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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Retour à Clichy-sous-Bois, cinq ans après les révoltes

by Dany Stive

Return to Clichy-sous-Bois, Five Years After the Riots

Translated Wednesday 3 November 2010, by Claire Scammell and reviewed by Henry Crapo

On the 27th of October 2005, in Clichy-sous-Bois (in Seine-Saint-Denis to the north of Paris), two teenagers died in an electronic sub-station where they were hiding from the police. Their deaths prompted three weeks of riots in France. Five years after the tragedy, what has changed in Clichy? In the office of the association "AC le Feu" [1], we put this question to some of the young people who live there.

Transport - “Getting to university is a daily nightmare”

Imad, twenty-one years old, is in his first year at the École national supérieure d’électronique [2]

“Since 2005, nothing has changed for us. I go to Cergy (in the Val d’Oise), where my school is, every day. In spite of the heavy traffic, I travel by car. If I didn’t have a car it would be completely unbearable. The worst bit is getting to the station for the train to Paris. The bus journey to get to the closest station, which is Raincy, is at least half an hour. Once you’re on the train it is quicker, about thirty minutes to get to Saint-Lazare.

They encourage us to be self-sufficient, but it isn’t easy when just getting around is a challenge. What is really infuriating is knowing that the tram project which could open up Clichy and Montfermeil isn’t going to happen because two neighbouring town opposed the planned route. It’s as if they didn’t want to see us travelling through their town. There’s talk about social mixing too, but who’s going to move into a town as cut off as Clichy?”

Wafika, twenty-two years old, is in a master’s program at the Uiversité de Paris XIII — Villetaneuse.

"For me, getting to university is a daily nightmare. No matter what route I take, it takes me at least two hours. And at the moment with the strikes, it’s virtually impossible to get there. Spending as much time travelling there as in the actual lessons, is tough to swallow. As for looking for work in Paris, that’s not any better. The piling up of problems has a very negative effect on young people in Clichy, some of them are just giving up.”

Work: - “Here, the unemployment rate for under twenty-fives has grown to over 40%”

Fariz, twenty-one years old, is an electrical technology student and classroom assistant.

“In Clichy, the unemployment rate for under twenty-fives is over 40%. That’s huge. Personally, my job as a classroom assistant, I reckon I only got it thanks to some string-pulling. As for getting a real job, I can’t even imagine. What’s crazy is that we don’t have a job centre; you’ve got to go to the neighbouring town, Livry-Gargan, to start the process at all. And then you’ve got transport problems right away, you have to change bus several time to get there. I don’t even talk about people who are in such a precarious situation that they can’t even think about travelling to Livry, or those who would find it difficult to cover the price of the bus tickets.

There is a local youth service but the “Despair in the suburbs” plan, since 2005, has created a contract of self-sufficiency. They’ve given crazy amounts of money to private businesses which are meant to approach young people outside apartment blocks, without any structure in their lives, to offer them training programmes and job opportunities. Here, it was the company A4e who had this task. The worst thing is that setting up these contracts was robbing Peter to pay Paul. It stripped the local youth service. And to what end? None really.”

Imad, twenty-one years old, is in his first year at engineering school.

“For an employer, a young woman from the estates [3], that’s a woman with
ambition, she wants to succeed. But a young guy from the estates? Well he’s a shit disturber, so taking him on would be too much of a risk. You can see that women from the estates do better than men because, more often than not, it is the woman who take cares of the family; they’re the ones with the salary. It’s a shame there is such a gap between the sexes.”

Accommodation - “In Chêne Pointu there’s not one lift that works and the heating neither”

Jihad, twenty-eight years old, is a specialist educator in a school for autistic children.

“In terms of the urban renewal plan (PRU), it is important to know that there are private residences here. People invested in bricks and mortar in the eighties, in the hopes of a secure retirement. We are hearing from every direction that the price of property is rising but in the La Forestière building in Chêne Pointu, it’s exactly the opposite.

The state, or to be more precise, the agency in charge of public property, set a preemption price and, thanks to property managers who have let the estate deteriorate, bought back the apartments for less than the purchase price, just 80,000 euros. Those who refused to sell ended up in court where they were forced to accept the fait accompli. My parents had received their payment before they’d had a chance to refuse.

The state promised rehousing, but in the meantime the ex-owners are living in their own apartments as tenants, paying their rent to the state. It has been a year now that my parents have been living like this, still living in the apartment they used to own and paying their rent to the state out of the money from the sale. And we have no idea how long it will be before the situation changes.

Is there a building anywhere else in France which the state is allowed to handle like this? It is unacceptable, only in Clichy-sous-Bois or in Montfermeil is it allowed to happen. And why do we never hear about this scandal in the media? The tragedy is that my parents have a small pension (800 euros) and I am not even sure they will be able to pay the rent for the accommodation which they are promised to be in soon. They don’t even get to start again from zero, they are starting again with a handicap. Perhaps we, the children, will have to take them in.

The urban renewal plan will last for 15 years in total. The problem is that the people who live here have never been associated with it. Small, local businesses don’t stand to benefit, it seems the big companies have put their bids in.”

Wafika, twenty-two years old.

"As far as the urban renewal plan goes, the lady came to see us, she asked us ’would you like a four room apartment?’ There are eight of us in the family and we are in a five room already. My parents are retired, they can’t begin to think about renting privately. And renting privately is no simple task; my older brother is looking for an apartment in Paris but with his appearance and his current address, it’s complicated.”

Fouad, twenty-one years old, is a student at an engineering school.

“I lived in Chêne Pointu for a long time. I go back regularly. I have the impression that the estate (all seven blocks of it - there’s a lot of people living there) is deteriorating steadily. At the moment, there’s not one lift which works. The elderly, pregnant women, they all climb the stairs, as many as ten floors. Getting up there with shopping bags is a real physical feat. As a result, these families can’t do a weekly shop like most do, it’s impossible. Most live from day to day.

For single mothers, it’s a headache that never goes away. Not to mention the child care problems when it’s time go to work, which is, more often than not, either early in the morning or late in the evening. When you have eight kids in an apartment, you have to send the younger ones outside so that the eldest can study. What’s more, nowadays, there isn’t even any heating in the communal areas. Anywhere else, this would be seen as a scandal. So too would the ethnic criteria on which apartments in each building are allocated – Africans here, Maghrebs there, Turks somewhere else, each ethnic group has its area. Next we’ll be talking about communitarianism.”

Police - “I’ve been pulled over three times in one journey”

Imad, twenty-one years old.

“In 2005, after the death of my friends, after the riots, we really believed that some good would come out of the tragedy. It’s awful to see, 5 years later, that nothing has changed for us, that things have actually got worse. The big talk following the death of Zyed and Bouna hasn’t done anything for us. The one new thing we have in Clichy-sous-Bois is, rather than a job centre, a police station the size of a stadium. As far as I’m concerned, given our relationship with the police, this is not necessarily a good thing. Once, on my way home from school in Gagny, I was pulled over three times. In the end I got out of my car to complain. They told me that they must have been from different squads. No further explanation.”

Fariz, twenty-one years old.

“Three weeks ago the police followed me all the way from Chêne Pointu to the motorway, which is a very busy road. They pulled me over right there in front of everyone. They told me to get out of the car and searched me but didn’t ask to see any papers. They searched my car, every nook and cranny. And then, without asking me anything or saying anything, they left. In situations like that, it’s important to know that up against them, our credibility is worth nothing. Raise your voice a little and you’re accused of insulting a police officer, raise your hands to gesticulate and it’s an act of rebellion. And we’re hardly going to go to the police complaints commission every time.”

Jihad, twenty-eight years old.

“When you see the UTEQ (special police branches for problem areas), the pseudo-community police force, you have the feeling of being on enemy territory, of being at war. You’re meant to feel reassured by their presence but you are afraid of them. They are there in single file, flash-ball gun in hand with a camera which films systematically. That’s not the way to reassure people. The worsening relationship between the police and the general population, not just young people, is worrying.

Twenty years ago, there were community policemen and there was a lot of discussion. It’s important that a dialogue between the police and the people is restored. For the people of Clichy-sous-Bois, a trip to the police station is completely different nowadays; they wonder how they will be treated. Yet, it’s essential that there is always someone to talk to, to have a dialogue with. Otherwise, it becomes dangerous.”

Discrimination - “We are becoming prisoners in our town”

Jihad, twenty-eight years old.

“Living in Clichy-sous-Bois is a handicap. The number of stereotypes attached to us is unbelievable. In the media too. No one ever talks about our town in a positive sense. Writing a covering letter with our address, it’s dreadful. I have friends who have arranged to stay with cousins away from here in order to increase their chance of getting a job. When we submit our CV to a business or temporary employment agency, we are immediately stigmatised.

Even when meeting someone for the first time, I avoid telling them that I live in Clichy, so that it doesn’t affect their judgement of me. It’s not until later, when they start to get to know me, that I tell them where I am from. I have been doing that for some time now. If I don’t, I see the way they look at me – how have you survived living there to the age of twenty-eight?”

Fariz, twenty-one years old.

“I bumped into a guy on his way to the town hall with the proof of rent payment for his new apartment, to show them how high the rent is. In fact, nobody who is sent to live in Montfermeil is able to stay. It is well known that the mayor wants to rid himself of his only poor neighbourhood, Les Bosquets. The rent is high on all the apartments which have been built in Montfermeil. They tell us it it’s better to find somewhere in Paris, but who are we going to find willing to rent a place to someone with a monthly income of 1200 euros?

We have the feeling of being prisoners in our own town. The mayor of Raincy is currently fighting for the 601 bus to not pick up from Clichy anymore on the way to his town, even though it is more practical for us to go to Paris that way. In Montfermeil, the mayor has decided to outlaw groups of more than three young people on the streets. They are taking away our liberties. They are turning us into prisoners."

Nima, twenty years old, community organizer.

"The piling up of problems has a very negative effect on young people who are already in a very unstable situation and who, coming from where they do, have lost all hope of a better life. Someone who has seen their parents slave away their whole lives and end up there, someone who spends an hour and a half travelling to Paris in search of a job, who submits their CV to businesses or temporary employment agencies and is subject to discrimination, ends up completely disillusioned. And in the last five years, the situation has not improved, it has only deteriorated. After all that big talk, we haven’t seen any effects.”

School - “What is the priority in a priority education zone?”

Imad, twenty-one years old.

“When I was in primary school, in Paul-Vaillant-Couturier, we used to go on trips. I visited the Palace of Versailles, I went to Brittany. It really opened my eyes. Today, my nephew is at primary school and the only trip he’s been on is to the Forest of Bondy, and that’s right on our doorstep. It’s a terrible step backwards.

In my school, which we nicknamed ‘Louise Misère’, there were more than 1000 students. With 25 students in each class, the teachers couldn’t cope. We couldn’t get out into the courtyard at break time, there were too many students in the hallways and on the stairs. Nowadays, there are 30 students in each class and it is harder still. Yet the students who live on the estates are in need of help. They never see their parents reading, for example, and it doesn’t occur to them to look in books. There are more and more difficulties in these establishments but less and less means. Anyone who manages to succeed here deserves more credit than the rest.

We are in a ZEP (priority education zone) but you have to wonder what the priority is. We don’t have any more resources, we have the teachers with the least training and the classes are overcrowded with up to 35 students of various nationalities in each class. This is another major obstacle to social mixing, how can we expect parents to consider sending their children to these schools?”

Myriam, seventeen years old, student.

“It’s difficult to be a student from this school. When I was looking for a work placement in the shops in Montfermeil, they didn’t want to know what I was doing or why I was looking for a work placement, all they needed to know was that I was from Clichy and the answer was no, they didn’t want to know anything about me."

[1The name of the association contains a play on words, "AC" being pronounced like "assez", or "that’s enough" (burning cars, and the like).

[2National university for electronics.

[3housing development

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