Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Unlike the U.S., guns are tightly regulated in Europe, but the French gangs have armed themselves with weapons obtained on the black market"

Walid Marzouki and his girlfriend stopped their black Renault Twingo at a red light on the deserted Boulevard Casanova late one night in August. Another car pulled alongside. The driver opened his window, pulled out an automatic rifle and killed Mr. Marzouki, using more than 20 rounds.  
The next time a Frenchman — or anyone, for that matter, even (or especially) an American — 1) lectures you on the violence of America and/or 2) tells you how the European model of gun control is the way for the country to go and/or 3) insists that at least there are no assault weapons in civilized Europe, tell them to read Maïa de la Baume's New York Times article from September where the "magnitude of violence" in southeast France provoked calls fro the army to intervene.
Mr. Marzouki, 25, was a drug dealer from Marseille, the police said.

“I heard loud bursts of gunfire,” said Nina Lamraoui, 31, who lives in a building near the murder scene. “I was so terrified for my children that I told them it was a car accident.” 

Mr. Marzouki was a victim of one of the most violent waves of gang crime ever to hit this city on France’s southeast coast. In nine months, 20 people have been killed in Marseille and the surrounding area, according to the police. 

The magnitude of violence, which the police say is committed mostly by drug dealers using combat weapons, has pushed the new Socialist government to lay out an ambitious plan to help this city of 800,000, described by Interior Minister Manuel Valls as “in great distress.” 

The government was also pushed to act after Samia Ghali, a Socialist who represents the impoverished and troubled 15th and 16th Arrondissements here, called for the army to intervene. Her request, which many viewed as exaggerated, has nevertheless drawn news media attention to the city’s struggle with gang leaders. 

The killing of Mr. Marzouki has not been solved, the police said. But they blamed the drug trade for the recent killings, specifically dealers from the “Quartiers Nord,” the predominantly immigrant districts of northern Marseille. Top dealers can easily make 100,000 euros a month (about $131,000), the police said, relying on violence and murder to intimidate others or defend their territory. Unlike the United States, guns are tightly regulated in Europe, but the gangs have armed themselves with weapons obtained on the black market

“We are confronted by inhuman situations,” said Jean-Louis Martini, the local spokesman of Synergie Officiers, one of the major police unions in France. “It becomes terrifying, because it has no limits.”
Marseille, one of France’s poorest cities, has long been a haven for gangs, which first surfaced to control prostitution. It was home to a major heroin ring known as “The French Connection,” the basis for the 1971 film. And like many port cities, it has been identified with smuggling and political corruption. 

Today, experts and police officers say that the number of crimes, mostly related to marijuana trafficking, has not increased significantly. But the crimes have become much more violent in the past year. Police officers and residents are particularly worried about the increasing use of automatic and semiautomatic rifles, especially the Kalashnikov. Knockoff versions are made in many eastern European countries and China, and cost about $1,300. 

They were introduced in France after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and became more available recently after the chaos that followed the uprising in Libya. The police said about 300 Kalashnikovs have been intercepted in Marseille [in the first 9 to 10 months of 2012].

 … For Ms. Ghali, the northern districts she serves have been abandoned by the state and left to the authority of gangs and to dealers who “are able to shoot the friend they ate and slept with the previous night.” The economic distress in Europe has reinforced the phenomenon. “Before we had temporary work,” she said in an interview. “Now there is more unemployment and no temporary jobs.”

Marseille was not hit hard by the 2005 riots that inflamed the Paris suburbs. But some people believe that its embrace of multiculturalism and strong local identity no longer protect it from social unrest
“We got overwhelmed by the expansion of this new delinquency,” said Mr. Martini, the police official.

 … “Walid was a good guy, a nice guy” said Inés, 20, a nurse who went to school with Mr. Marzouki. “We are used to murders here — it is ‘mektoub,’ ” the Arabic word for fate. 

But her fatalism is not shared by others in the northern districts who have been terrorized by the violence. “It’s a city of crazy people,” said a man who works near the spot where Mr. Marzouki was killed, who spoke on condition he not be identified. “If a 16-year-old kid can use a Kalashnikov, it means that he never experienced a childhood, and his parents never cuddled him.” 

Mr. Marzouki’s parents may not have cuddled him. But placed on that light pole on the Boulevard Casanova are flowers and a note, written in what appears to be red lipstick, saying: “Walid, we’ll love you forever.”