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Protests In Paris Over Alleged Rape Of Black Man By Police


Issues of race and the police have captured headlines in France. Earlier this month, a 22-year-old black man was allegedly raped by French police officers. That incident brought to light what some see as deep-rooted structural racism in the country. There've been protests and riots for the last week, especially in the Paris suburbs, which are home to many low-income housing projects. Karim Amellal writes about issues of race and inequality in France. And he's a political science professor at Sciences Po. He joins us now from Paris. Welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So can you give us a sense of the frustrations being expressed at these protests?

AMELLAL: You know, it's like a paroxysm in terms of police violence because police violence is not a new topic. I mean, it's very old, like in the U.S., of course, even though the history is not the same - quite the same. But it's an old issue targeting always the same people of foreign origin - black and Arab people, more accurately.

But the new situation is that it takes place in an electoral context with the election coming in two months. And, you know, in France, the French Republic is reputed to be color blind. We don't talk about race in France, and we don't talk about - or we talk with difficulties about racism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You mention that there is a political dimension to this now. Obviously, a very...

AMELLAL: Of course.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Contested election that's taking place.

AMELLAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How are the candidates dealing with what we've seen happen in the suburbs over this case?

AMELLAL: Yeah. The context now in France is, as you know, really uncertain because the right is collapsing. The left is very weak. And the only winner of the situation now is the Front National and Marine Le Pen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's the extreme right.

AMELLAL: The far right. Yes, exactly. The extreme right is really, really huge in France now. And this is like - you know, like deadlock because when you want to deal with the problem in suburbs, racial segregation, social problems and so on, immediately, the first consequence is to make the Front National and the extreme right growing more and more. Francois Hollande, the French president elected in 2012, didn't do anything in terms of police violence, in terms of social segregation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Francois Hollande, though, did visit the suburbs on Tuesday.

AMELLAL: He's at the end of his mandate. This is the end for him. So, yes, that's nice. But, you know, the struggle against racial profiling was included in his platform in 2012. He didn't do anything. I mean, it's really too late.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you think the unrest that has been caused by this event will play into the election season? Do you think it strengthens the message of the far right? People outside see this area and say, it's problematic. Look at all the violence. Do you think it strengthens the left because people on the left say, we need to resolve this in a more humane way?

AMELLAL: Of course, it will benefit - it is now benefiting to the far right because, as I mentioned, only, like, 7 to 8 million people are living now in the suburbs. But France - it's, like, 60 or 65 million people inhabitant. And a lot of people are fed up with hearing from those problems, racial issues and social issues. Because growth is very low in France, inequalities are booming for everybody in France.

And a lot of people - it's exactly the same thing in the U.S. with Trump. A lot of people - I'm sorry to say that, but white people, in fact, are fed up with the suburbs issue. And they don't care about that, and they want the new president taking charge. Their problem - and their problem are not the problems that these people are suffering from in the suburbs.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Karim Amellal is a professor at Sciences Po in Paris. Thank you very much for being with us.

AMELLAL: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.