Yesterday evening, three young people died in the suburbs to the north of Paris. Mouhsin (15) and Lakamy (16), two immigrant youths, were killed in Villiers-le-Bel when their motorcycle, which is said to have been stolen, collided at high speed with a police vehicle. The two youths, who were not wearing compulsory crash helmets, died on the spot. A few hours later, Anne-Lorraine (23), a young journalist, was stabbed to death on a suburban train near Creil, whilst resisting a man who was trying to rape her. The man had already been convicted for violent sexual assault in 1996.
The news of the deaths of Mouhsin and Lakamy became world news, dominating today’s media in France and abroad. Anne-Lorraine’s death is a mere footnote, a “faits divers” in France, a non-event abroad.
After Mouhsin’s and Lakamy’s deaths their friends and relatives went on a rampage. They destroyed two police stations and a petrol station, torched a few dozen cars, looted stores and injured at least 25 police officers (two of them seriously) and one fireman. A spokesman of the French police union said today that the officers had been shot at by youths with firearms. According to Omar Sehhouli, the brother of one of the two dead youths, the eruption of violence was not what it seemed. “This is not violence,” Omar told the French press agency AFP, “but just anger that needs to be expressed”.
The French authorities fear that the immigrant youths in the Paris suburbs will feel a need to express another round of anger tonight. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is currently in China. His Interior Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie is in charge. She has “urged all sides to act responsibly” and has promised a full inquiry. The “all sides” refers to the angry youths on the one hand and the police on the other hand. The French judicial authorities are conducting a manslaughter investigation against the officers in the police car. According to the friends and relatives of Mouhsin and Lakamy, the officers fled from the scene of the accident, without caring for the two dead boys and without waiting for the friends and relatives to show up.
A police chief who arrived on the scene was, however, beaten up and suffered serious facial trauma. Four police cars that arrived shortly afterwards, also fled when they were attacked, leaving the entire neighbourhood under the control of the youth gangs. A few hours later, when the prefect (governor) of the Val d’Oise province, Paul-Henry Trollé, came to Villiers-le-Bel, a delegation of the youths told him that they want justice to be done and the policemen punished. “Otherwise we will do justice ourselves. We demand the truth or we will screw up everything.”
In November 2005 the accidental death of two immigrant youths in Clichy-sous-Bois, another Paris suburb, led to weeks of violence and unrest in which “angry” friends of the youths set alight over 10,000 cars and arsoned more than 300 buildings, including schools. It took almost a month before Nicolas Sarkozy, the then minister of the Interior, was able to restore law and order. He did this by withdrawing the police and abandoning the immigrant neighbourhoods to the control of the local youths.
A few hours after the death of Mouhsin and Lakamy, Anne-Lorraine, a 23-year old journalism student, was attacked in a suburban train. Her body was discovered in an empty carriage when the train entered its terminus at Creil, also in the Val d’Oise province. The girl was covered in blood and had over thirty stab wounds in the chest and face. She was still alive but died shortly afterwards. The police later arrested a 44-year old man with stab wounds on his arms. When questioned he confessed that he had assaulted the young woman. The man had been convicted for sexual assaults in 1996, including a rape under threat of a knife on the same train line, but he had since been released. The man said that he had tried to rape Anne-Lorraine because they were alone in the train carriage. He had stabbed her because she resisted him.
Today, Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie offered her condolences to the young woman’s relatives and friends. The latter have not gone on a rampage. They have not torched train carriages nor have they arsoned train stations. The French authorities do not fear they will turn to violence in the coming nights, either. One wonders why. Is there no “anger that needs to be expressed”?