In the Paris Suburb Where Police Shot a Teenager, Violence and Vigilance

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Those sentiments echoed the feelings of protesters, many of them young, in recent days, rekindling a deeply sensitive subject in France, where authorities prefer not to talk about race and discrimination in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism.

But in the poorer suburbs where many people of color and immigrant backgrounds live, resentment bubbles just beneath the surface as they see opportunities cut off by often substandard schooling and discrimination in hiring.

Nanterre is one such suburb. It is better off than it once was, when it was known for vast slums that housed thousands of North African migrants in the aftermath of World War II. In the 1960s and ’70s, the French government built a large university in Nanterre and an important social housing project that helped improve the area’s public image.

The public-housing high-rises of Pablo-Picasso, standing just outside the Paris business district of La Défense, stand as examples of that effort. But Nanterre continues to suffer from high unemployment — 14 percent compared with 8 percent nationally in 2020, according to official statistics — and some neighborhoods, including Pablo-Picasso, suffer from drug-trafficking.

Still, the violence of recent days has baffled many neighborhood residents who see it destroying property in the place they live, which simply makes people’s lives harder.

“The anger is as strong as the violence of the tragedy,” said Ms. Mohamed Saly, who manages Le 35, a popular neighborhood restaurant with her husband, Brahim Rochdi. “I understand this anger, but I don’t support the actions that have been taken.”

On Friday, she was part of a group of around 30 residents who spent the night trying to dissuade protesters from vandalizing homes and businesses. They gathered near Le 35, on a street littered with burnt-out cars. Soon enough, they witnessed a scene they already knew too well.


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