ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Amiens-Nord : Fafet, un quartier resté au bord de la route
by Ixchel Delaporte
Translated Saturday 18 August 2012, by Bill Scobleand reviewed by
The residents of Fafet-Brossolette, eyewitnesses to the clashes in the night of August 13-14, discuss the reasons for their anger. They describe a ghettoized neighborhood that has been hit hard by unemployment, and one where a police response will not suffice.
The northern neighborhoods of Amiens, which had been decreed a priority security zone just two weeks earlier by Manuel Valls, erupted into violence in the night of August 13-14. While most of the media attribute the unleashing of this night of violence to a heavy-handed police ID check, the context in which the police ID check was carried out must not be forgotten. You have to go back to August 9, the date of the accidental death of Nadir Hadji, a 20-year-old man, whose motorcycle collided with an automobile. On August 10, the announcement of his death crushed the whole of the Fafet-Brossolette neighborhood.
“I never saw so many people out-of-doors. There were parents, grand-parents, children. Everybody was in a state of shock. Nadir was the grandson of harkis [Algerian soldiers who fought on the French side in the war of independence], and the whole community is in mourning today,” a social worker said.
Until August 12, the mood was one of meditation. In the evening, a police ID check triggered an avalanche of anger on the part of the residents. But there are two contradictory versions of events – for town hall, the policemen wanted to check a speeding motorist, who was driving without his driver’s license. Period. For the family and some of the residents, this ID check, which is described as “ordinary,” was not.
Fatiha, the dead man’s aunt, recounted what she saw: “A young man was checked opposite the newsvendor’s. He didn’t have his driver’s license, but everybody was in a state of shock. The anti-crime brigade policemen hammered away at him. Nadir’s father intervened, asking the policemen to stop and to leave us alone. Things got out of hand. One of the policemen insulted my brother-in-law, saying: ‘Your Lucky Luke isn’t here to defend you any more, we’re going to beat up Arabs.’ The mothers came out of the building, which is right next to the newsvendor’s, to calm things down. But that didn’t change anything. The policemen called for reinforcements and began tear-gassing. The young people couldn’t control themselves, they got worked up. There were babies and elderly people. My niece and my nephew got hit with flash balls. Can you imagine that? It’s a lack of respect, we aren’t animals.”
Fafa, a friend of the family, is still angry. She doesn’t understand the police provocations: “We were in the middle of the funeral meal on Sunday [August 12]. In the afternoon, they began checking the ID of 13-year-olds who were playing ball not far from the building. They went too far, they shocked everybody,” she said, still dumbfounded.
A silent march to demand respect
On August 13, to express its anger, the family decided to organize, together with the association Action vérité [Truth Action], a silent march from the northern neighborhood to the prefecture. For Françoise, a resident of the neighborhood who participated in the march, it came off calmly. But the 150 residents found the door closed: “It was a march to express our anger and to demand respect from the police. I live in a ground-floor apartment and I see how the police talk to young people. They’re always provoking them. They address them using “tu” [the familiar form of address that strangers use when talking to children] and check their IDs continually. The last time, again, I saw a police bus that drove past four or five times in front of a group of young people sitting on a bench. Since they did not react, the cops wound up insulting them. It’s irresponsible. They knew the neighborhood was in a state of shock, why did they insult Nadir’s father?”
A member of the family and a member of the association were finally received by the prefect’s head of cabinet and by the deputy director of the DST [French counterintelligence agency]. “They told them nothing in particular could be done and that the people who had been wronged should file a complaint. That’s all,” Françoise related. Hence there was no response as to the acts of the anti-crime brigade policemen…
“We wanted the prefecture to condemn their attitude, we can’t accept being treated this way, still less when one of ours has died. We came to demand justice,” added Fatiha, the aunt.
The night when the neighborhood erupted in violence
That same August 13, a little after the march, everything snowballed. Around 150 policemen and anti-riot police, who were posted on the outskirts of the neighborhood as reinforcements for their colleagues, became the targets of shots of buckshot, of firework mortars, and thrown objects from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. The police responded with tear gas and flashballs. The outcome was 16 injured policeman, including one seriously, and the arson destruction of a junior high school canteen, a sports room, a leisure center, and a kindergarten, as well as 20 automobiles and 50 trash bins.
The mayor’s deputy for security, Emilie Thérouin, criticized “a silent march that was far from being calm. Two police officials were manhandled by hooded young people. Having said that, the family was received and we understand their pain. The ID check was an unfortunate coincidence. But there’s no excuse for the violence. Police officials were targeted and that’s unacceptable.”
However, with regard to the social question, she recognized that urban renewal “doesn’t solve everything.” “We have to review the way of involving the residents. With the priority security zone, we will not only give a police response, more human means and youth workers are needed.”
Jacques, the president of the APREDA, the anti-juvenile delinquency sports association that managed the sports room, is crushed: “Thirty years of work have gone up in smoke. We’re in a state of shock, we’re trying to see the elected officials to find another room. We hope town hall will do what’s necessary… Our 400 members have sent us messages of support. But the problem lies elsewhere.” Without dwelling on the fire, Jacques prefers to underline the structural causes: “The politicians were betting entirely on urban renewal. But the people don’t care about the building if they haven’t got a job. Apart from our room, there wasn’t much in the neighborhood. The youth workers are overloaded. Lots of elderly people live all alone. The children see their parents on unemployment. Here, we’re right in the middle of ghetto-ization. Nothing has changed for the people for too long.”
A neighborhood abandoned by the public authorities
The Fafet-Brossolette-Calmette neighborhood, where 15,000 people reside, is far from being the most isolated one in the northern zone of the city, separated by the Doullens highway from the rest of the northern sector. Initially composed of a large harki community, which arrived shortly after Algerian independence in 1963, Fafet later became home to many poor immigrant families. For over 20 years, this set of small houses and apartment buildings has continued to deteriorate. The two small corner shops closed 15 years ago. There remains the Albatros, a reception hall, and four or five associations that attempt to maintain social links. No bakery, no playground, no sports field, no neighborhood center, no leisure center, no post office, no bank. Fafet has been left by the wayside.
For the past four years, urban renewal has been conducted with difficulty. The Brossolette buildings, which contained many apartments, are destined for demolition. But this urban renewal worries people and crystallizes tensions. Little informed about opportunities for relocation by OPAC, the social housing authority, the residents regret losing cheap and spacious apartments. Except for a consultation via letters, OPAC has had a hard time getting the opinion of these Amiens residents. A few weeks ago, a construction crane was set on fire by hooded young people. Then reinforcement with gendarmes made it possible for the workers to continue the demolition work. Calm reigned in the neighborhood. The presence of the gendarmes, according to Françoise, posed no problem: “They’re polite, they talk to the young people and even give them advice on how to wear motorcycle helmets. If the policemen addressed us the way they do, there’d be fewer problems,” she said.
For one of the youth workers who works in Fafet, and whose organization is desperately demanding an additional youth worker, the neighborhood has never benefitted from Amiens’ economic development: “Amiens has beautified itself and gentrified itself, but this neighborhood has never gotten the slightest attention. And yet, I am in contact with young people and parents who have exemplary energy and a very impressive working capacity. It’s a real waste.”