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In May of 2005, I happened to be in the midst of a riot in the city of Perpignan in southern France. The area of Saint-Mathieu, where I lived, was inhabited by many Gypsies, Arabs and other ethnic minorities. It so happened that in one week Gypsies killed two Arabs, beating one with iron bars, and shooting another. The perturbed Arab population revolted and brought down their wrath upon the quarter of Saint-Mathieu. In one night, a picturesque street of Marshal Foch was nearly in ruins: burned cars and buildings, broken and robbed shop windows.
Riots do not take the French by surprise. First riots started in the 1970. Incidentally, in 2005 urban riots swept across France and 28,000 cars were set on fire. The cause of the riot was the fact that on June 20, 2005 in the working-class district of the town of La Courneuve during a shootout between two rival gangs an innocent boy was killed.
Nicolas Sarkozy, then the Secretary of the Internal Affairs, arrived in town and said he wanted to clean the city of Kärcher. On October 25, during a visit to the city of Argenteuil, Nicolas Sarkozy used the word "scum" for local residents who threw stones at him. These expressions were seen by working residents of the suburbs as an insult and a provocation. Just at that time two teenagers were killed who hid from police harassment in the transformer box. That was enough to blow up the situation. The immigrant suburbs across France revolted, and the order could not be restored for weeks. These events became the reason for greater discussions on social and urban policy, education and integration.
Vandalism is a lesser evil characteristic for these regions. The problem is lack of safety. Criminal gangs feel at ease, drug trafficking is nearly open and can be seen in the lobbies of apartment buildings or in front of supermarkets. The slightest conflict with gang members can turn one's life into hell. Rest after a hard day's work can be forgotten. Local kids gather at night under the windows of apartment blocks and make a great deal of noise.
Other typical crimes include theft and robbery. A friend of mine fell victim of persecution by a criminal group. One day, she prevented the actions of criminals who in broad daylight were trying to crack open the door of her neighbors. Threats and insults have followed, and the thieves removed the wheels of her husband's car, and her son was regularly attacked by bullies.
"Where are the police?" some would ask. The police are trying to sidestep these ghettos called "zones outside of the law." If someone is hurt in the pursuit of criminals, riots and "nationwide" unrest can be expected.
France has long left the Maghreb, and people from North Africa are not forced to live in their territory. There is no discrimination in the labor legislation. But who is to blame if enterprises are more willing to hire people with French names than Arabic? As for the education, it is really a problem. If the French, in most cases, have one or two children per family, and do not spare their time or resources for their upbringing and education, the immigrant families have five or more kids. The care immigrant parents provide to their children mostly boils down to making sure there are fed and dressed, but otherwise they are raised in the streets.