The policeman raises his arm and shoots a 17-year-old young man in Nanterre at point-blank range. Streets are on fire. The whole world is rediscovering the French suburbs for the thousandth time.
Knowing a person requires recognizing their humanity. Knowing a person requires accepting to be modified by this one, necessarily different from oneself. To get to know someone, we have to adapt to their gestures, decipher their attitude, identify what he or she is different from and similar to our way of being, let ourselves be touched by these differences, respect them. Knowing the other is a complex cognitive process, vital for the human species. This is what we do every day in a more or less advanced way when we exchange with strangers or simply with our loved ones.
Consider now that the leaders of the state pride themselves on administering the lives of millions of people from above, of whom they only have a vague idea, whose lifestyles, habits, or constraints, nor feelings. Here is the situation of the French suburbs, and more particularly of the department of Seine-Saint-Denis. In a reasoned report written in 2018 by two parliamentarians on the situation of Seine-Saint-Denis, the blindness with which for sixty years, successive governments and their central administrations have continued to want to direct the lives of millions of people without knowing them, explodes and hurts to read.
First, it is interesting to understand that the State does not know how many inhabitants live in Seine-Saint-Denis. At the gates of Roissy airport, the 93 sees passing through its territory hundreds of thousands of people in an irregular situation who by definition are not listed and yet form a demographic and cultural reality of the department. It is estimated that there are between 150 and 400,000 of these men and women without residence permits in Seine-Saint-Denis, the equivalent of the population of Ariège or Landes. How can the State put in place a refined and adapted policy on a territory of which it does not even know the exact population?
The ignorance of life in Seine-Saint-Denis unfortunately does not stop there: there are no complete statistical studies on the ethnic origin of the inhabitants, on insecurity and delinquency, on poor housing , on the actual educational level of the children, on the feeling of insecurity, on the discrimination suffered, on the modes of survival of single mothers (they represent a very high proportion of the population), on the extent of the underground economy , on the influence of mafia networks in certain districts, etc. The state knows nothing of all this, but it fantasizes a lot.
There is no in-depth knowledge of the deleterious role of slum landlords in the deterioration of the housing stock in Seine-Saint-Denis (on the other hand, we know that these profiteers of poverty are sometimes very rich people, well integrated into the French society, sociologically very distant from the populations they exploit), no consideration of the psychological distress of incarcerated populations or minor populations, no in-depth knowledge of the territory according to the age of its inhabitants.
On the other hand, we know that justice in this department is one of the slowest in the country (in October 2017, the Tribunal de grande instance of Paris condemned the State for the length of the response time of criminal and civil justice in Seine- Saint-Denis), that it is the department least endowed in France in school budget. We know that school medicine is disappearing there, that the non-recourse of the populations to the social aid to which they are entitled is high. We know that public services are closing everywhere for lack of resources, that the small associations that mesh the territory are disappearing for lack of subsidies, that the large companies with gleaming head offices that set up there thanks to tax aid do not recruit on the territory and live in autarky, without real contact with the population.
We know that experienced civil servants have little or no incentive to stay in Seine-Saint-Denis, that priority education zoning encourages circumvention of the school map, that discouragement wins over judges, nurses, teachers, social workers more experienced who are not listened to by their superiors. We know that the State does not intend to make its operations more flexible to allow schools to adapt to a very different reality in Seine-Saint-Denis than what it is, hold on, not far away… in Neuilly for example.
We know that the police are very badly trained since they do not encourage the link between field agents and the population, that young police recruits have a very different culture from the local population, that the prejudices linked to skin color there are a mode of operation.
And suddenly, a policeman raises his gun and a 17-year-old boy dies.