The context: on the evening of the 14th of June, several dozen young thugs went on a rampage that left over 60 cars burned. The outnumbered police and firefighters responding to the outbreak of savagery found themselves showered with stones, fortunately only causing light injuries... this time.
Today the major French newspaper Le Monde carries a long article revealing that the neighborhood's attitude has changed since that awful evening.
My loose translation:
"In fifteen days, since the riots, I've had over a hundred extra customers. They're coming for information and to buy things, because they want to be able to defend themselves in the worst neighborhoods", explains Sylvain Pierret, a downtown gunsmith. These are clients with a different profile than the usual customers, which are essentially comprised of hunters. Clients, of all ages, of whom many wished to find out how to go about acquiring rifles and handguns.
"They told me they were coming because of the riots. I explained that it wasn't possible to buy guns without permits. At which, some fell back on non-lethal weapons", explains the gun shop owner, naming tear gas grenades, pistols firing rubber bullets and tasers. "There is much frustration and fear. People want products that will reassure them."
In the face of these reactions, mayor Jean-Pierre Bouquet (Sociaslist Party) made an appeal for calm in the local paper. "The situation has calmed down but the city is still in a state of shock", he explains. "I felt the psychosis as early as the next morning: when I met victims, some told me that they were going to get their guns". In the area where several cars were destroyed, victims interviewed by Le Monde, hours after the violence, were not hiding their aims to take their safety into their own hands.
These reactions show the depth of the residents' trauma. These residents see gangs, often wearing hoods and armed with baseball bats, taking control of the area, vandalizing homes and cars. There's an additional difficulty for medium-sized cities like Vitry-le-François: unlike the suburbs of Ile-de-France [Paris], where authorities can quickly mobilize their forces, the local authorities do not have access to reserves nearby to quickly re-establish peace. Several tens of minutes, sometimes several hours, pass by, in a state of anarchy, before the residents notice an effective intervention on the part of law enforcement.
The impact is disastrous. After similar violence in October 2007, in Saint-Dizier, city of 30,000 people, the victims told the psychologists in the crisis response unit of a mixture of "fear", of "fatalism" and of "fury" in the wake of the burning of dozens of vehicles and public buildings by bands of youth. In their report, the psychologists insisted on the "sense of abandonment and of powerlessness" of the residents. The citizens told of being "left to themselves in the face of a situation that totally overwhelmed them, without any help or support from law enforcement, which were themselves overwhelmed."
With two possible consequences: the wish to protect themselves and a strong rejection of the authorities, who are judged incapable of insuring security.
The impacts are ongoing, particularly for the most vulnerable. Mrs X (an anonymous witness in the proceedings, her name can not be revealed) has lived for almost forty years in the neighborhood of Vert-Bois, in Saint-Dizier. "Until the riots, I would go always go out for my errands, by taking the bus. Since then, I've stopped, I was too affraid." During the riots, this sixty-year old found herself a few feet from the rioters, in the middle of burning cars and rains of stones. Today, still as shocked, this mother of a family says she avoids "groups of young people". "I'm wary of people when they're in a group. I change sidewalks", she says.
These traumas explain the measures undertaken by city halls following the incidents. On the initiative of François Cornut-Gentille (UMP party), mayor of Saint-Dizier, the community has created a victims' association. This group brings together 24 residents who have accepted to become plaintiffs -- a high number for a context where usually "the vow of silence" takes precedent. "Without the association, we would never have had so many plaintiffs. Some victims would probably have chosen not to bring charges in order not to risk reprisals", underscores the mayor.
From this experience, the municipality of Vitry-le-François has called upon the municipality of Saint-Dizier to learn how to best manage the riot's aftermath. An association of victims has also been created. Its first meeting attracted 70 residents. "There is a large wave of anger in the city. But also a strong interest in committed measures", insists [mayor] Bouquet, convinced that the success of the police investigation will be instrumental in re-establishing peace. ...