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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « On ne pourra pas les oublier... »

by Laurent Mouloud

One Year After the Uprising in the French Suburbs: We Can’t Afford to Forget Them

Translated Monday 6 November 2006

In the Paris suburbs: There was a silent demonstration on Friday 27 October in Clichy-sous-Bois to the memory of Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna. Elected representatives and popular groups called for a peaceful remembrance.

The cloth covering the commemorative plaque blows gently in the wind. The black plaque emerges, on top of a plinth of white marble. A message is engraved in gold letters: “Two Children left the Earth, but two Angels who entered Paradise”. Just above one reads: “To the memory of Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna”. People are crowded around, trying to see. Under her hood, a girl dries her tears. She will pass by this memorial, erected in front of the College Robert-Doisneau, every morning. Her college was the school of Bouna and Zyed. “We can never forget them”, she whispers, “Never …”.

It is exactly a year since the two young men died in a high-voltage transformer of the national electrical company (EDF), where they had taken refuge as they were being chased by the police. Yesterday morning, Clichy-sous-Bois honored their memory. With calm and dignity.
“Here, what we really want is justice”.

Just before 10 am, many hundreds of local residents are standing in front of the town hall of this small suburb in Seine-Saint-Denis, north-east of Paris, which has become known, after last year’s incidents, throughout the world. There are mothers and fathers present, but mainly many young people, looking serious and feeling grim. Huddles of journalists make their way through the crowd seeking out people’s impressions and feelings. “There is nothing to comment on, we just want everyone to see our dignity”, a young man answers clearly into the microphone pushed in front of him.

10.30 am. “Start moving, there in front!”. Samir Nihi, president of the group “Beyond Words” (ADM) gives the order for the silent march to start. Dozens of youths stand behind the long banner adorned with the message: “Zyed and Bouna, They Died for Nothing!” The same message is written on the numerous white tee-shirts that are handed out to the crowd. Helped along by Bouna’s brother, Muhittin, the third adolescent who was also badly injured by the transformer a year ago, is present, expressionless.

Siga and Fatoumata, both 17, walk arm in arm. “We came to support the families, to help them in these difficult times”, says the first, a high-school student at Pavillons-sous-Bois. “We must not forget them; the politicians must not forget us” adds the second girl. “Here, it’s justice we want, we want those responsible to pay for what they are guilty of doing”.

Local politicians from the UMP, the governing right-wing party, were also on hand

A bit further along, Philippe, 32, walks at the slower pace of his 5 year-old son. The father is a sports coach and has lived in Clichy for years. He also talks of “solidarity” and “justice”. “It’s incredible that two young guys died when they hadn’t even stolen an egg”, he says quietly. “You also see that when the police are involved, justice is much slower…”

It’s 11.30. The crowd stops at a crossroads. At the end of an alley, one sees the access gate to the high-voltage transformer. Two wreaths of flowers are laid in front of it. Facing the families of the victims, the imam Dhaou Meskine says a prayer in Arabic, then in French. Bouna’s sister bursts into tears. Her friend consoles her. Some elected officials are there: PCF national secretary, Marie-George Buffet, the mayors of Montfermeil, Xavier Lemoine (UMP), Le Raincy, Éric Raoult (UMP). Mouloud Aounit is there too: “Twenty three years ago I went on the Marche des Beurs (1)” says the secretary-general of the biggest antiracist movement in France (MRAP). “I never thought our children would have to go through the same thing”.

The crowd is silenced by the suffering

The crowd stops in front of the College Robert-Doisneau. The cloth covering the monument is removed. Claude Dilain, the Clichy mayor, speaks: “Last year there was a silent march down the Maurice-Audin avenue, in and out of the burnt-out carcasses of cars. Today we came down the same alley. This time it was decorated by images provided by some of the best photographers. This is the picture of France that we want to project, and that we want the rest of the world to remember about Clichy”. The mayor of Clichy calls for calm. “Let’s not give anybody the opportunity to point their finger at us!”

The families of the victims then take the microphone, one after another. With tears in his eyes, the father of Zyed, Amor Benna, briefly thanks the crowd. “You are my brothers, my sisters, my family…”. Siaka, the older brother of Bouna, says how moved he is by the solidarity of all the people who are there. “We have eyes to cry, hands to hold each other and hearts for loving each other”. He appeals also for “no provocation”. A rap song in tribute to Bouna and Zyed is then played. The families hug each other, in tears. The crowd remains motionless until the very last note.

[Translator’s note]

(1) The “Marche des beurs” (March of North Africans born in France) was inititiated by the group “SOS racisme” in 1983, starting from Marseille and arriving in Paris on 15 October, where 60,000 people joined the demonstration. The leaders of the march met with Socialist President François Mitterrand, elected in 1981, who gave them all the right to live and work in France for 10 years.

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