Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bitter Little Pill …

For a seventh night in succession, the north-eastern suburbs of Paris hung heavy with thick black smoke. Yes, those little b*****ds were up to more trouble-making.

This is not a political demonstration, nor it is the reaction to last week’s unfortunate deaths of those two boys, killed when they jumped into an electrical substation. Simply put, adolescents are on the rampage after dark, burning, smashing and destroying their own neighbourhoods. Torching a car next to your local supermarket and standing around laughing, has only one message, “I‘m bored, I‘m going to cause merry-hell and maybe we‘ll get on TV”.

Between 4pm and 1am, our team drove around Bondy, Clichy-sous-Bois and Bobigny, filming these pathetic acts of (quite frankly) hooliganism. The kids on the street were almost pleased to see us, the police were less than welcoming. Who can blame either.

Before nightfall and with a pair of CRS (riot police) patrol vehicles, we toured ‘La Cité des 4 Milles’ on the border with Saint-Denis. ‘The City of 4 Thousand’ is a 70’s housing estate, jam-packed with north African immigrant families. A tinderbox of hate and despair. One of the vehicles stopped and highly-armed officers stepped out to conduct an identity check on a group of youngsters. I got out of the crew car with my camera and that’s when it got nasty. Like a pack of wolves, groups of youths started circling around me. People started shouting, pointing, encouraging. The riot police wanted nothing to do with us. They got back into their vehicles and drove off. I followed suit.

I should add that there were just two of us in the car, myself and a producer. Since the Gulf War, my client has become very safety conscious and had arranged for a ‘security advisor’ to travel to Paris for our protection. High-risk companies have sprung up all over the place, offering close protection to governments, industry and the media. However, our own ex-special forces operative had missed his flight and wasn’t going to be with us much before 10pm.

There was some good news; the client had found a French ‘security advisor’ who was on his way up from the capital and should be with us by 7pm - relief spread quickly through the crew car. Then, as it would happen, some more excellent news filtered in; the overly-keen journalist, of whom I spoke yesterday, had been surrounded and stoned by local thugs. He and his crew high-tailed it to their vehicle and sped back to Paris.

Around 10pm we were stationed at the local command post, the forecourt of a fire station. Three CRS vehicles we formed up, ever-ready for quick dispatch, when a group of seven youths ran towards the forecourt. Within seconds, petrol bombs and stones left their hands and struck the windshields of the vans. I was approximately 10 meters away as the first Molotov exploded. The CRS had already slammed the doors shut and their gears were crunching into first. The upper part of my body (along with the camera) was jammed through the small sunroof of the car. I have just got the camera running when the fleeing CRS vehicle almost collided with us. As it cleared my vision, the youths were targeting the car and began hurling rocks. I thought better of staying aloft and fell downwards and into the passenger seat, Stephan (our French ‘security advisor’) floored the accelerator whilst swerving to avoid the collision with the CRS vehicle. It rained rocks and bottles as the car shot forward and I closed the electric sunroof.

Stephan is one of these bounty-hunter types, spending months in Iraq and earning a small fortune for his services. A small but stocky 5’6”, his pride and joy is a Smart sports car which he had left at the fire station, now under attack. In their madness, the rioters didn’t spot the ‘just out the showroom’ sleek black car. Stephan’s relief was palpable.

The rest of the night was spent touring the adjoining towns - chasing fire engines and police cars. Nothing spectacular apart from fire crews dousing shells of burnt-out 3 series BMWs (a favourite accessory of the suburbs) and the occasional airborne rock. The unhappy youths are just wrecking their home environment and local facilities and looking for someone to pin the blame on - Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be it for now.

Funny, but I always thought that burnt out cars were caused by a mixture of delinquents and a box of matches …?

Allbest and sleep well,



Blogger Cat Egan said...

Glad to know you're more or less unscathed lad. Funnily enough one of my students told me the kids in her quartier (somewhere in 'neuf cube') were out burning cars last night ... "They want to be on TV too" !

Well once they'd adopted and exagerated Hallowe'en I guess Guy Fawlkes wasn't going to be that far behind ;-)

Thursday, November 03, 2005 6:49:00 pm  

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