The Plank

Once Bitten

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The stream of news about the three days of riots that have overtaken the suburbs of Paris is unsettling. In echoes of the 3-week urban war of 2005, the pot is still boiling, and this fight may not yet have reached its climax. The mainly black and Muslim rioters are still aggrieved about the perennial barriers of race, class and religion that govern their lives in France. Like the first uprising, the death of two local youths sparked the violence. But this time it's worse--130 police officers have been injured already, and rioters have armed themselves not just with mob chaos but with shotguns. Ironically, the rioters are engaging in the country's most esteemed tradition--armed protest. But unlike before, voices have emerged from behind the flames with a clear complaint. For their friends and neighbors, the two boys, killed by a police car this weekend, are emblematic of the wider social injustice felt outside the metropole. Le Monde reports a kid my age saying: "We want the truth. Since Sunday, it's been the cops' word against everyone. [Laramy and Mouhsin] are the victims and people are making them into thieves and criminals." To me the story of the 2005 riots has always read as one of class-based lack of recourse against government inattention: a tantrum in its purest form. Granted, the protesters' weapons-gathering is still more organized than their dispute, but this time, the galling violence is just the beginning. It’s the same explosion of anger fueled by impotence--the grievance that has not abated, even as President Sarkozy has extended an arm to minorities in his Cabinet and proposed a "Marshall Plan" for ghettoes. In trying to engage the rioters in a permanent solution, France's leaders should offer real means of political recourse to these neglected French subjects, and take note of the adage: once bitten, twice shy.--Dayo Olopade

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