Published November 08, 2005
LE BLANC MESNIL, France – Theirs is a drab life of days spent smoking hashish, hanging out on street corners. They fidget and talk big.
The only things they have in abundance are time and rancor. Ask what their dreams are, the response is blank stares.
Shouting over each other to be heard, the young toughs vented about their lives in Paris' suburban housing projects and the rioting setting them ablaze.
"We hate the police," cried one teenager. "It's the start of war," yelled another. "Put this in your notebook ... ," said a third, rattling off a string of obscenities about France's tough-talking interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.
All French-born children of Arab and black African immigrants, this group of a dozen or so teens at Les Tilleuls housing project north of Paris complained of being marginalized by French society.
Years ago, France welcomed their parents as labor, often to do menial jobs most French did not want, they noted. And now, there are no jobs — or no one willing to give them one, they said.
"This isn't good for anything," says Farid, 20, angrily shaking his French identity card. He and the others refused to give their surnames, saying they fear repercussions from police or in the community.
None of the youths said they have participated in arson attacks, but their sympathies are clearly with the rioters who have shaken France to its core in the nights of mayhem that spread across the country from tough Paris projects like Les Tilleuls.
"The 'elders' of the projects have tried to calm us down, but we don't care," said 20-year-old Karim, gesticulating wildly with his arms and then concentrating on rolling a joint.
He said the rioting has unified various housing projects that previously fought among themselves. The target of their rage is Sarkozy, who angered many in the suburbs by calling neighborhood toughs "scum."
"Before it was a gang warfare between different projects. Sarkozy's given us a common target — the government," said Karim.
"If they fire Sarkozy, we'll head straight to the police station and pop champagne with them," said Bidou, 22, his baseball cap cocked to the side.
Before the riots, police rarely came by, and generally patrolled in cars with windows rolled up, the youths said. They have nicknames — like "Lucky Luke" and "Cortex" — for some officers they know.
They complained that police manhandle them during identity card checks, even claiming that some officers plant hashish on them as a pretext for arrests, and that they regularly fire off rubber pellets during sweeps.
"You wear these clothes, with this color skin and you're automatically a target for police," said Ahmed, 18, pointing to his mates in Izod polo shirts, Nike sneakers and San Antonio Spurs T-shirts.