June 17, 2020
Dijon violence and the politics of law and order
Images of gang violence in Dijon, but also destructive protests in Paris, are shocking France. Videos and comments went viral on social media, though interestingly there was hardly any coverage in the main newspapers. At a moment when the French are just about to find their way back to normality, these pictures are a reminder that this includes violent clashes and destruction of property. It raises the need for law and order just at the time when young people are taking to the streets to protest against excessive use of police force. A political nightmare.
Dijon looked like the war zone in those videos, with gangs carrying rifles and a car accident that seemed out of an action movie. Armed police came in to restore order only yesterday, after four days of unrest. According to the police, these were revenge attacks following an assault on a 16-year-old Chechen boy. Chechen gangs had issued a social media call for vengeance, urging Chechens to travel from Belgium and around France to join them in Dijon against the Algerians. The videos show armed Chechens firing assault rifles and roaming the streets of a poor neighbourhood of Dijon, a French town normally known for its culinary products.
Compared with Dijon, the incidents in Paris seem minor. Still, some of the images from Paris are powerful, especially in a context of violence in other parts of the country. Health care workers were demonstrating for better pay and resources. These were largely peaceful protests until they were marred by some radicals throwing stones and other projectiles which injured several police officers.
Law-and-order is back on the political agenda. Marine Le Pen was quick to seize the moment and went to Dijon to give a press conference. It is an ideal subject for the far right ahead of the second round of municipal elections next week. The Socialist mayor of the city, François Rebsamen, is set to win his fourth term there. He blamed the lack of police resources for the late response. This is his take:
"We’re no longer in a [functioning] republic when that’s how things play out. Since justice is passed too late and the police do not have the means to act, the Chechen community has come to enforce its own rights."