Death, grief and rage in a 'banlieue chaude'

The Paris suburb of Stains was the scene of the first death during 12 nights of rioting across France when the retired car worker Jean-Jacques Le Chenadec was struck across the head as he tried to quell trouble by youths outside his apartment block. Cahal Milmo talked to six inhabitants of this banlieue chaude about the story behind nearly a fortnight of arson and mayhem.
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Jean-Pierre Moreau, 67, a building warden who was with M. Le Chenadec when both men were attacked outside an apartment block by a single man with a gang of youths, leaving him needing a neck brace and his friend fatally injured.

"Those who did this were cowards. The kid who hit Jean-Jacques approached all bent over, hiding his face in his hood. He looked like a 90-year-old man but he knew what he meant to do.

"I don't care about his colour or his creed. He wanted to show his friends that he was the big man, that he could rule the street, be in control of something for a change. Well, look what happened, he killed a man. Deprived a family of their father, husband or brother. The killer has sullied the name of his family and that of his community. We don't know what drives this - the rioters talk about discrimination but I don't know what second-class citizen means, we are French. The killer is as French as I am. If he wants to improve his world, did he really think he could do it by punching an old man in the head?"

THE SHOPKEEPER

Aiche Mohammed, 64, runs a grocery store near where M. Le Chenadec was attacked. He came to Paris from his native Algeria in 1969.

"If you want to know why the youngsters are burning the cars and throwing the rocks, then look no further than the schools. When my son was 17 and getting ready for his leaving exam last year, his teacher told him not to buy any textbooks because there was no point - he wasn't going to have a career anyway.

"That is the nature of the banlieue. Young men are told by their teachers that they have no future. It has a knock-on effect for businesses and the places they serve. For the young men in between, well, it is a poor neighbourhood and they are not given any reason to believe they can make it any better, either for themselves or anyone else. So they burn things for a bit of excitement. It's not even political."

THE GANG MEMBER

Mohammed Berfan, 16, has lived in Stains all his life. He claims to have seen friends involved in car burnings.

"The keufs [police] give us such a hard time. If you get caught in an ID check, then you could be there for two hours while they ask you where you come from. I come from here, I'm French, but that doesn't count for them because my parents are Algerian.

"Sure I have friends who took part [in the riots]. It's a sort of competitive thing, each neighbourhood shows what it can do. A bus is the best thing to get, that is like maximum points if you get it on fire.

"It was not right what happened to the man who got killed here but this is our life. I'm still at school but I'm not sure how much longer I'll bother.

"Sarko [the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the rioters "scum"] must resign. Until he does, this will carry on. But I don't think things will get better - there will be a bit of calm, then the next riot will bring the media and politicians for a while. Then they disappear again, until the next time."

THE MOTHER

Natacha Larive, 34, a businesswoman and mother of two teenage sons. Originally from Martinique, has lived in Stains since 1989.

"The first thing I did this morning was to pay my respects to the widow of M. Le Chenadec. I went to see her, to give my condolences and show solidarity.

"Many people assume the banlieues have no sense of community but it is not true. I am angry about what has been going on because of the nonsense of it - I understand the frustration of these kids but I have no sympathy whatsoever with their methods.

"Why do they burn the cars their friends' parents need to drive to work to find the money to put clothes on their children's backs?

"I keep my children inside night and day. Before, I let them out during the day, but now there is no question - as a parent I want to see them succeed, not out dodging police. Mme Le Chenadec told me she is leaving Stains to bury her husband and live in the Vosges mountains. I can understand why - she has paid a very heavy price. But I cannot do the same. Even if I could, to leave would be letting the hooligans win. It is saying there is nothing of any worth here. That is not true, there are decent people here."

THE WORKER

Samir Bouhlel, 42, a builder, came to Stains from Tunisia in 1985.

"What do these kids mean when they say there is no work? Rubbish. Of course there is work, but they just don't want to do it - you offer work on a building site and they say it is too hard. They want an easy job in an office or a warehouse. I tell them this is the reality - you live in the banlieue, you have black or Arab parents, no one is going to give you a nice job in an office.

"If you want to get on, you work and create your own wealth. That is the only way to get respect. But instead we get this rage. They are acting without reason: there is no reason to setting light to a bus that your dad or cousin uses to get to work. I suspect the rioters want to be normal people but the great failure of France is they don't know how."

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