On Sunday Thousands of Chinese immigrants in Paris took to the streets to protest their lack of security. They say they are being mugged and robbed by gangs of 'youth' and that the police aren't doing anything against it. The protest slogan was "Security for all, solidarity with the Chinese of Paris". Signs with the slogans and "I love Belleville" shirts were handed out in advance by the organizers.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
Prior to the protest, I got notice from a reader that the Chinese were going to protest because of Muslim attacks against them. I couldn't find much information about that. One reason is that the Chinese aren't interested in doing so. The protest itself did not focus on any specific ethnic group. In fact, the Chinese immigrants are making an effort not to turn this into an 'inter-ethnic' issue.
This might be due to the fact that they have a common interest with other groups of illegals in France. They all fight for 'regularization' together.
The second is that their lack of insecurity isn't due to one ethnic group. I found one discussion in a forum where one poster claimed that all attacks came from 'Arabs and Blacks'. This claim was challenged by another poster who said that he'd been attacked twice, both times by Whites.
What is uncontroversial is that the Chinese immigrants live in the eastern neighborhoods of Paris, alongside large communities of North-Africans and Black Africans, and that many of the muggings are committed by youths from those two groups.
The Chinese suffer most from muggings by gangs of youth, some are very young teens. The French-Chinese organization Huiji, which was not one of the organizers, published the results of an internet survey they conducted (PDF, FR). According to that survey, about half of the perpetrators of such attacks are described as "North-African" or "Black" and several more are described as "foreigners". The survey also has a special section about police harassment.
The Chinese are vulnerable because many of them are illegal immigrants who don't speak French that well.
In addition, the neighborhood of Belleville, where the protest was held, is spread over 4 arrondissements, and therefore also suffers from lack of a unified approach to deal with the problem.
Romain Guillonnet, president of Hed (living differently), an association which does rehabilitation work, mostly in Belleville, says that the attacks by bands of youths, who spend their time hanging out and mucking about, are caused by the misconceptions they have about the Chinese. They think that the Chinese carry a lot of cash on them, and that illegal immigrants won't go to the police when they're attacked.
Frédérique Calandra, the Socialist Party mayor of the 20th arrondissement agrees. The illegal immigrants don't have a bank account and the money is all in cash. This attracted the attention of criminals, who according to Guillonnet 'target those who have money, or those who they think have it. [The victims] could just as well have been Blacks or Arabs. It's a question of money, not of racism."
Taki Zhang, spokesperson for the 40 organizations behind the protest, repeats this sentiment. It's not due to racism. The attackers are stealing because they want the money, and not because it's from a certain group of people.
The protest was organized after a Chinese man was arrested for shooting a mugger. The AFP reports about the protest as follows:
Paris police tear-gassed demonstrators from the city's Chinese community Sunday when a march to protest a spate of violent robberies descended into scuffles after a demonstrator's bag was stolen.
Police said some 8,500 demonstrators turned out onto the streets of city's eastern Belleville district, where they called for "coordinated and concerted" action by the authorities against the growing number of attacks.
Trouble broke out as the demonstration was breaking up with scuffles erupting between a group of around a dozen youths and 50 young demonstrators, police sources told AFP.
According to multiple witnesses, the trouble started when a bag belonging to one of the demonstrators was stolen. Police were forced to intervene and three people were arrested, said the police source.
Police tear-gassed the crowd after objects were thrown at them, prompting demonstrators to overturn cars and block traffic in the area for several hours.
Belleville is an ethnically diverse district of the French capital that has seen an influx of Asian immigrants in the last 10 years.
According to organisers from French-Chinese organisations, who distributed 5,000 T-shirts and stickers saying "Security For All", it was the largest demonstration by the Chinese community on record in France.
According to the French media, the protest ended with scuffles between Chinese youth and North African/African youth. The riots started not just because a bag was stolen, but because the Chinese protesters caught the perpetrator and then the police let him go. This was "too much", according to one protester.
According to French reports, they turned against the police, threw objects and bottles at them and overturned cars.
Let's summarize: A community of immigrants, quite a few of them in the country illegally, march for their community rights, waving flags of the dictatorship they've run away from. The protest ends with riots due to anger at the police. It's not exactly clear who organized the protests, either. If they wouldn't have been Chinese, I wonder how this would have been reported.
Huong Tan, the head of one of the organizations behind the protest says that there are rogue elements on both sides. They regret that the police did not stop the fighting, but they see the protest as a big success.
Some in the neighborhood of Belleville didn't like the fact that it was so Chinese oriented. The owner of the Zorba cafe says that it would have been nice if the Chinese would have told others about it. "Me, I'm Arab, but the lack of security concerns me too! In the evening, I never leave my bar all on my own. We could have protested by their side, it's a subject which concerns everybody."
A neighbor shares that sentiment: "It's not just the Chinese who are attacked, you don't need to exaggerate!" Next to him a friend adds: "For years we know that the Chinese often walk with cash on them. That makes them easy targets, especially since they're known never to go to the police."
Sitting in a cafe, several neighborhood residents have their own explanation: It's a struggle for territory. Today Belleville is becoming the Chinatown of Paris. Seeing them take over the shops, cafes, betting shops creates tensions with other communities. It's taken them years until they've integrated and found internal balance.
In order to avoid the prospect of having the neighborhood disintegrate into conflicting communities, local officials decided not to let the situation continue. The mayors of the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondisement decided to create a steering committee on this issue.
Anh Dao Traxel, the Vietnamese born adopted daughter of Bernadette and Jacques Chirac, meanwhile said that the government should respond immediately to attacks on Chinese, in the same way that they react to attacks on people of Jewish, Arab, African and European origin.
Sources: Le Monde, L'Express, Rue89 1, 2, Liberation, Le Parisien (French)