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France Steps Up Security to Stem Violence


French police have enforced a ban on gatherings after more than two weeks of rioting in immigrant communities across the country.

(Soundbite of police operations)

LUDDEN: Thousands of police deployed in the center of Paris today. NPR's Adam Davidson has been traveling through two of the hardest-hit areas around Paris and in Lille. He joins me now.

Hi, Adam.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Hi, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: So things seem a lot quieter now. As the French look back on these two weeks, is there some sense that this violence took them by surprise?

DAVIDSON: Yeah, I think there is a huge sense that there was a lot of surprise that there was that level of upset and outrage in these suburbs, which are really a lot more like projects in the inner city in the US--high-rise developments where poor immigrant families live. Some people are comparing this to Hurricane Katrina in the sense that it's an event that forced the rest of the country to see just how upset and just how poor and disenfranchised a certain population of the country feels.

LUDDEN: Well, are they talking about what may need to be done to address this problem?

DAVIDSON: There certainly is a lot of talk about what needs to be done, but not necessarily a lot of confidence that the right things will happen. There's been a strong sense among people outside of France that France needs profound economic reform to allow these unemployed youth to get jobs. There's a feeling among many international organizations like the World Bank, the IMF, the US government, even members of the EU, lots and lots of newspapers and economists around the world that France's very generous social benefits policy is simply unsustainable. Basically when an employer hires somebody, they are guaranteeing that person a lot of benefits, and it's very difficult to fire people in many circumstances. So employers are unlikely to hire new people because they don't want to provide all of those expensive benefits, and so there is a call--and the finance minister of France has agreed that this needs to happen--to lessen these social benefits so that the young children of immigrants who are now unemployed could actually find work.

LUDDEN: Well, you've been out speaking with some of these immigrants and the children of immigrants. What are they saying and what would they like to see happen?

DAVIDSON: There's something that really interested me. There seems to be a very strong divide among the immigrants themselves, the people who were born in Morocco or Algeria or Africa, who came here to make a better life for themselves. There's a big divide between them and their children. The kids who were born here consider themselves French but consider themselves unwelcome by French society. One thing I heard from several immigrant parents is that they love France, it's a place of tremendous opportunity, they feel welcomed by the country. The one complaint I heard over and over again is that France coddles children, that parents aren't able to discipline their children in the right way. They're not able to beat them, that the schools don't discipline them. They're not able to do the things that they did back home in Africa that allowed them to keep control over their children, and they say that's why these children are running amok. The children say, `No, France is racist, France doesn't offer us opportunity. We have no ability to make a life here,' and it's this very fascinating dichotomy within the one community.

LUDDEN: NPR's Adam Davidson in Paris, thank you.

DAVIDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adam Davidson is a contributor to Planet Money, a co-production of NPR and This American Life. He also writes the weekly "It's the Economy" column for the New York Times Magazine.