MS Risk Blog

France’s Increase in Youth Gang Violence

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When you think of Paris the image of youth gang violence is probably not the first thing that pops up into your mind. The city that is known for its history, culture, and food has made headlines recently for a very different reason. Over the past several months, the suburbs of Paris have experienced numerous incidents of youth violence that often led to lives lost. In mid-January, around 30 youths from rival gangs aged between 12 and 18 years old, joined to inflict violence on each other. The fight left a 15-year-old dead from a stab wound. The violence focused attention on the issue of youth violence, which is not particularly new, but is increasingly worrying for French officials and communities across Paris.

Although the major city has had a relationship with violent crime in the past this new spat of violence is affecting the city like never before, partly due to the young age of those being drawn into violence. Teenagers from all backgrounds are taking part in violence that has led to numerous injuries and at least 7 deaths.Tensions among teenagers are heightened and the cause of the tensions come from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide curfew, and social media, which is fueling boredom and frustration. France has had a range of coronavirus restrictions since March 2020, along with many other nations, and as recently as March 31, 2021, President Macron announced a new lockdown, which is likely to be in place until the end of April. The country’s 6pm to 6am curfew is likely another cause to the increase in violence. Community leaders, coaches, and other positive role models are no longer able to meet with young people turning to violence because of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Interior ministry statistics show a rise in gang violence among young people. There were 357 recorded incidents in 2020 compared to the 288 in 2019. The interior ministry has recorded 74 gangs throughout the country with more than half in the region of Paris. However, the police force is relucent to calling them “gangs” because they lack organization and structure. It is often just a group of teenagers who are from the same arrondissement, school, or block of flats, and share the same economic standing. Typically, they have a core group of five or six people. Many come from underprivileged environments and tend to have difficulties at school, so this results in young people banding together because it gives them a sense of identity as well as protects them. This sense of identity is one that might have been found in sports or after school programs- which are no longer active.

The most recent killing that rocked the nation was that of a 14-year-old girl whose body was found in the Seine river. Two teenagers, both 15 years old, have been arrested for the murder. The mother of the detained boy alerted the police after her son confessed, he and his friend had hit a girl causing her to fall into the Seine. Tensions rose between the three teenagers after compromising photos of the victim were shared on the popular messaging service Snapchat. It is often heard that bullying starts in the classroom or playground, but with the pandemic students have not been in school for quite some time. In recent years, particularly months, the bullying has moved online. Teenagers no longer have activities to keep them busy after school and combined with the increased amount of time people are spending online, violence is an activity that is keeping them busy. This is just one example of a series of incidents spread across Paris. Others include two teenagers, aged 14 and 16, who were left fighting for their lives following a gang brawl in Champigny-sur-Marne and just a couple weeks earlier two men, aged 17 and 27, were arrested after the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy in Bondy.

The government has sounded the alarm over the surge in youth gang violence in the Paris suburbs, which are drawing in children as young as 12. Top government officials have vowed to tackle the problem but have yet to publish any plans. Ministers in education, justice, and security recently met on March 12, 2021 to discuss how to handle the influx of violence and a new security directive aimed at combatting youth gang violence is to be introduced in May. All attention will be on France when the new directive is launched to see if it decreases the number of violent crimes. Violence among youth is not unique to France, many western European nations are dealing with some type of increase in violence, whether it be domestic violence, right-wing violence, or violent protests, there seems to be a general consensus that boredom and “lockdown fatigue” has played a role. It is growing evermore difficult allowing people access to their social outlets when many western European nations are in the beginning stages of their third wave of the virus.

The government has focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, nationwide curfew, and social media being the cause for the heightened tensions among teens. Covid-19- related restrictions, the closure of sport facilities, gyms, and other social outlets has complicated the situation by fueling boredom and frustration. The implications of the continuing national and regional lockdowns, curfews, and more time to spend online has led to an increase in violence among youth that France does not yet know how to handle. The Interior Minister sent police reinforcements to some neighborhoods but communities throughout France that have been affected by violence are calling for sport facilities and social outlets be opened up. For communities across France, the solution to the violence is not an increase in police presence but instead the government working with schools and community groups on finding a way to give teenagers the forms of social support they usually rely on, like sport facilities or youth clubs, while also balancing the ongoing health crisis.