A Neighborhood and Its Discontents

Much of the violence in France over the past two weeks has occurred in the northern suburbs of Paris. Police have stepped up patrols, and residents hope life can return to normal soon in these high-crime and poverty-stricken areas — including one immigrant neighborhood known as "The 3,000."

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

We're going to start this segment of the show with the ongoing unrest in France. The northern suburbs of Paris have been the scene of much of the violence over the last two weeks, but police have stepped up their patrols and things are said to be getting quieter. Residents are hoping life can soon return to what passes for normal in these high-crime and poverty-stricken areas. NPR's Adam Davidson went to one of them, a largely immigrant neighborhood known as the 3,000.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Abdel Qadr(ph) has lived in the Trois Mille, the 3,000, for the last 33 years. Qadr says rioters burned several cars and a truck here. Nearby they even burned a police station.

Mr. ABDEL QADR: (Foreign language spoken)

DAVIDSON: `They cleaned everything up now,' he says, `but it was there that all of it happened, over there.'

Abdel Qadr, a retired house painter, says he came to France after the Algerian civil war looking for peace and quiet. The sun just went down; now the young kids are coming out. Abdel Qadr is going home.

(Soundbite of banging)

DAVIDSON: Just down the block, Slauziti Mahimadi(ph), an immigrant from Morocco, is getting ready to close up his small hardware store. Since the riots, he's been more worried about security. He now has double doors on his store.

Mr. SLAUZITI MAHIMADI: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of door slamming)

DAVIDSON: `Here is the first door,' he says, `and the second door. It's all locked up. Anyway, most of my stuff is so cheap, I can't believe anyone would want to steal it.'

(Soundbite of banging)

DAVIDSON: Even so, someone did try to break in the other night but couldn't get through the doors. The owner of a jewelry store a few doors down was less fortunate.

The neighborhood is called the 3,000 because the two large tower housing projects have 3,000 units. Residents say only two are not occupied by Arab or African immigrants. A long, rundown, concrete shopping strip connects the two projects. There's an Islamic halal butcher, a Turkish cafe, a store that sells traditional Arab clothes. Mahimadi doesn't understand the young people's anger. He loves France, he says. He came here broke; now he's a success.

Mr. MAHIMADI: (Foreign language spoken)

DAVIDSON: He says, `The only thing wrong with the place is that the French coddle children. These riots could never happen back in Morocco. It's much more strict.'

Early in the evening the shopping area's filled almost entirely with older men, many of them in traditional Arab dress. There are, in a sense, two neighborhoods here: the daytime one and the one that comes out at night.

(Soundbite of gate closing)

DAVIDSON: By 7:30, almost all the shopkeepers have lowered their metal gates, locked up and left. Groups of teen-agers, mostly boys, start showing up.

Unidentified Teen #1: (Foreign language spoken)

DAVIDSON: `We broke everything,' they said, `the jewelry store, cars and the police station.' Some of the young men say all the problems are the fault of France's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who said he wanted to clean projects like these of all the scum.

Unidentified Teen #2: (Foreign language spoken)

DAVIDSON: One young man, who calls himself D.G.(ph), holds a revolver BB gun. He says it's for Sarkozy. `Sarkozy wants to kill all the blacks and Arabs,' he says.

Unidentified Teen #3: (Foreign language spoken)

DAVIDSON: `Here in the projects,' some of the boys say, `there's nothing for us. Our parents came and worked like dogs. So we could end up like them, with nothing.'

By 7:45, the place is crowded with teen-agers. About a dozen riot police carrying large guns run through the mall, first one way and then the other. The young men stand at the top of a staircase and stare at them as they leave.

(Soundbite of teens speaking in foreign language)

DAVIDSON: The boys are full of bravado. `If police come to check our papers, we'll beat them,' they said. Then the police do return, and the young men are instantly silenced.

Unidentified Teen #4: (Foreign language spoken)

DAVIDSON: `Bonsoir,' `Good night,' they say politely...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIDSON: ...until the police turn a corner and are once again out of sight.

INKA POITIAS(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

DAVIDSON: Inka Poitias, the only teen-ager willing to give his full name, says, `We're going to break everything tonight. We're going to screw up France.' But an older teen shakes his head and says, `No, it's all over.'

The next morning French officials confirm there had been a sharp drop in rioting and violence in the northern suburbs of Paris. Adam Davidson, NPR News, Paris.

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