Are the deaths of two youngsters that sparked several nights of rioting in France last week being exploited for political purposes? Consider only that one of the two lawyers representing the families of the boys happens to be none other than the personal attorney of Ségolène Royal: the Socialist Party (PS) candidate who was defeated by Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election May 6. It will be recalled that just two days before the vote, in an interview with French radio station RTL, Royal warned ominously that Sarkozy's candidacy was "dangerous" and that there would be "violence" -- notably, in "popular neighborhoods" -- if he was elected. It is particularly noteworthy in retrospect that when RTL journalist Jean-Michel Aphatie pressed Royal on the point, asking her to agree that if there is violence it would be illegitimate, she did not reply to the question. "He has to ask himself why he provokes so much [violence]," Royal retorted, "I think he is also responsible." Could Royal and her allies in the PS be helping to make her grim pre-election prediction come true by transforming what was in all likelihood a banal, if tragic, traffic accident into a political issue?
…It was precisely on the Web site of "Désirs d'avenir" that Ségolène Royal on Wednesday published her own statement on the riots. "This escalation of violence has to be stopped," she said: thus employing a formula that again can be understood to imply that the violence of the rioters is somehow a "response" to purposeful violence on the part of the police. "We, citizens of France," she continued, "must all refuse that our urban neighborhoods (quartiers) come to resemble the urban neighborhoods in the U.S.A., where the firing of real bullets is a frequent occurrence. . . . I thus call for a national mobilization, including all political tendencies, so that the question of our urban neighborhoods and of the future of the youth in these neighborhoods will become a great national cause."
Commentators of virtually all political stripes in the French media -- including President Sarkozy in a televised interview on Thursday night -- have made a point of praising the French police for the restraint they showed in the face of the rioters. But such praise could someday soon prove to be a fatal burden. For though the police did not resort to the use of lethal force, there was in fact plentiful firing of real bullets in the trouble areas last week: namely at the police. According to the latest available figures, some 130 police officers were injured in the rioting, with several of them being seriously wounded by gunfire (Le Figaro, Nov. 30). One police officer lost an eye; another was struck in the shoulder by a 12 mm cartridge fired from a shotgun; a third is reported to have been hit 30 times by pellets, eleven times in the face. Police have also reported being fired upon with an "improvised bazooka" (Le Figaro, Nov. 29). It is clear from the reports that still more serious injuries or even deaths were only avoided thanks to the heavy body armor that French police habitually wear in riot situations. "The use of firearms has been systematic," Patrice Ribeiro of the French police officers union Synergies Officiers told Le Figaro, "There was an intent to kill."
…It should be noted that French police, not surprisingly, have been known in the past to use their weapons. Just one year ago, in November 2006, a rioter was shot and killed by a French police officer following a soccer match on the outskirts of Paris: an episode that, symptomatically, received less prominent coverage in the French media than a shooting incident involving police in far-off New York two days later.
…The bizarre declaration of Ségolène Royal notwithstanding, it is certain that the United States has not seen such a level of urban violence for the last forty years: since the urban riots of the 1960s.
Monday, December 03, 2007
The declaration of Ségolène Royal notwithstanding, it is certain that the U.S. has not seen such a level of urban violence for the last 40 years
Among the points that John Rosenthal makes, the following stand out (emphasis mine):