Youth riots break out in northern district of France

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PARIS — Months of tension between police and young people in a troubled district of northern France exploded Tuesday, with dozens of youths facing off against riot officers in a night of violence.

Sixteen officers were injured, a pre-school and public gym were torched, and at least three passing drivers in Amiens were dragged from their cars.

While the identity of the rioters and the immediate cause is unclear, the economic picture of the area in question is not.

Unemployment skews higher in northern France and among the country’s youth. Less than two weeks ago, the French government declared Amiens among 15 impoverished zones to receive more money and security.

The eruption of violence shows how little relations have changed between police and youths in France’s housing projects since nationwide riots in 2005 raged unchecked for nearly a month, leaving entire neighborhoods in flames in the far-flung suburbs.

At the height of the latest confrontation, 150 officers — both local and federal riot police — faced off against the young men who fired buckshot and fireworks at them, skirmishing through the neighborhood in the city about 75 miles north of Paris. There were no arrests.

“The confrontations were very, very violent,” Amiens Mayor Gilles Dumailly told the French television network BFM.

Mr. Dumailly said tensions had been building for months between police and the impoverished residents, whom he described as “people who are in some difficulty.”

Relations between police and youth in housing projects have been troubled for years, perhaps decades. Riots occasionally erupt, often in the hot nights of August, when France’s rich and middle classes head off for long vacations but poor and immigrant families in the projects stay home.

Alain Bauer, a professor of criminology, said circumstances had only worsened since 2005. He said it is hard to predict what will happen after the Amiens violence, which he described as “a culmination of bitterness and tension.”

“These are small events that stand apart unless they take on greater importance,” he said. “It will take an in-depth reaction [from the government], responding to both criminal and social problems.”

The riots usually follow a pattern: Police target a young person speeding on a motorbike or doing something suspicious; the youth speeds or runs away to escape and dies or gets seriously injured in flight. The neighborhood rises up in anger, and that night or the next, young people head out to burn cars, police stations or any building representing authority. Police often respond by coming in force with tear gas, further angering the local population.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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