A gunfight between law-enforcement and two suspects occurred the night between the15th and 16th of July 2010, following an armed robbery at a casino in Uriage-les-Bains, Isere, 15 km away from Grenoble. After several gunshots, one of the suspects, Karim Boudouda, age 27, was shot dead, while one of the officers was wounded. The incident caused a number of riots on the streets of the Villeneuve neighbourhood in Grenoble where the deceased young man came from. The following night, near the town of Thésée-la-Romaine, in the French central region of Centre-Val de Loie, Luigi Duquenet, age 22, coming from a community of French nomads (gens du voyage), was shot dead by a gendarme, while driving alongside his cousin. The two refused to halt at a gendarmerie checkpoint and the officers quickly opened fire. Two days after, a few dozens people from the young man’s community took the streets of Saint-Aignan and Saint-Romain – towns situated in the vicinity of the incident – and attacked several gendarmerie headquarters and public administration buildings. On July 19th 2010, the French minister of internal affairs arrived to Saint-Aignan to publicly condemn the riots, accompanied by 300 gendarmes and 2 helicopters.
Sarkozy’s speech at Grenoble and the beginning of the anti-immigrant and anti-Roma offensive
The reactions of those in power continued the subsequent days. On July 21st, president Sarkozy announced the replacement of the regional prefect of Isère, Albert Dupuy, with that of Éric Le Douaron, a carrier officer, seen by the prefecture staff as more of a president’s watchdog than a competent public administrator. The new prefect was tasked with with waging a “war on crime”. On July 30th, once the new prefect took office, Nicolas Sarkozy went to Grenoble to give an official speech on security, nationality, immigration, and education, which would go down in history as “The speech at Grenoble”. Using the attack on the police officers, Sarkozy made a plea to increase video surveillance (60.000 cameras by 2012) and toughen the sentences on felonies committed against law enforcement officers (incarceration from 22 to 30 years for murdering a police officer or a gendarme, and mandatory electronic bracelets for all repeat offenders, after they have served their time).
The war on crime was a good paravan for a campaign against several social categories: immigrants without papers, French citizens coming from immigrant families, nomad French Roma, migrant Eastern European Roma. During the speech, Sarkozy stated that juvenile delinquents coming from immigrant families should not be granted citizenship once they become adults, while parents should also be made criminally liable for their children’s offences. Moreover, he proposed the withdrawal of social benefits for children who frequently cut classes. Another topic was the intention of setting the grounds for which French citizenship can be voided – a foreigner deliberately attacking an officer of the law. “We are paying the price for 50 years of poorly regulated immigration which made integration a complete failure” added the president while also calling to arms against illegal immigration: “Someone without a legal status should not have more rights than a person who has credentials, a legal status… so I’m asking the new prefect, Eric le Douaron, to prove a decisive firm hand against illegal immigration. The rule of thumb is crystal clear: all clandestines must be sent back to their original countries.” And not last, the president pledged to dismantle half the roma settlements regarded as illegal in the following 3 months by giving the prefects the power to handle evictions themselves. Another point on his agenda covered the reform of illegal immigration policies, in order to avoid the return of roma people each year on French territory.
Met with resistance from the opposition and condemned by the Constitutional Council, some of the laws and governmental decisions, instated as a result of the speech at Grenoble, were either withdrawn or suppressed. Amongst them: the law voiding the citizenship of naturalized residents within the past 10 years for those convicted of murder or attempted murder of a law enforcement officer; the laws regarding the withdrawal of social benefits for children who are cutting school; the laws regarding an immigrant parent’s criminal liability for their children’s offenses; the laws giving prefects the right to evict illegal settlements themselves, and the laws facilitating deportations. As far as the migrant roma settlements ordeal went, a month after the speech at Grenoble, the minister of internal affairs announced that 128 illegal settlements were demolished/closed down and around 1000 Roma were deported back to Romania.
A common resistance front – La Patate Chaude
As a result of Sarkozy’s hostile declarations, in September 2010, several activists from Grenoble, formed an anti-racist platform for social equity, initially named “solidarité Roms” and later on “La Patate Chaude” (the hot potato). It included activist from groups and organizations engaged in social struggles, specifically focused on undocumented migrants and people without a shelter. The platform was also comprised of representatives from several political parties, union members, representatives of local officials, social workers, Roma people evicted from the recently destroyed settlements, evicted Roma families from the towns of Saint Martin d’Hères, Saint Martin le Vinoux, and La Tronche, French neighbors of the camps and other inhabitants of the Grenoble-Alpes area.
La Patate Chaude wants itself to be a group focused on political pressure, claims, and actions. The purpose of the group is to remind the state and local authorities of their obligation to act in accordance to basic human rights for everyone: access to education, housing, health services, work and social aid. As it is, the name of the collective is a reference to the tendency of public institutions to pass responsibilities (hot potatoes) from one to another as far as the state of poverty is concerned for some of the French society.
In its declaration of intent, the group aims to enable the Roma people to act as the main figures in the fight for their rights: “We also wish, without turning it into a masquerade, to let the voices of those discriminated against and those left out be heard, especially those of the Roma, and act, as best possible, alongside them and not in their place. La Patate Chaude organizes itself starting from the Roma voices and operates in close connection with informal settlements, squats, detention facilities, schools, and public administration.
Some of the group’s actions and accomplishments are:
Pressure on public institutions for easy access to education for Roma children
In June 2012 they obtained the right for Roma people to oppose refusals of social housing requests. These efforts were made in association with the “Un toit pour tous” (A Roof for All) organisation. DALO – (Droit au logement opposable) refers to the possibility of someone requesting social housing to challenge the refusal of their claim in front of an administrative tribunal or a mediation committee. Prior to this, the refusal for social housing requests went undisputed.
Public stands in support of asylum seekers in Grenoble, most of them Roma from the former Yugoslavia. Their right to proper shelter was violated which forced them to camp in parks and in front of the train station in the cold temperatures of the winter. On March 31st, together with several other organisations, the group set up a night time protest in front of the prefecture, as a form of solidarity with the asylum seekers. The manifestation was violently repressed by the authorities, however the asylum seekers received accommodation in public shelters the following weeks.
Starting with 2013, the group fights against the antisocial administration of emergency shelters, which is directly affecting the migrants who inhabit them. Through direct action, La Patate Chaude managed to prevent a few dozen evictions from these centers from July 2013 to April 2014.
More information on the group’s actions and latest news on the fight for housing justice in Grenoble may be accessed on their web page:
(Please find part two and three of this text here: http://artapolitica.ro/en/2016/09/26/racism-evictions-and-organizing-for-the-housing-rights-of-roma-migrants-in-france-part-ii/
and here: http://artapolitica.ro/en/2016/09/27/racism-evictions-and-organizing-for-the-housing-rights-of-roma-migrants-in-france-part-iii/
and the Romanian version here: http://artapolitica.ro/2016/04/25/rasism-evacuari-si-organizare-pentru-drepturile-locative-ale-migrantilor-romi-in-franta/)