While the DGPN ["Direction générale de la police nationale", General Direction of the National Police] claims that there were "only" 372 car burnings occurring throughout the nation on that one evening, France's Socialist Party expresses official doubts on the official figures, throwing a wet blanket on the government's warm reassurances that urban violence is on the decline.
The PS is citing evidence that the overall number does not, in fact, represent a drop from the previous year, as claimed by the government. In Strasbourg, for example, they point out that while the official report claimed only twenty burned cars, the prefecture for the city actually reported that it was a total of 51 cars that were burned overnight.
In doing some research on the discrepancy I came across this revealing article from way back in October 2007, from a news outlet in the beleaguered French city of Toulouse, reporting on the significant rise in car burnings for that community, up to that point in the year.
The article contains a reference on the manner in which these statistics are calculated, which I don't see being reported in the English media accounts of these incidents. (Maybe it is, and I just keep missing it).
You see, the numbers of car burnings are counted as two distinct statistics. One set of figures is kept for cars deliberately targeted for fiery attack, while a separate set of figures is kept for cars that burn only through the unintentional spreading of flames coming from the first set of cars, those that were deliberately set on fire.
At first I thought that this might explain the competing figures for New Year's Eve's car burnings, but no; the official statements account for the distinction. They clarify that, out of their number of 372 torched cars, 273 were "deliberate". So the discrepancies remain.
What follows is a loose translation of the article out of Toulouse's La Depeche newspaper for October 4, 2007. "More than 1,000 cars burned":
1,122 cars have been burned in Toulouse and surrounding banlieues since the beginning of the year. This is a 58% increase over that of the previous year at the same time. When the number of vehicles burned due to the spreading of fires [is added], then the number grows to 1,490 cars burned since January 1st 2007, a record number.A commenter at the site writes in with a personal story:
... For several days, rue du Lot has become accustomed to joyrides of [stolen] cars and motorcycles. When the troublemakers overturn cars onto their roofs, the first flames shine out into the dark of night, causing the police to arrive. For about a year, "groups of people have radicalized themselves out of any control", says a resident. Toulousian torchings follow the national trend: 49,114 cars burned in France in 2005, compared to 44,075 in 2004...
Garages tasked with towing the charred vehicles don't know where to pile up the carcasses anymore. Charged 250 euros, the nightly rate, the cost of towing away the burned vehicle is still the responsibility of the insured. "Many times, the victim who just lost their car doesn't have the money for paying their bill", says a tow truck operator.
"In our street in the neighborhood of St Cyprien an abandoned car was left there for several weeks. When they were alerted about it, my municipal police told me that it wasn't their responsibility, same with the national police. Shortly thereafter the car was set on fire one night. The two cars parked in front and behind it were damaged, the trees were burned and this required the intervention of the fire department. Now, who is responsible?"An article published today in the same newspaper reports on how Toulouse's total car burnings for 2007 ended up much higher than the national average. Here's a summarized translation of their article, "Twice As Many Car Burnings Than Last Year At This Time":
Over New Year's Eve, Toulouse experienced 26 car burnings, five times higher than on a "normal" night. This is twice the number of New Year's in 2006, where 13 cars were burned.In an unrelated story, new car sales are up 3.2% in France in 2007, compared to 2006.
... Firefighters intervened each time under police protection. Some runs lasted up to six hours... Toulouse reached the worrisome level of 2,000 car burnings in 2007.
... At 3:00 pm in the afternoon, the firefighters arrived at rue Erik-Satie to put out another car fire. Helmeted riot police carrying shields had to protect the firefighters on an embankment bordering the parking lot of an apartment building.