Riot Police on Patrol after Weekend Clashes in Paris Suburb

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: While security forces in Brazil focus on protecting the Pope this week, police in France are on high alert after two nights of rioting in the suburbs of Paris.

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Hills: The unrest was sparked by an incident on Friday night on the Paris suburb of Trappes. Police stopped a woman wearing a full Muslim face veil in public — something that has been banned in France since 2011. A tussle reportedly ensued and the woman's husband was arrested for allegedly assaulting the police. Elsa Ray is an activist in Paris who is critical of police profiling in France. She says the incident in Trappes has not been portrayed accurately by the media.

Elsa Ray: I think, once again, the version that we hear from the mass media and from the politicians in France is only the version from the Police Union, but not at all the version from the population.

Hills: What's your version of events?

Ray: Well, actually what happened is that, like you said, a French Muslim young woman who wears the full veil has been stopped by the police on the street. They just wanted to control her, so she totally complied to the control, but actually her mother, who is not a Muslim, was quite shocked by the [??] of the policeman. When she tried to discuss with the policeman about their brutality, one of them pushed her and that's how it turned ugly.

Hills: So the police who stopped her, are these people who are out there to enforce laws like the banning of the veil? Were they saying, "Hey, you have to take the veil off."?

Ray: Well, actually they are on the street to control anyone they want.

Hills: I'm sorry, if I could just ask you, what do you mean by "control"?

Ray: They are walking on the street and when they think they have to control someone, to take the identity, they stop someone and they check the identity of this person. So it can be a Muslim woman, it can be anyone actually on the street. In France there is an issue about what you guys in the US call "stop-and-frisk". The problem is in the suburbs in France the identity checking is happening all the time and especially for the young people, and most of the time there is no motive.

Hills: These are checking the identity to what? Make sure they're French citizens? What are they checking?

Ray: Most of the time we don't know. That is actually the problem. Sometimes it's because they suspect you because you might be, I don't know, out of law or you might not have, like you said, French papers, but most of the time they don't even say the motive to the person that is being checked. So that is actually the issue and so people are feeling humiliated because they're getting checked everyday and without any motive. So after a while you're getting sick of it and getting more and more angry.

Hills: This sounds reminiscent of the riots of 2005 which started in a suburb of Paris after two youths were killed after fleeing police. Are you saying that same kind of anger bubbling up again? Or is this different?

Ray: I think you're right. I think it's the same kind of anger because nothing really has been done. It's a very tense context. First of all, in suburbs in France there has always been a very tense context and plus France has been hit by an Islamophobic wave for a few months now. Last week in Trappes a Muslim woman has been assaulted by a man with a knife. Many Muslim women have been molested and assaulted on the street just because they wear the head scarf and nothing has been done to put a stop to that. One of those women actually lost her unborn child. She was pregnant and she has been assaulted and she lost her baby and nothing has been done to put a stop to that. The French authorities don't want to recognize that there is a big problem in France nowadays about Islamophobia and about stop-and-frisk and it has been this way for many months now and so I think it's a very ancient anger.

Hills: Elsa Ray is an activist. She's trying to combat Islamophobia in France. Elsa, thanks for speaking with us.

Ray: You're welcome. Thank you too.