Marseille and Colombes Find Themselves Caught Between Drug-Dealing Gangs

On Tuesday, September 3, 2013, a shootout transpired in the late afternoon in Colombes, France, a town located in the Hauts-de-Seine region of Paris. Tuesday’s shootout involved a group of young men who shot at a man driving a vehicle. The conflict was subsequent to a clash of a similar nature occurring less than 24 hours earlier.

Most of the violence in Colombes and Marseille centers on illegal drug operations and competition between rival gangs. The local police, reacting in stride to Tuesday’s conflict and with gang violence in mind, sent 70 police officers as reinforcements during Tuesday night. By Wednesday, police sources were praising the reinforcement, stating “the supplementary numbers have permitted the interrogation of a young man with drug trafficking ties who may be a linchpin in the recent events.” The source did not disclose any additional information as to what the man in question said.

Although the police force responded efficiently to the recent incident in Colombes, the source of the aggression will not be easily stamped out. The violence originates from the ongoing antagonism between gangs in two different cities: Gabriel-Peri and Cotes-d’Auty in Petit Colombes. There have been more than twenty confrontations resembling the one on September 3 within the past two years.

Philippe Sarre, the mayor of Colombes, underscored how some districts are growing to be as dangerous as Marseilles –  another area suffering from drug-related violence. His fear is that, even if the violence ceases, the mafia logic of territorial conquest and control of parallel markets will still remain embedded in the culture there.

The statement made by Mayor Sarre, comparing Colombes to Marseille, a district notorious for violent drug action, infuriated the people of Colombes. In response, French Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls made a statement, emphasizing how the confinement of delinquent violence solely to Marseilles is a myopic association.

The gangs’ recent conflicts have provoked much concern among numerous officials across France. Valls was one of the most outspoken. He announced on September 5 the creation of a Priority Zone of Security (ZSP) in the district of Colombes. The minister spoke to the people of the district, in an attempt to assuage their safety concerns. “I have come here to deliver a message of assurance and commitment from the state,” he said. He maintains that it is necessary to penetrate deeply into the criminally minded components of society in order to invoke republican order.

A few days later on September 9, Ségolène Royal, a former French presidential candidate, advocated for the use of the army to restore order in Marseille. According to a poll taken by the Huffington Post, 57% of French citizens are in favor of such a military intervention. Royal resurfaced an argument already settled by the Chief of State, imagining the potential for cooperation between the police and armed forces in Marseille.

For Marseilles, the French Chief of State decides military deployments, working within the Code of Defense’s framework. However, President Francois Hollande stated his disapproval of military intervention, emphasizing that “the armed forces” shouldn’t substitute the powers of police officers “but can be engaged as a complement to these forces, only when their means are nonexistent, insufficient, ill-suited, or unavailable.” Thus, Royal’s proposal was short lived.

Nonetheless, drug-related violence in Marseille still remains. Some are calling for the CRS, the Republican Security Company, to step in and disarm the dealers. However, the tentative plan is to keep the army at a distance, impede the sale of the drugs, and increase police surveillance. France would like to keep gangs from selling illegal goods but would also like to minimize contentious interaction between the French armed forces and the gangs.

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