Lyon has become a warzone. Night after night battles in France’s third biggest city, with an urban area of over 1.5 million people, have seen an uprising by sections of people who are treated with contempt and systematic discrimination.
The police execution last week of Nahel M, a French‑Algerian teenager, triggered a fightback by people who have years of justified grievances against the system.
“The police had to retreat several times because of the scale of the fury,” Helene, an anti-racist activist from Lyon, told Socialist Worker. “It scared the authorities. I have never before seen this scale of panic at the top,” she added.
“The poor and the ignored as forcing their voice to be heard.
“When I saw a police station go up in flames I thought that was like Black Lives Matter in the US. It’s really positive.
“President Emmanuel Macron’s government was already in trouble, cut off from millions of people who see him as illegitimate. Perhaps the riots will not continue at the same level.
“But the anger against Macron will never go away.”
Huge numbers of police, and the mobilisation of special elite units, repressed most protests in the city centre after a few days. But they continued at a high level in the suburbs of Vénissieux and Givors, where poorer people and people of north African descent live.
Killings by police have soared since a 2017 change to the law—when the Labour-type Francois Hollande was president—that relaxed the rules on shooting as a means of “legitimate self-defence”. Since the law, the number of deaths owing to “refusal to comply” has surged with at least 13 last year.
Across France the scale of the revolt has shown the inflammable material left behind after months of mass demonstrations and strikes over the government’s assault on pensions.
That fightback raised fundamental questions about democracy, police violence and the sort of society people wanted to live in. The riots also raise important systemic issues.
The two elements of confrontation do not flow directly from each other, and they don’t automatically connect.
But that’s what socialist and militant workers have to fight for—solidarity with the rioters and connecting them with the power of the organised working class.
The main targets of the rioters have been police stations and state symbols. In some places, rioters looted high-profile corporate shops. Although very little of this happened in Lyon. Looting is also a political act.
Faced with a society based on organised theft by bosses and politicians, a society of ingrained inequality, it is not at all surprising or wrong that people seek to regain a tiny portion of the wealth that is pumped out of the work of ordinary people.
Big business dangles in front of people that their happiness and fulfilment are dependent on the purchase of more and more goods. But it denies many of us the money to buy them.
Don’t be shocked that they, therefore, poor people help themselves when they have the chance. The state will seek to take its revenge. According to police figures, they had arrested over 3,000 people by Monday morning.
That included 13 year-olds who the cops held for up to 48 hours. And then the “trials” began on Friday of last week, with courts handing down jail sentences with only the barest pretence of justice.
Fascist Marine Le Pen backed the cops and said, “Behind this dramatic event, there is the problem of the authority of the police.
“The police are no longer respected, are no longer obeyed, and we see this type of indiscipline multiplying which can have very serious consequences”.
One young person said in Nanterre, “Since 2005, nothing has changed. The older ones tell us, we read things.” Mentioning victims of the police, they went on, “There was Théo, Adama, Zyed and Bouna, now Nahel. For years, there have been police blunders and they don’t care about us. For things to move forward, you have to revolt, destroy everything, make as much noise as possible.”
Only masses of people launching militant protests on the streets can win real justice for Nahel.
The “unions” representing half of the French police said last week they were taking on “vermin”.
“Today police officers are at the front line because we are at war,” the Alliance Police Nationale and UNSA organisations said in a statement, echoing the rhetoric of the fascists and far right.
“Faced with these savage hordes, it’s no longer enough to call for calm. It must be imposed,” they added.
“Now is not the time for industrial action but for fighting against these ‘vermin’,” it went on.
And they threatened that unless they are given still greater immunity and more resources, “tomorrow we will be in resistance”, It’s guaranteed Macron will give them more of what they want.
The cops complained that the officer who fired the killer shot has been held in custody, The most fascist cops’ “union”, Syndicat France Police, welcomed Nahel’s shooting in a since‑deleted tweet.
People revolted after cops shot and killed 17-year-old Nahel M and then lied about it. The police shot him in Nanterre on the outskirts of Paris on Tuesday of last week.
They said Nahel, from a French-Algerian family, had driven at officers after they tried to stop a vehicle.
But a video posted on Twitter showed the police were by the side of the car, which had come to a standstill in the traffic.
In the video one cop points his gun directly at the driver, and as the car moves away, he shoots Nahel in the heart.
Before the killer shot, the police gunman can be heard saying, “I’m going to put a bullet in your head.” A second officer says, “Shoot him.” In another video, an ambulance worker who came to the scene raged at the cops.
He said, “I knew him as a child. His mother raised him alone. She’s going to bury her son.” The police later arrested him.
On Tuesday night furious protesters burnt bins, smashed bus stops and tried to set up roadblocks in Nanterre.
Then on Wednesday the revolt spread everywhere—Nanterre again, Toulouse, Lille, Roubaix, Rennes, Lyon, Amiens—and vast areas of the Paris suburbs. In several areas the police had to retreat.
Police fuelled the bitter anger further when they tear gassed a memorial demonstration of around 6,000 people on Thursday backed by Mounia, Nahel’s mother. The cops and their tame media tried to slur their victim.
The said Nahel had a fearsome criminal record. It was a lie.
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