In the fall of 2005, Faisal Daaloul was a young adult protesting in the streets of Clichy-sous-Bois, a poor Parisian suburb seething over the death of two teenagers when they were pursued by police officers. After the spasms of public anger, he hoped that France would finally turn its attention to its long-neglected suburbs and their minority communities.
Fast forward almost 20 years. Mr. Daaloul is now a father. He struggled to prevent his 18-year-old son from joining recent violent protests sparked by the police killing of a teenager, which many blamed on racist attitudes. Mr. Daaloul is of Tunisian descent and his wife is Black, and he fears that his son would be a perfect target for the police.
“Little has changed in two decades,” Mr. Daaloul said. “The schools and the police are no better. 2005 was useless.”
In reality, a lot has changed. After the 2005 riots, the French government invested billions of euros to renovate its immigrant suburbs, or banlieues, in an attempt to rid them of dilapidated social housing. But the similarity of the recent riots, and what spurred them, almost a generation later raised questions about whether efforts to improve conditions in the banlieues had failed.
Neighborhood residents and experts say the redevelopment programs have indeed fallen short of their goals, even as they acknowledge the many changes the efforts have brought. The reasons for the failure, they say: Change has come too slowly, and, perhaps more importantly, government programs have done little to address deeper, debilitating issues of poverty and discrimination.
“We acted against the buildings, but not against the people who lived in them,” said François Dubet, a sociologist at the University of Bordeaux, in southwestern France. “Unemployment remains very high, racism is still a common experience, discrimination is a daily reality, and the youth and the police continue to clash.”
Clichy-sous-Bois embodies the challenges facing France. The city was the center of the riots of 2005 and since then it has become a sort of laboratory for the changes promised by various governments. New social housing has sprung up in many neighborhoods. Government-funded cultural center opened in 2018 for musicians and artists who needed a space to practice and work. A metro line is scheduled to open in three years.
But when riots broke out across the country after the recent police shooting, Clichy-sous-Bois was hit hard again: Dozens of cars burned and public buildings were targeted, including the town hall and library.
“These cities have been profoundly transformed by urban renewal,” Olivier Klein, French minister of cities and housing and former mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, said in an interview. “But government action takes time and some people, especially the young, have not yet seen the transformation of their neighborhoods, so they rightly feel they are being mistreated.”
Young people in the area agree, and say their anger goes beyond resentment against the police, who are often accused of brutalizing people of color. In interviews during a recent visit to the neighborhood, they spoke of being “treated like dogs” when applying for work, of their frustration at not having a soccer field to play on, of their fury at not being hired as extras when movies are being shot. in their neighborhood.
Several of the young people interviewed admitted in hushed tones that they had participated in the recent riot, shooting off fireworks at public buildings and the police.
(On Saturday, in several cities around France, hundreds of people marched in protests against police violence. The marches were mostly peaceful, but in Paris, some protesters were fined and two were arrested.)
The 2005 riots began after two teenagers died in Clichy-sous-Bois. Zyed Benna, 17, was of Tunisian origin, and Bouna Traoré, 15, of Mauritanian origin.
The two teenagers and a friend crossed a construction site on their way home from a soccer game. A resident called the police, suspecting a break-in. When the officers arrived, the teenagers fled in fear and hid in an electrical substation. Two were electrocuted. (The officers were accused of failing to prevent their deaths, but were later acquitted.)
The protests in Clichy-sous-Bois in the immediate aftermath of the deaths quickly spread to other suburbs and developed into several weeks of unrest, later resulting in the declaration of the government’s state of emergency. The rioting came as a shock to many in France, revealing issues of discrimination, poverty and policing that had long been overlooked.
In response, the government accelerated plans to renovate the banlieues. Clichy-sous-Bois benefited from one of the biggest packages: Almost $670 million was invested in new low-rise public housing, hundreds of buildings with balconies and gardens.
But the renewal is uneven. Today, Clichy-sous-Bois remains a vast construction site with many buildings covered in scaffolding. Freshly erected bright white buildings stand against run-down apartment buildings, their facades darkened by dirt and neglect. A modern, multi-storey music school was inaugurated just last month.
“It has improved, that’s clear,” said Ali Diara, 19, who was with two friends in Chêne Pointu, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Clichy-sous-Bois. The area was featured in the 2019 hit movie “Les Misérables,” about the poor suburbs of France.
Several years ago, Mr. Diara moved into a new high-rise with blue balconies. “It’s bigger,” he said, “and the elevators work there.”
But the high-rise is one of the only modern buildings in the neighborhood. It stands amid dilapidated housing projects, some with broken entrance doors, that have been awaiting renovation for more than 15 years.
“The schedule did not meet expectations,” admitted Mr. Klein, the minister and former mayor. He said Chêne Pointu, where he grew up, was not prioritized in the initial urban development plans due to a lack of funding, fueling a sense of injustice that helped fuel the recent protests.
Mohamed Mechmache, leader of squeal — a group founded after the 2005 riots to voice the demands of the banlieues — said the real problem with urban renewal efforts was that they were a “pretty storefront” that masked deeper problems.
Poverty rates in Clichy-sous-Bois have stagnated at about 40 percent in the past decade, about three times the national average, according to official statistics. A tram line promised after the 2005 riots was not inaugurated until 2019, and even with the tram, commuting to central Paris, only twelve miles away, takes an hour and a half.
Relations between citizens and the police, a force accused of racial discrimination, also remain strained, as evidenced by the bunker-like police station built in Clichy-sous-Bois after the earlier riots. Its perimeter walls are 20 feet high.
“Trust in the police is below zero here,” said Sofiane, 19, who was smoking hookah with several friends in an alley.
Sofiane, who is of North African descent and declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals, recounted regular episodes of police harassment and intimidation. He said he was recently arrested on his way to a friend’s home. “The officer said: ‘Prove to me that you will see your friend.’ I had to show him my text messages.”
A 2018 Parliamentary report noted that the efforts of successive governments to improve life in the suburbs have largely failed, in part because they have not focused enough on helping residents escape poverty.
In Seine-Saint-Denis, France’s poorest department and home to Clichy-sous-Bois, two-thirds of teachers in the most troubled high schools are new recruits, the report says. Residents who succeed often move out and are replaced by newly arrived immigrants who are often very poor, creating a kind of vicious circle.
“We are not solving the underlying problems,” said Mr. Mechmache, the activist, adding that, under these conditions, protests are bound to break out again.
This sense of déjà vu is evident in the neighborhood of Chêne Pointu, where the riots of 2005 were born. Black marks left by cars burned in the recent protests dot a parking lot. The glass front doors of the nearby townhouse are dented where they were hit by rocks.
“We had to make ourselves heard! How can someone be killed for refusing a traffic stop?” Mr. Diara asked, referring to Nahel Merzouk, the teenage driver whose killing sparked the recent riot. “Are we in America or what?”
The police officer who fired the fatal shot was placed under formal investigation on charges of voluntary manslaughter and detained. His lawyer said this week that his client did not mean to kill Mr Merzouk during a traffic stop and aimed for his legs but was hit when the car moved.
Mr Klein, the cities and housing minister, warned against quick comparisons between 2005 and the recent violence over Mr Merzouk’s death, calling for scientific research to examine the roots of the current anger.
But Mr. Dubet, the sociologist, said the recurrence of protests should raise concerns.
“It is a country where anger rarely translates into concrete political change,” Mr. Dubet said. “If you don’t have a political result, you can be sure it will flare up again.”