France Begins Looking at Troubled Communities
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
For the fourth night, the number of violent incidents have dropped dramatically across France after the government imposed tough emergency measures. Still, the riots exposed a deep divide between French mainstream society and the deprived Paris suburbs where mostly Arab and African minorities live. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Aulnay-sous-Bois, one of the first places hit by the violence.
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DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
Frank Kannaroso(ph), the assistant mayor of Aulnay-sous-Bois, is on his nightly patrol of the city.
Mr. FRANK KANNAROSO (Assistant Mayor, Aulnay-sous-Bois): (Through Translator) I've been patrolling through Aulnay every night since last Tuesday, the days when the events became dangerous.
AMOS: The worst is over, says Kannaroso, as he points out the place where the young men who live here battled riot police last week.
Mr. KANNAROSO: (Through Translator) There were over a hundred people who grouped up to attack the fire department. They were stopped by the police force.
AMOS: Kannaroso acknowledges the despair that sparked the riots, the sense of isolation, the anger over joblessness. But restoring order was the first priority, he says. Many in the community demanded it. Now Kannaroso must face the harder question: how to fix the social gap, remedies that could take years. The French prime minister announced short-term measures last week, funds to re-establish local community organizations to reach out to the dispossessed, more teachers for troubled neighborhoods, tax breaks to encourage job creation. But the riots have stirred a profound political crisis, raising fundamental questions about the French model of integration.
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AMOS: Over coffee at a hotel in Paris, Yazit Zubag(ph), a French businessman, says the country is paying for long-term neglect.
Mr. YAZIT ZUBAG (French Businessman): No, it's not over, not yet. The fire--it's not finished. The nation promised equality.
AMOS: Zubag knows firsthand about that broken promise. He's the rare minority in French business, the chairman of a $500-million-a-year high-tech corporation. He says his work in the defense industry is still questioned because he's a French citizen of Arab descent. Zubag questions government officials' commitment to those troubled suburbs.
Mr. ZUBAG: What in 30 years did you do to avoid the situations? What did you organize to avoid the violence?
AMOS: It is a problem that is two generations in the making. For one thing, the young men and boys on the street fight the police because their fathers are absent or non-existent, says Katherine Davendan(ph), a sociologist with the National Center for Scientific Research.
Ms. KATHERINE DAVENDAN (National Center for Scientific Research): The relation with the police is a kind of competition of strength.
AMOS: A relationship that has changed in the last few years. The interior minister ended the practice of community-based police, officers with roots in the neighborhood, in favor of centrally organized police. It was sold as a law and order campaign by the government, but seen as a provocation in the suburbs, says Davendan.
Ms. DAVENDAN: In front, the question of immigration was not considered as an important issue in the highest spheres of the state.
AMOS: For the first time since the cars burned and the riots began, the problems of immigration were acknowledged by French President Jacques Chirac. Criticized for remaining silent through France's worst crisis in decades, Chirac publicly defended the government's crackdown. He pledged to find solutions to the despair of the suburbs as soon as order is restored. Christian Malard, an analyst on French television, is skeptical that France has come to terms with the problem the riots have made all too clear. French officials, says Malard, have yet to offer any real solutions.
Mr. CHRISTIAN MALARD (Analyst): They want to reassure the population, saying, `OK, we take measures,' but what kind of measure? Are they the right measures to be taken to solve the problem? I don't think so. The problem is not solved.
AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, Paris.
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