French gang law seen failing to curb youth unrest

Sun Apr 19, 2009 2:08pm EDT
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By Estelle Shirbon

AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France (Reuters) - A French plan to outlaw gangs in response to a spate of youth violence has dismayed people in poor suburbs who say it shows the government has no idea what really goes on there and no solution.

Official anti-gang rhetoric has flourished since a raid on a school in the Paris suburb of Gagny on March 10 during which teenagers from a rival school attacked pupils and teachers with metal bars and hammers, injuring 12.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, battling public discontent over the economic crisis and keen to show a tough-on-crime approach that made him popular in the past, rushed to the school and promised a new law making it a crime to belong to a gang.

To many in the suburbs, which are ghettos for ethnic minorities, this had the familiar ring of demonization.

"They're always portraying us as barbarians," said Abou, 30, a resident of the "3,000," a high-rise estate with a fearsome reputation in the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris.

Hot on Sarkozy's heels, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said police had identified 220 gangs in France, mostly based in the Paris suburbs, with 2,500 permanent members. Most are involved in trafficking drugs, she said.

Like Sarkozy and Alliot-Marie, French media have been quick to bring up the "gang problem" in their coverage of a series of other incidents involving youths from the tough suburbs.

But residents there warn against confusing organized gangs committing serious crimes with rebellious bands of boys.   Continued...

<p>Friends and family members of slain youth Mamadou Fofana walk during a silent march in Aulnay-sous-Bois, near Paris, April 19, 2009. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier</p>