In France, Ferguson protests stir memories of suburban riots

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Marco Werman: For Christopher Dickey, it's not just the big weapons in Ferguson that caught his eye. Dickey is the foreign editor for The Daily Beast. He's based in France but we happened to catch up with him in Washington. Christopher Dickey told me that the events in Ferguson have taken him back to the riots in suburbs of Paris in 2005 in several respects. Christopher Dickey: When you have a situation where a population comes to feel as if it's occupied by a hostile force, even though that's the national or local police force, it creates a really dangerous environment. That's what happened in France in 2005, where a couple of kids were running away from police, hid out near an electrical transformer and were electrocuted. The police were blamed and all of a sudden, really it felt like all of France was in flames. I think it's a similar situation here. We don't know what happened with Michael Brown but it certainly looks suspicious. We do know that the Ferguson police force over the years have become infamous for its abuse of different people that it had picked up. So that's the kind of environment that creates trouble. I think the difference that you see is that there are a lot more weapons in the American environment, on both sides. Werman: Why are the police in France not as heavily armed as police here, do you think? Dickey: Because people don't have guns in France. In the United States, you have literally millions of guns on the streets. The police have very mixed feelings about it and if they're already in a situation where they feel the local population is hostile, then they go in very heavily armed. Often they're not carrying shotguns and pistols, certainly not revolvers like they used to. You even see them with AR15s, M16-type guns in their cars and that creates an environment that really looks like an occupying army and feels like one. Werman: One of the things I have to ask you about that a lot of the coverage on Ferguson has pointed to is the lack of diversity in the police force. The majority of residents in the community are African American, the majority of the police force is Caucasian. I remember being in the suburbs of Paris covering the aftermath of those 2005 riots and the optics at the local commissariat were almost entirely white police force, maybe one or two cops of North African origin, surrounded by a poor community of color. I'm just wondering has much changed in France in terms of police diversity? Dickey: No, not a lot has changed there. There are a couple of critical differences though. First of all, you have to remember that in France it is a national police force, so what you've got is often people who are not only not from the same racial and ethnic background as the people living in the ?? of Paris, for instance. They're not even from Paris. They're from different parts of the country and that certainly heightens the atmosphere in those neighborhoods of a foreign occupation, which is a bad thing. Now, in Ferguson, those cops may come from somewhere that's not right in Ferguson but they don't come from very far away. They're more or less living in the neighborhood, which is one of the reasons that, of course, they were reluctant to identify the policeman who was involved in the shooting. Once they're identified, they're going to feel vulnerable in a situation that's as volatile as this. Werman: The Ferguson story must give you some thoughts and make you wonder where things may be headed in France as you head back there. Dickey: I think it does and I think that it has made international headlines now and while people are tending to say "Well, you see, these things do happen in the United States," they also do look over their shoulders and say "Is this something that could happen here?" The first impulse is to say, "That’s those Americans." The second impulse is to say, "What are we really doing to integrate communities that are marginalized in France?" The answer is not very satisfactory. In fact, things are tending to go in the wrong direction with the rise of really very far right wing parties all over Europe who basically have built their political capital on thinly disguised racism and anti-immigrant policies. Werman: Christopher Dickey is the foreign editor for The Daily Beast. Thanks, as always, Christopher. Dickey: Thank you Marco.