It was in La Courneuve in 2005 that Sarkozy referred to the need to « nettoyer les cités au Kärcher »*[i] (« clean the cities with a power hose ») and to protestors as « bande de racailles » (« bunch of scum »).
Now we have a comeback from Segolene Royal: «Il faudrait sans doute plusieurs Kärcher pour nettoyer le système Sarkozy » (« It would need a lot of power hoses to clean up Sarkozy’s system ») in response to the recent events at La Courneuve.
Liberation’s coverage may give an idea of how this panned out.
8 July[ii] – Reporting on the first eviction on 7 July, of some 120 squatters in the Balzac block, which is known for drug-dealing, and is scheduled for demolition. The eviction passed off quietly, with the prefecture rehoming people in hotels / hostels – some refused, asking for permanent accommodation. This phrase may become more important later :
L’évacuation s’est déroulée dans le calme, selon la préfecture...
21 July[iii] – Reporting the second eviction on 21 July, of c. 150 people who had returned to the Balzac. Let’s look at the language :
Elle s’est déroulée «plutôt dans le calme», selon la préfecture...
Sound familiar ? But...
mais l’association Droit au logement (DAL) a dénoncé une expulsion «brutale» et des «violences policières».
Of the 126 people evicted (57 women, 19 children, 50 men), 70 accepted hotel accommodation. DAL says that not enough rooms were provided to house them all.
28 July[iv] - Posting the video of the third eviction on 27 July, with little comment on it.
30 July[v] - The backlash starts – «Expulsion : une vidéo indigne» (« eviction – a disgraceful video »), which has been seen 300.000 times.
DAL again denounces the «brutalités» and «une expulsion particulièrement violente» - they say that the pregnant woman seen being dragged off as she held her baby a «reçu cinq jours d’incapacité totale de travail» (basically « was signed off for five days by a doctor ») «alors que la préfecture affirme elle qu’il n’y a pas eu de blessés» (« although the authorities said there were no people injured »)
The Prefecture has given up claiming things were ‘calme’ -
Selon la préfecture, l’évacuation «s’est faite selon la procédure légale et les règles d’usage», et «dans de relatives bonnes conditions».
2 August[vi] - the reports move from being factual towards comment. The language is getting more condemnatory – the video symbole de la dérive sécuritaire (« dérive » being defined in my dictionary as ‘drift’ in the sense of ‘regrettable evolution’), and is ‘scandalous’. Viewings of the video now at 480.000, internationally.
Like Nabila Ramdani[vii], this piece puts the blame for the attitude of the security services squarely at Sarko’s door:
La vidéo dont il s’agit est en quelque sorte l’application sur le terrain des solutions musclées préconisées tous azimuts par Nicolas Sarkozy (« the application on the ground of the sort of all-out physical response recommended by Nicolas Sarkozy »)
Their conclusion :
Une solution de sortie négociée était possible. Mais, là comme ailleurs, l’Etat a choisi l’esbroufe sécuritaire. (« a negotiated departure was possible. But, here as elsewhere, the state chose militarist swagger »).
(Le Monde – articles behind the paywall so have only read the subhead – is less condemnatory, and more along the lines of the first reports from Lib ; the video was filmed « par un militant » etc)
My conclusion – for what it’s worth.
First, the CRS ‘armadillos’ have a reputation for being disproportionately physical, particularly when the people they are dealing with are not white, which pre-exists le système Sarkozy – but it does seem that they are now being ‘enabled’ in this by the government.
Second, it may not be clear from the UK coverage that the video came from the third eviction, so one could argue that the response became understandably more robust as things progressed – but the observations of DAL relating to the second eviction suggest that the violence had already started. One does not need to be too paranoid, I think, to surmise that the CRS were waiting for an excuse to ratchet up the violence, particularly if, as it seems from the reports of insufficient capacity for relocation, it was inevitable that many people would return as they had nowhere else to go.
Third, that the stress on how many people have viewed the video, and references to this being available internationally, implies that it is international rather than national opinion that counts.
[i] ‘Kärcher’ is defined in my dictionary as a trademark, and meaning a ‘pressurised water gun’ – not a water cannon then (as I originally thought) but the sort of high-powered hose used to clean buildings or wash shit off the streets. It has now become a verb – ‘karcheriser’ – which has also been used by Languedoc-Roussillon’s own Georges Frêche (see my previous for his previous).