Baise La Police
by Marc Butterwood
2005 has been an excellent year for riot fans. I surely am not the only person who, upon hearing the word riot, rushes to see the news. What did they throw at police? How many were involved? How did police respond? And what started it? It is often difficult to get much news about a decent riot unless you live, as this budding hack does, in Northern Ireland where it could pass as a national tradition. A five minute drive to the right location at the right time gives you an excellent opportunity to witness civil unrest in person, this September seeing extreme cases of violence against the old firm in Belfast. But this society so comfortable with rioting has been outdone.
At the time of writing the French have made it an incredible three weeks of rioting in what has become the talking point of Europe, nay the world. It is an absolutely phenomenal achievement in rioting terms by those burning bicycles and throwing baguettes. And hitting its peak on the 11th night – it should have peaked at day 3 or 4 at most – it took some time for things to settle. Oh yes - this year, those who take an interest in watching people get into the old bill on the news have had their pick of good viewing.
We all talked about the unrest in Birmingham sparked by news that a girl of Caribbean origin was raped by a large group of Asian men. She could not report this to the police as she was an illegal immigrant. Cue two days of unrest and tit for tat spats between black and Asian communities, with one mans death linked to the trouble although this was more a series of incidents rather than a riot in the complete sense.
The first decent riot of the year though occurred before this. It may not have made national headlines across the UK, but the sheer venom unleashed in public made it easy fodder for news editors in Northern Ireland. The Belfast derby between Glentoran and Linfield in April was the biggest football game of the year – the winner would top the table and take the Irish league title. A thrilling encounter saw Linfield equalise with minutes to go, and then some seat ripping and brick throwing began at one end of the ground. But when Glentoran scored a winner deep in stoppage time, all hell broke loose. Glentoran fans on the pitch goading and throwing missiles were soon tackled by Linfield fans – who had the task of scaling a ten foot back leaning fence to get on the pitch. But as steel gates were broke open in home and away ends 100-150 people piled into each other and fought for some 20 minutes on the pitch, in front of television crews. Missiles also rained back and forth between the pitch and the Glentoran main stand. The stadium was in a poor state of repair – people wondered where the rubble was coming from but the crumbling terrace beneath your feet was your ammunition. That was half time effectively.
Unknown to all, a Belfast City Councillor (and Glentoran fan), who shall remain nameless, had decided to take the law into his own hands. He ran out of the stadium, and upon assembling all riot police as quickly as he could, led them in a charge across the pitch into the Linfield end which the Light Brigade would have been proud of. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as this crisply suited commander ran to our end with fifteen baton waving maniacs to the rear. And remarkably, they ran past the Glentoran rioters who resorted to throwing bricks and bottles into a boxed in Linfield end. The crowd could barely get out a line about Harry Roberts without a shout of “Heads” going up as those who refused to move were involved in an unwilling game of dodgebrick. A further row for 20 minutes with police reinforcements outside the stadium ended what was some prime coverage for the media.
But the summer was not far away and the annual 12th of July Orange Order parades by Protestants always stir up a good riot. This is particularly true where a parade must go past a markedly Catholic area. In Ardoyne, Belfast, there was some decent chew, with a crowd of 2-300 attacking the police when they could’nt get within striking distance of Orangemen. It was, as always, a good effort from the Ardoyne locals – they have an ideal neighbourhood for rioting, with plenty of streets that lead into each other, no cul-de-sacs, and shops to the front of the area forming an effective wall which the police always have trouble getting behind. They are a community which is always prepared for a good set-to – axe grinders were previously used to cut down lamp posts for road blocks. Dozens of police officers were injured, a few bombs were thrown, but it was a one night only performance. Which, from the police point of view, is just as well. The streets of Ardoyne are so well suited as a rioting location that the number of police casualties came close to 100.
Those who sought more action would get a fine treat in September, as another parade sparked controversy. Police prevented an Orange march in West Belfast from taking a normal route, and heavy handed policing in that situation sparked a week of rioting in Belfast. The Whiterock Road and its linking routes to the Shankill, where the parade took place, saw the fiercest of this rioting. Petrol bombs, blast bombs and live gun fire peppered the police lines. It made for great news the sight of heavily armoured police vehicles with their roofs on fire doing an 80 mph dash presumably to the nearest carwash. A Belfast based police officer made headlines by saying the police did not control the streets of Belfast – the paramilitaries did. The riots spread, across all Protestant working class areas, which is what ties us back in with France.
Those areas where the rioting took place are disadvantaged. They are places where education and opportunities are low. Every Catholic school in Northern Ireland is for the most part an education machine, churning out pupils with high grades ready for university. In comparison the Protestant community suffers from distinct learning apathy – not only do people not see the benefits of learning but the state does not see the benefits of teaching them. Gone are the days where Catholics were discriminated against for jobs – here are the days where Protestants cannot find work because the education system is failing to get them involved. While this assessment is accepted, it is not entirely the reality. The afore-mentioned Ardoyne Nationalist community is also disadvantaged and unemployment levels hover close to 50%. And these failures in the education and employment the system should provide answer the question raised by the ignorant middle class every time a riot breaks out – “Haven’t these people got anything better to do?”
It is also about recreation. As with football related violence, participating in a riot is a good way to pass time. And in Paris they are letting rip. The actions mirror the famous film “La Haine” so much it is scary. The riots were sparked by French police chasing two teenagers through the projects in “Deep South” Paris suburbs. The youngsters, so terrified of being caught (presumably because of the fair nature in which the Gendarme treat people from the projects) ran into a power station, where they were electrocuted. The exact nature of the chase and electrocution, we do not know. What we do know is that in film, music, and the occasional worthy news piece, we are given the impression that the French police treat people from the projects with contempt. These huge estates situated all around the outskirts of Paris provide a safe distance between the supposedly good hearted, right thinking people who occupy the city centre and the unemployable young angry discontents on the outskirts. Have your housing, but keep away from our beautiful city centre.
And this is how the mentioned Mathieu Kassovitz film “La Haine” began. The events of the actual Paris riots are mirrored right down to a gym being burned (Saturday 5th November), one built to serve the community. And this is the outpouring of irrational violence which reflects the frustration. That people will burn their own community just to be heard. But unlike La Haine this is not a situation where the police can hem in the “rabble” as the French Interior minister has described the rioters. Indeed these comments are seen as the spark in the time line of the riots. Nicholas Sarkozky made the comments during a visit to the suburb of Argeneuil to speak of the marvel of measures against urban violence. He was pelted with bricks and bottles despite his security escort. So he described crime ridden neighbourhoods, which we assume referred to the one he has just been, as needing “washed with a power hose” to get rid of the “gangrene” as he called those inhabiting said areas. By the third night, his coveted centre of Paris, a haven for the white cultured middle class, was alight. Thought you were safe away from the “ghettos”? Like fuck, give us your Clio, we’ll give it some va va voom.
Those who keep a keen eye on rioting in the news do get some sense of how they work. There is a spark, which spreads, and then peters out – a distinct time line is involved. A few days of this incredible energy takes it out of those involved, especially as the numbers being prosecuted rise. But not this time in Paris. They are breaking records and rules. Bad weather and rain usually kills off the appetite for destruction from any rioter. But here they are with winter kicking in having achieved a spectacular three week (23 days to be precise) long extravaganza. Other cities and areas are getting involved as far away as Marseilles. And the 11th night of violence, well after the spark, was the worst. Comparing this to the recent September Belfast riots, it is a marathon to a sprint. Within three days people had stopped bombing and shooting the police in Belfast and sporadic road blocks and minor violence saw out the rest of the week. Belfast provided a short sharp shock, small amounts of true ferocity. In Paris they saw out the minor violence for the first few days, and are now turning all their efforts to attacking the police. It’s not a co-ordinated operation but if it were, it couldn’t have been accomplished with any more success than this. It is a huge national crisis and a complete crack down by security forces and to a lesser extent dialogue with community leaders had calm slowly returning to the end of week three. The state also allowed the introduction of curfews which were designed to keep Algeria in check under French rule.
The Government have also set up fast track court systems which quickly turn out a result – rioters were quickly be ordered to attend at a time, often within a day of their being charged. So they arrive at this ad-hoc committee to quickly hear what the police have reported to the court, and are sentenced on the spot. One man sentenced on day 13 was found by police to have traces of fuel on his hands in a stop and search. He was given four months by the new court. Petrol pump attendants be vigilant then. Justice it seems is not blind – it is deaf and dumb into the bargain. The lack of judicial process, fair trial, taking time to weigh up evidence, it’s all gone. North Korea now looks like a more ideal relocation spot for would be Paris immigrants. Kangaroo court? Rolf Harris would have a right old time drawing in these places.
Of course, we can say its not all good for the rioters taking out their revenge on a police force which, scant rumour has it, oppresses them, fits them up, and generally has a less than impressive human rights record where people from the projects are concerned. Jean Marie Le Pens nationalist party will without doubt be using this as leverage come election time, and they already hold a staggering amount of support for such an openly right wing party. Imagine if the BNP held 25% of the vote, and had a good chance of reaching say 35 for the sake of argument? This is what France faces. And it will not matter that the projects include people that are white – come election time the projects will be tarred with the one brush, an enemy which needs ousted, not reasoned with or listened to.
And it’s not all about tackling the police. Two horrific incidents in both Belfast and Paris took place. A pregnant woman in Belfast was punched for trying to drive through a road block, while in France a disabled woman in a wheel chair was doused in petrol and set partially alight on a bus. These are simply low life’s using civil unrest as a shield for their degenerate nature. But this does not take away from what the riot achieves.
The disadvantaged community speaks out. They have no other choice but to fight back against the state which has treated them so badly. La Haine was a film that literally made everyone sit bolt upright, it caused a crisis meeting by the French cabinet, made them ask “Is this how we treat people? Is this how our French police by and large operate?” Ten years later the French state still has learned nothing, when the most famous French film made is slapping them in the face and saying take action. Rioting is not, as Ed Norton described the Los Angeles riots of the 90’s in American History X, “Opportunism at its worst”. It is a cry for help, a cry for change. A cry for the state to stop treating people as second class citizens, a term repeated in Paris as it has been in Belfast. But it all makes for great media coverage, armchair violence fanatics. And so long as any state seeks to mistreat any of its communities, the Kaiser Chiefs should be making a mint in song royalties.
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