Questions remain after Trappes riots, sentencing

Violence in the Parisian suburbs stemmed from the arrest of a woman for wearing a niqab. Photo: Ulania for flickr.

Violence in the Parisian suburbs stemmed from the arrest of a woman for wearing a niqab. Photo: Ulania for flickr.

A French court has sentenced a 19-year-old rioter to six months in prison, making him the first person to be convicted in connection with this week’s civil unrest in Trappes.

The primarily working class commune, home to many North African Muslim immigrants, became the latest scene of violent clashes between the police and banlieu youths, beginning on the evening of Friday, July 19. The riot is thought to have grown out of a dispute between police and a local couple over a woman’s veil.

According to police, two officers reportedly stopped a woman wearing a niqab— a full-facial covering worn by some conservative Muslims, banned under a 2011 law. When the police tried to issue a fine, her husband allegedly became belligerent and, says prosecutor Vincent Lesclous, tried to strangle an officer.

The husband, described as a 21-year-old convert, is facing charges of rebellion, violence, and insulting an officer. He is currently out of prison on judicial supervision.

The Collectif contre l’Islamophobie en France has disputed the police’s account, claiming that the woman was forcibly stripped of her veil, and that the arresting officers had roughly manhandled her mother. It issued a public appeal to Interior Minister Manuel Valls to take a firmer stand against public harassment of French Muslims.

While the exact chain of events is still unclear, the situation escalated into an all-out riot, with mobs attacking a local police station that evening between 8:30 and 9:45. Four police officers were injured, and six people were arrested.

Among the casualties was a 14-year-old boy, who suffered a severe eye injury, according to police.

A second round of rioting between midnight and 2:00 AM on July 20 saw widespread arson and property damage.

In the following days, sporadic violence and vandalism continued, and police reinforcements had to be called in to contain the unrest, which had spread to the neighboring communes of Élancourt and Guyancourt. On Sunday, police making arrests were pelted with firecrackers and a car was reportedly driven at a group of pofficers. Nobody was reported hurt.

Speaking shortly after most of the violence had been quelled, Valls toured the Trappes police station. He defended the officers’ response to the riot, saying that they “did their job perfectly.”

Valls also refused to compromise on the controversial veil law, calling it “in the interests of women, and against those values that have nothing to do with our traditions or values.”

He concluded by saying that the ban “must be enforced everywhere,” even in predominantly Muslim communities.

But while Valls expressed confidence that order had been restored, political opponents accused him of downplaying the seriousness of the situation.

Union pour un mouvement populaire (UMP) head Jean-François Copé had some particularly choice words for Valls after the riot, accusing him of “a denial of reality, a refusal to see that violence is rising.”

Unsurprisingly, Marine Le Pen, leader of the socially ultraconservative, anti-immigration Front National (FN), vehemently attacked the government’s handling of Trappes.

“The French Republic is far too soft: due to the laxity of various governments, it is losing the battle with thugs, Islamists and bullies,” she said in an official statement published on the FN’s Web page.

“It is time to bang your fist on the table and organize the reconquest by law and order of each meter of our territory.”

Flashes of violence are nothing new in France’s immigrant communities, where national and religious tensions occasionally boil over.

Earlier this month in Argenteuil, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into an angry crowd protesting the fining of a 25-year-old woman for wearing a niqab.

In 2005, France saw its worst recent episode of communal unrest, when the deaths of two Clichy-sous-Bois teenagers in a police chase set off riots in immigrant communities across the country, including Trappes. The political fallout from these riots is widely thought to have helped Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP successfully sell a message of social stability in the 2007 French elections.

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  1. […] A French court has sentenced a 19-year-old rioter to six months in prison, making him the first person to be convicted in connection with this week’s civil unrest in Trappes and other western suburbs of Paris. […]

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