Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Nicolas Sarkozy Show - Live from Gare du Nord

If I were still living on rue Lafayette, right beside Gare du Nord, as I was a year ago, I would probably have been caught up in these riots that took place during the evening rush hour in the station the other day. Above is a brief glimpse of the action - of rather poor quality, admittedly - captured on a camera-phone by a 20-year-old from Cergy (think Milton Keynes crossed with Ballymun). Anthony C. has since claimed to have been threatened by an anonymous phone call from the police, though it is difficult to hear what is being said on the recording of the message in question on his DailyMotion page. In an interview with Le Monde Anthony insists that everything got out of hand with looting and the like after an initial expression of outrage by bystanders over the heavy-handed treatment of a fare-dodger by the police. There are plenty of dodgy youngsters hanging around Gare du Nord every day looking for trouble - and some reports claim that the fare-dodger was violent towards the ticket inspectors - but you have to ask: how on earth can arresting someone for fare evasion on the Metro result in a pitched battle involving 200 rioters? After the violent raid outside a nursery school, which I alluded to the other day, and the suspiciously well-timed capture of the fugitive Cesare Battisti in Brazil, one thinks that the outgoing Minister for the Interior is exercising a PR machine in a somewhat unorthodox way prior to the elections.



Re "If I were still living on rue Lafayette, right beside Gare du Nord, as I was a year ago, I would probably have been caught up in these riots that took place during the evening rush hour in the station the other day."

Wrong! My 202 year old son lives in a studio overlooking Gare du Nord (right on top of Leader Price Supermarket on the corner of rue Lafayette and boulevard Magenta) I can guarantee you that just because he (or you for that matter) lived there meant that he would be caught up in wht you call the riots; if he ain't doing anything bad, why would he get caught up?

I too was worried and rang him when I saw the news footage on TV. He laughed - he said, the whole thing was played up by media.

Let's get real about this before we start spewing half-truths and half-spins.

Besides the whole incident happened in the metro itself (underground and not outside the metro compound).

What happened was simple - the fare evader knocked off the fare controller and of course, he was pinned down in order to prevent further bodily harm to other members of the controlling team.

The scene was witnessed by a lot of metro users of African and Arabic descent who must have thought that there was some kind of racial discrimination thingy involved (perhaps so but the bottom line is that the black fella evaded paying the fare). Things went haywire and got out of control requiring the assistance of crowd dispersal police.

True, there are dodgy characters loafing around in the Gare du Nord area; if these characters insist on being shady and causing chaos, then I do believe that there's every reason for the French police to get them manu military. End of story.

seanachie said...

As for getting caught up in the disturbances, it is likely to have happened had I been living there (about ten doors down from your son at number 124) because the brouhaha (and not the fare-evading incident) itself took place between the main station compound and Metro line 5, which I crossed on the way to work every evening shortly after six.

The fare evader, it has emerged, headbutted one of the controllers (three of whom were of African and Arabic (sic) descent, according to Le Monde). This same guy had already previous convictions for fare evasion and violence of a similar nature. Clearly not a nice guy, and probably possessed of one or two mental problems or two. I don't think this should exempt him from stumping up €1.40 for a Metro ticket, nor does it excuse his behaviour. But then I never said it did in the original post.

What I found more surprising was the rapid response to the incident - the CRS seemed well-primed for it - and given how Sarkozy has been putting pressure on police personnel to increase and decrease charge quotas according to his own electoral needs (my authorities for this are police officers I know and an interview with a number of Seine-St-Denis police in Libération two weeks ago), the incident seemed surprisingly propitious for the man.

The issue isn't whether the rioters and the fare dodgers were in the wrong (they most certainly were) or the police in the right (ditto); it is rather a question of where the current culture of crisis management nurtured by Sarkozy is likely to lead France's urban society. Things are pretty bad as they are but Sarkozy's belligerence has yet to provide any positive effects. I'm not suggesting that police responses in such cases should be meek or gentle (and few of Sarkozy's critics are either). But to imagine that a threat of State violence in public spaces is going to act as a deterrent or pacify a bunch of young louts is to prove oneself unfit to rule the country. As somebody on another blog said the other day, Royal may know nothing about economics but Sarkozy knows nothing about society. I'd sooner go for the gormless economist - she can't do much more damage to the French economy and any that she does will be more easily ameliorated than the damage that five years of Sarkozy will do. The sledgehammer should be brought out only on special occasions.