French youth riot in streets after two controversial teen deaths

Mostly poor youth in France initiated civil unrest Oct. 27 with a series of mass arson attacks on vehicles and buildings.

A majority of the youth committing the acts were Muslim and of African or north African origin, according to an article in The New York Times.

The riots began after two teenagers were killed.

A group of 10 high school teenagers were playing soccer in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. They allegedly ran and hid when police officers arrived to conduct immigration-identity checks.

Three of the teens, thinking they were being chased by the police, climbed a wall to hide in a power substation. Blackouts occurred at the station and in nearby areas, which caused the electrocution of two boys and the injury of a third, according to The New York Times. There is controversy over whether the teens were actually chased.

France is home to an estimated five million Muslims, most of north African origin. Their children face a triple handicap: they suffer disproportionately from youth unemployment, their foreign names and faces make it even harder to find work and many reside in neighborhoods that are largely devoid of job opportunities, according to the International Herald Tribune.

“It has been brewing for years,” said William Cloonan, a Florida State University French professor. France cannot seem to deal with minorities because they do not recognize such groups as such, he said. Everyone is a citizen.

“For instance, in the United States someone might say, ‘I am Irish-American, Afro-American, Jewish-American,’ but in France one is simply ‘French,’ and therefore part of the majority,” Cloonan said.

“France is only beginning to confront its racist past and present. The country is in shock, but it will have to give a good look at the multi-cultural nature of contemporary French society,” he added.

David Jackson, chair of the Florida A&M University department of history, political science and African-American studies, agreed.

“I think it is unfortunate that there is a need for these Africans to riot to address social issues, which are plaguing them in society,” Jackson said. “The world has moved away from addressing the poor.”

The media is the collection of all forms of mass communication. Some view the media’s coverage of the rioting as controversial.

“The media is labeling the group of rioters as Africans and Muslims, but really they are Africans and Arabs, in which some are Muslim,” Jackson said. If we start to connect Muslims and terror, it overshadows suffering, Jackson added.

Some students recognize the reason for the youth riots, but do not necessarily agree with the methods.

“Their actions aren’t going to be fertile because they are producing more harm,” said Amy Ord, 19, an FSU sophomore physical therapy student from Orlando. “Causing harm isn’t going to get you what you want.” Ord said she believes in nonviolent protest.

“There is a peaceful way of resolving issues,” said Arian White, 20, a junior chemistry student from Indianapolis. I do believe that it’s their time to stand up for justice, but in a more civilized approach, White said.

“The French government needs to find the cause behind this violence,” said Jabari Paul, 22, a senior political science student from Tallahassee. Implementing outreach programs in the community that would find out the concerns of the youth in these minority neighborhoods is one method to avoid a reoccurrence of such an event, Paul said.

“History has proven that whenever a group feels oppressed, they tend to act out to liberate themselves,” added Paul, the president of the Florida NAACP Youth and College Division. Paul does not agree with the extreme methods of protest, but he is sympathetic with their struggle.

Jackson said, “Suffering breeds discontent, and discontent can lead to this sort of crisis.”

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