France and the United States are unfortunate contenders when it comes to urban violence. The clashes between the police and young people from minority groups — Afro-American and Hispanic in the U.S.A., and Arab and African in France — are following the same pattern in both countries, but their respective government’s attitudes differ.
The environment for this violence — the banlieues in France and the “projects” in the United States — generates the same gang mentality, the same drug dealing, the same lack of education, and a similar rejection of societal norms. In both cases, the government is at its wits’ end, and the police are extremely violent due to a lack of experience and instruction. The United States is more familiar with this situation than France. As ethnic censuses are banned in France, we are supposed to be unaware of the origins of these young delinquents. This feigned ignorance forces us to talk about “young people” in general. But if no questions are being asked, how are we to reply? In the United States, the answer is flawed, but at least it exists. The American solution is called “affirmative action,” and is bizarrely translated into French as discrimination positive. The biased vocabulary used to reflect the English term immediately halts any potential debate.
The French government prefers to stick its head in the sand when faced with racial violence. On January 22, 2017, four white police officers were accused of raping a young black man in the town of Aulnay-sous- Bois in the Parisian suburbs. A few days ago, the criminal court in the nearby town of Bobigny found another police officer guilty for the rape of a young man in 2015. The subject of police violence and sexual assault by police officers has never been broached in France until now. On both sides of the Atlantic, it is time to recognize that the violence is reciprocal, and that we should strive to combat the violence of “young people” just as much as that of the police. Equipping police officers with cameras, as is common practice in America, is at least the start of a solution. Affirmative action is another.
Neither the United States nor France has found a definitive answer to the question of urban violence. But it seems that these issues are named in the United States, more so than in France, where vocabulary is sterilized and debate on social questions disappears into a mass of Marxist theories. I have also observed, with just weeks to go before the French presidential elections, that not a single candidate has discussed the issue, most probably because it is a political third rail: whoever touches it first is sure to be out of the running. But this spineless attitude will only lead to even more violence.