing to different factors which led to the days of rioting and suggesting different responses to it, and M. Macron is of course trying to steer a centrist path of combining increased social services with a harder line against public disorder. But you get the feeling that these issues in France are long-standing and nearly implacable, and that until France finds a way to assimilate and more effectively integrate their citizens with North African heritage into French society, these sort of challenges to the social order are bound to continue, and the drug gangs will continue to call the shots in outer-ring neighborhoods.


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