• France's news in English

Clichy-sous-Bois - Ten years after the riots

The Local · 26 Oct 2015, 21:24

Published: 26 Oct 2015 21:24 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit
Ten years ago to the day on Tuesday, two teenage boys on their way home from a football match were electrocuted at an electricity substation in Clichy-sous-Bois while running away from the police.
Zyed, 17 and Bouna, 15 had done nothing wrong, but simply didn't want to be harassed by police.
Their deaths, which will be marked in a memorial service on Tuesday night, sparked a night of rioting by youths in Clichy-sous-Bois, that soon spread to other rundown suburbs (banlieues) around Paris and other French cities.
The violence continued each night until calm was finally restored on November 17th.
In all some 10,000 cars were torched, 6,000 people arrested, two policemen shot, and 300 buildings destroyed or vandalized. After the worst night, in which 274 areas were affected, the government was forced to declare a national emergency.
(Riot police in Clichy-sous-Bois on a night in October 2005. Photo: AFP)
Ten years on and the name Clichy-sous-Bois is still synonymous with the rebellion and destruction by disaffected youths, and although the burning cars and debris from the rioting no longer litter the streets, the same feeling of hopelessness and isolation that provoked young men to turn their suburb into a war zone still remains.
When The Local visited the banlieue, many residents were reluctant to speak out, perhaps tired of the focus on their neighbourhood, but those who did painted the same old picture - one of alienation, and despair. 
"Take a look around, what do you think has changed?" an unemployed man, who was 18 at the time of the riots, says with a scoff.
He points to the town's main road, which remains under construction, and an unimpressive shopping mall behind him, which is dark, dirty, and mostly empty of shops and customers. 
The man, who declined to give his name, hasn't worked for two years - but that's nothing unusual.
(The electric substation where teenagers Zyed and Bouna died. Photo: AFP)
Indeed, one official report from 2013 found unemployment was 23 percent in the poor suburbs, compared to nine percent countrywide. Among people aged 15 to 24, the figure rose to 42 percent.
And residents are still struggling to get by, with 43 percent living below the poverty line, meaning they have less than a €1,000 to spend each month.
And living conditions are poor.
"If I showed you my apartment you wouldn't believe it. There are cockroaches, there are rats," one resident told The Local, using his hands to suggest the rats are the size of small dogs
"I wouldn't be surprised if there were snakes."
Clichy is home to the notorious Chêne-Pointu, a privately owned council estate with 1,500 apartments, that is renowned for the squalid living conditions.
(The notorious Chêne-Pointu housing estate in Clichy-sous-Bois. Photo: AFP)
Another man working in construction says he would leave town if only he could afford to. His aspiration is shared by many whose testimonies have appeared in French media in recent days.
"It's impossible to get a good flat. The Town Hall is running it like a business, the big shots with the money get looked after while the rest of us suffer," he tells The Local.
Relations between youths and police are still tense.
Others share a feeling of abandonment in the town, which is not linked to the capital by any commuter train or Metro line.
"The problem is we have been abandoned out here. They have left us here'," says Abdoulay, a local 27-year-old.
"We're cut off. There's no internet in the houses and no internet cafes. If we want to use the net we have to go into Paris and that takes 90 minutes," he says.
A new tramway to link the town to the RER commuter service has been delayed until 2019 and it won't be until 2023 that Clichy-sous-Bois has its own train station that will, at last, provide a direct link to Paris.
(President François Hollande on a trip to Clichy in 2013. Photo: AFP)
He complains that the town could offer nothing besides the shopping mall, which he says was sub par, noting that it didn't even include any kind of large supermarket.
But the debate about who is to blame for the hopelessness and the disaffection is still the same one that raged in the aftermath of the 2005 riots.
One taxi driver who lives in a nearby town says the problems begins at home. 
"For me, it's a question of having a good upbringing. I blame the parents. It's like those two teenagers who died in Marseille this weekend. They were 15 years old! What were they doing out at two in the morning," he says, referring to what was reportedly a drug-related shooting in the southern port town on Saturday

(Flyers around town advertise the memorial for the killed teenagers. Photo: The Local)
The man, who is originally from Portugal but who has lived in France for decades, says the police weren't to blame when it came to the young boys who were killed in 2005. 
"Why are people running if they have nothing to hide?" he asks. 
But for many residents and especially those that run the town, the time for determining who's to blame is long over and they just want to move on.
Story continues below…
But it's proving to be hard.
"In the eyes of society and the media and in particular, we remain a symbol of the difficulties of the suburbs," said the town's mayor Klein.
(New housing in Clichy-sous-Bois, where huge towers are no longer built. Photo: AFP)
Lamya Monkachi, a local Town Hall spokesperson, told The Local that things were improving in Clichy-sous-Bois and the "stigmatization and stereotyping" must end. 
She notes that in an effort to improve the town, authorities are working on education reforms, as well as massive improvements to infrastructure.
Indeed some parts of Clichy-sous-Bois are now unrecognizable: new and well-appointed apartment blocks have replaced the shabby towers that made life so easy for drug dealers and so difficult for the police.

(A park in the centre of town. Photo: The Local)
The Town Hall's Monkachi points out that two new schools, a new medical centre, an employment office, a public swimming pool and a police station have all been built.
But while those projects can only be welcomed the reality is they are seen as cosmetic and have done little for the population of Clichy-sous-Bois.
The situation, said Clichy-sous-Bois mayor Olivier Klein, "is even more negative today than it was 10 years ago."
"The fragility of the population is still there".
By Oliver Gee and Adam Jones


Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France migrant crisis
Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

The Jungle camp may be being cleared but this won't be the end of the migrant crisis in France.

How Paris is rapidly becoming Europe's 'City of Innovation'
Photo: AFP

If you want to start a company then Paris is the place to do it, it seems.

'Jungle' clearance: Migrants begin to leave Calais camp
All photos: AFP

The "Jungle" clearance is underway.

France’s 'Jungle' children arrive in UK
Authorities will start to clear the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp on Monday. Photo: Denis Charlet / AFP file picture

The first group of children from the French "Jungle" migrant camp with no connection to Britain have arrived in the country, the Home Office said Sunday, ahead of the camp's planned demolition.

French FM calls for end to Aleppo 'massacre'
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says the international community cannot ‘come to a negotiation under the bombs’. Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP file picture

France's foreign minister urged the international community to "do everything" to end the "massacre" in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday after fighting resumed following a 72-hour truce declared by Damascus ally Russia.

Parisians cheer on protesting French police
French police officers on Saturday demonstrated for the fifth night in a row to protest mounting attacks on officers. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

Angry French police have taken to the streets for five nights in a row -- and Parisians have started to cheer them on, reviving scenes last seen following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Scarlett Johansson turns popcorn girl in Paris
US actress Scarlett Johansson greets customers at the Yummy Pop gourmet popcorn shop in the Marais district of Paris. Photo: Benjamin Cremel / AFP

Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson swapped the red carpet for a turn behind the counter at her new popcorn shop in Paris on Saturday.

US couple donates huge art collection to Paris
Marlene (centre) and Spencer (right) are donating their collection ‘for the benefit of art lovers’. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multi-million dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
jobs available