Police Brutality, Racism and Poverty Underlie Youth Rebellion in France

Macron government has deployed 45,000 security personnel in attempt to quell the outrage sweeping the country in the aftermath of the police killing of Nahel M

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By Abayomi Azikiwe

A 17-year-old youth of Moroccan and Algerian descent named Nahel M was gunned down by the French police on June 27 sparking a nationwide series of mass demonstrations and rebellions throughout the country.

Several videos released on the shooting show clearly that Nahel, who was driving a vehicle, was posing no threat to the police.

There were two other people in the vehicle with Nahel, one of whom has given evidence to the authorities while the third person is being sought by prosecutors. The policeman has been indicted for voluntary homicide. In addition, reports suggest he has apologized for the fatal shooting.

President Emmanuel Macron held a press conference on June 30 outlining the measures being taken to put down unrest which began in the suburbs of Paris and has rapidly spread to other French cities. He was joined at the press conference with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

Macron had been attending a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium when, due to the unrest in France, he was forced to cut his visit short and return to Paris. The headlines across the continent were filled with dispatches on the protests and violence obviously involving tens of thousands of young people who are prepared to battle the police in the streets. Reports on June 30, indicate that unrest has also spread to neighboring Belgium where EU Summit leaders discussed their plans to send even more military assistance to Ukraine to continue the NATO proxy war against the Russian Federation.

Over 1000 people have been arrested as youths took to the streets attacking private property and setting fires to government and commercial buildings. Fireworks and missiles are being thrown at police as they fired teargas and other crowd control weapons at unarmed crowds of youth.

Macron has placed the onus of the blame for the rebellion on the oppressed youth and their parents. He criticized the families of the young people demonstrating throughout the country saying that there is no discipline and concern for law and order.

Nonetheless, the law and order spoken of by the French president is based upon the exploitation and oppression of working people of color living in the suburban areas who are institutionally marginalized by the system. Macron, already battered politically due to the general strikes in response to the pension reforms earlier in the year, is now faced with a national crisis emanating from the historic legacy of colonialism and racism in France and its imperialist outposts.

Racism and National Oppression Breed Resistance

Although Nahel and millions of others living in France are designated as “citizens of the Republic” the majority of this population has been relegated to impoverishment and high rates of joblessness. The most brutal police units are deployed to patrol the suburban areas outside of Paris and other municipalities with the implicit aim of controlling the inevitable anger and frustration permeating the communities.

There have been periodic outbreaks of rebellion in France for many years. In 2005, the country erupted after two youths were killed by police sparking unrest in numerous cities for several weeks.

A report published on June 30 describing the social mood inside the country noted:

“Darmanin (the French interior minister) said on TF1 television that 45,000 police officers, including special forces, would be deployed across France on Friday night, adding: ‘Entirely legitimate emotions can in no circumstances justify disorder and delinquency.’ Shops in several malls in Paris suburbs were looted on Friday afternoon, as well as an Apple store in the center of Strasbourg, amid continuing rioting sparked by the shooting of Nahel M, 17, who was of north African descent, in Nanterre on Tuesday. Bus and tram traffic was halted from 9pm across France. The southern city of Marseille, France’s second largest, banned public demonstrations and said all public transport would stop at 7pm local time. Protests were also banned in Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Grenoble and Annecy. On Friday evening police in Paris said an operation was under way to evacuate the Place de la Concorde after demonstrators gathered despite an overnight police-ban on unauthorized gatherings at key city-center sites including the Champs-Élysées and the Tuileries gardens.”

A United Nations Human Rights Commission official called upon the government in France to address the deep-seated racism within the police services. The Macron administration dismissed the notion that racism was a problem in law-enforcement agencies.

However, a statement was released by French police unions which denounced the demonstrators in racist terms. The same statement said that the police were at war to maintain stability in France.

The same report mentioned above states that:

“Laurent Escure, the head of the UNSA union federation, disavowed the statement by the police branch of the federation and called for calm and an end to the violence. The Greens party leader, Marine Tondelier, described it as ‘an appeal for civil war’, adding: ‘Can we finally say that we have a structural problem in the police?’ Despite the presence of 40,000 police officers around the country, the interior ministry said 79 police stations were attacked on Thursday night (June 29) and 119 other public buildings, including 34 town halls and 28 schools.”

Despite the denials related to institutional racism by the French government, the statistics related to police violence speak volumes about the character of law-enforcement. During 2022, 13 people were killed after being stopped by the police.

The fact that Nahel was of North African heritage magnifies the underlying contradictions in French society. Even though the government officials around Macron are upholding the view that the problems are not systemic, the overall economic and political crisis in France and other EU countries are being exacerbated by their support for the NATO war in Ukraine and the draconian sanctions which have been leveled against the Russian Federation at the aegis of the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden.

Unrest Spreads to French Overseas Territories

France maintains colonial control of several areas in the Caribbean islands which are thousands of miles away from Europe. There have been reports of demonstrations and rebellions most notably in the French Guiana capital of Cayenne where on June 30 a government worker was killed.

In Cayenne, plumes of smoke were seen during late Thursday and early Friday morning on June 29-30. At least five people have been arrested while 300 police have been deployed to maintain order in the city. Demonstrations were reported as well in Martinique and Guadeloupe although there is no information on whether arrests or injuries have taken place.

Another French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean off the coast of East Africa, Reunion, erupted in demonstrations and rebellions in solidarity with the resistance efforts in France. Since June 28, people have set trash cans ablaze, thrown missiles at police and attacked government buildings.

Crisis 24 gave details of the rebellion in Reunion noting:

“Further unrest is possible across Reunion through at least early July. Riots erupted overnight June 29/30 in several areas across the island in response to recent developments in France, particularly Paris. Saint-Denis and the Port were particularly badly affected. Officials have announced that the sale of fireworks and other pyrotechnic objects is prohibited. In addition, carrying such items or fuel, weapons, and other combustible or corrosive products, is also prohibited. These measures apply from 16:00 June 30-08:00 July 30. In the coming days, officials will likely maintain a heightened security posture across major urban centers, including in Saint-Pierre, Saint-Denis, and the Port. Localized travel delays are likely near all gatherings. Officials may impose additional measures, such as localized curfews, the suspension of public transport services, and bans on gatherings.”

These disturbances in France and its overseas territories are by no means occurring in a vacuum. In the United Kingdom there have been periodic strikes in various sectors including healthcare, education, public transport and government services. Both of these leading capitalist and imperialist states are imposing harsher measures to stifle resistance to austerity and repression.

In the U.S., the Supreme Court has recently attacked the rights of African Americans, Latin Americans and other oppressed peoples by officially banning affirmative action in higher education. A plan set up by the Biden administration to forgive portions of student loan debt, which is approaching $2 trillion, was declared unconstitutional by the same six ultra-conservatives on the highest court. On June 30, the Supreme Court declared that a businessperson could openly discriminate and deny services to LGBTQ+ people based on religious beliefs.

The implications of such decisions harken back to the era of legalized segregation, popularly known as Jim Crow. These attacks on the rights of minorities, workers and marginalized groups are, in reality, acts of desperation by the ruling class of the U.S. and its allies within the EU.

With the rise in the numbers of people who are being subjected to discrimination, racism and other forms of oppression, there will inevitably be a clash between these emerging majorities and the ruling class. The social and political balance of forces in the capitalist states will determine the outcomes of these burgeoning struggles.

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