People don't want chaos': How criminality fueled the far right in France

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For two weeks in July 2023, when youngsters in French housing estates rioted over the police killing of an unarmed adolescent of North African heritage close to Paris, Tom Maiani was behind the wheel of his automobile every night, every night.

The 24-year-old waiter feared that, like scores of other cars, his would be set on fire by rioters in the northeastern town of Mont-Saint-Martin, where nine public buildings had been partially or fully destroyed.

Although his efforts were rewarded, Maiani was stuck in this situation.

"My political choices were strengthened and marked by the riots," Maiani stated. Prior to this, she had only supported the far-right National Rally. Now, she is the running partner of the party's nominee for a seat in this weekend's legislative elections.

After 15 police killings in 18 months, many of which involved young people of North African origin, Nahel Merzouk was shot dead during a traffic inspection outside of Paris in June 2023. This incident stoked long-simmering outrage over racism in France's impoverished housing estates.

A primary school and an autistic children's center were demolished in Mont-Saint-Martin, and the town hall, which was administered by Communists, was looted.

The riots and a slew of fatal knife battles between youths in normally peaceful towns and villages have elevated crime and insecurity to the top of President Emmanuel Macron's agenda items for the impending snap elections.

At a market close to Mont-Saint-Martin last week, Maiani distributed election pamphlets and said, "Young people don't want mayhem in France."
According to police data, most crime categories nationwide saw an increase in crimes last year.

Although immigrants are more likely than French nationals to be charged with causing harm to others, in 2023 they accounted for just 17% of all suspects in violent incidents.

Even so, two-thirds of French people thought there was a connection between immigration and crime, according to a poll conducted in early June under the direction of the right-wing C News channel.

In recent European elections, the anti-immigration RN of three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen doubled its score in the southeast village of Crepol following the fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old rugby player during a confrontation with young people from a housing development that is primarily made up of immigrants.

At the time, Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old president of the party and the front-runner to become France's first far-right prime minister, charged that teenagers from the estate were "coming to stab white people."
He has pledged to reduce rewards for parents of repeat offenders and expedite the deportation of foreign nationals found guilty of crimes.

According to Pierre Didier, a 69-year-old Crepol resident, the incident had "marked for life" his grandkids.

"My grandson was accepting before that, but he now leans heavily to the right. He told AFP that he would select RN when he was old enough to vote, attributing the tensions to "too many people coming" into France.

In his bid for a parliamentary seat in the "three borders" region, which is where France, Belgium, and Luxembourg converge, former trade unionist Frederic Weber attributed an increase in some crimes in his area to a "massive influx of migrants in recent years."

Police data indicates that while the number of armed robberies and physical attacks has increased, the number of murders and car thefts has decreased.

However, the majority of crime categories saw a rise nationwide in 2023, partly due to the drug trade's growth into small-town France.
A daytime shootout between rival gangs left five people critically hurt in the little village of Villerupt, 20 minutes away from Mont-Saint-Martin, last year.

Using the RN's previous name, the National Front, Jerome Fourquet, a director of the Ifop polling company, told the newspaper Le Figaro that "a strong demand for protection and for the authorities to bring the situation under control" had contributed to the Front's rise.

The proprietor of a 53-year-old cafe, Said Lounnas, issued a warning that the youths in the Val Saint Martin district, where people of 40 different nationalities coexist side by side, were out of control.

He declared, "They now have the advantage over their parents."

At a market in the town of Longwy, next to Mont-Saint-Martin, departing left-wing MP for the area Martine Etienne advised voters, "You have to treat the problem at its root," attributing unease to Macron's "social carelessness."

The left-wing group New Popular Front has promised to fund community policing and work to reduce tensions between the police and youth of immigrant descent by outlawing the use of grenades and rubber bullets by riot police.

Jacques Bonoris, an 84-year-old retired steelworker, warned Etienne, "It's too late, Madame."

"Everyone on my street votes for RN."

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