What is behind the increase in gang violence in France?

France has been worried in recent weeks of a series of murders of young people in gang violence in the Paris region during the school weekend. Experts say the role of social media and the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis are important factors behind this phenomenon.

The latest killer to shake France was Aymane, 15, who was shot dead in the troubled suburbs of Seine-Saint-Denis outside Paris on February 26. He was the third teenager in less than a week to die in gang violence in the Paris suburbs – with the alleged perpetrators, two brothers aged 17 and 27, charged on March 1.

This came just a few days after two 14-year-olds, a boy and a girl, were killed in the suburban region of Essonne on the other side of Paris. They were stabbed in two different fights between young people from rival gangs.

“It is not surprising that the most serious problems occur during the school weekend, because during this time they have to go without the forms of social support they usually rely on, such as sports clubs and youth centers”, Yazid Kherfi, a former robber who turned away from crime and has worked in the prevention of juvenile delinquency since 2012, Jowharreported.

‘Fear of reprisals’

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and the 18.00 to 06.00 that France has introduced to try to deal with it, “in these districts there are no places open at night”, Kherfi continued. “Right now I can not meet young people who are at risk of violence due to Covid-19 restrictions.”

In response to this number of murders, the French Ministers of Interior, Justice and Education were convened on March 1 to officially put the government on alert for this phenomenon.

Gang wars among young people are increasing, statistics for the Ministry of the Interior show: France registered about 357 incidents in 2020, compared with 288 the year before. The Interior Ministry has identified 74 gangs across the country – including 46 in the Paris region.

These figures probably represent an underestimation of the scale of the problem, said Thomas Sauvadet, a sociologist and author of a study on youth warfare, Le Capital Guerrier (“Our Warlike Capital”), to FRANCE 24: “Police record only the most serious incidents, while many victims refrain from filing complaints for fear of reprisals. ”

Sauvadet added that “about 10 percent of young men under the age of 30 living in disadvantaged areas of the Paris region belong to a gang”, according to statistics he collected. “These gangs are largely made up of young people who have known each other from an early age, sometimes from seven to ten years old. Then they tend to have difficulties in school during adolescence, sometimes with family issues that they try to escape – and often there are professional difficulties. So these young people gather to form gangs and find themselves in a state of conflict with those around them, including social workers. ”

“These young people gather in these gangs and they feel that it gives them a sense of identity and protects them,” Kherfi added. “They often suffer from rather poor financial uncertainty, as they usually come from relatively poor families. But there is also a sense of physical insecurity, as social media makes it much easier to convey threats. ”

“People can cast abuse on each other much more easily through the virtual network of social media,” Kherfi continued. “And the virtual violence with these insults can stop becoming actual physical violence when those involved meet face to face.”

Sauvadet agreed with this observation – and added that social networks have encouraged gang violence by making it easier to organize.

‘We need ten times the current budget’

The French government takes the role of social media seriously. They want to use local networks of neighborhoods, police and schools to monitor social networks to prevent them from being used as platforms leading to gang violence – one of several measures proposed by the Home and Justice Ministries.

But Sauvadet claimed that this will not be enough, as social media accelerated a cultural phenomenon that had already taken root. “Driven by American popular culture, gang culture has become mainstream,” he said, adding that it has been trivialized by American rappers and influences, and “has even been taken over by multinational companies, such as a well-known sports brand, that used a kind of gang aesthetic for to sell a clothing line to young people ”.

Several other factors have also contributed to the increase in gang violence, in particular the rise of mass youth unemployment in the early 1980s. “There are many people in their twenties who still live with their parents, and many of them have been stuck in gangs since they were teenagers in the middle of financial precariousness,” Sauvadet said. “They become the network leaders who influence them below them in the hierarchy and serve as role models for teens who turn to violence.”

Lack of social workers who are dedicated to preventing gang violence is another major problem, Kherfi and Sauvadet agreed.

“When you have three people working in a place where 5,000 people live, it’s seen as a luxury,” Sauvadet said. “We would need ten times the current budget for it to be effective.”

Yet “social workers cannot in themselves solve all of society’s problems,” Sauvadet said. “We also need to look at the economic roots of drug use and trafficking, youth unemployment and housing problems.”

The government’s plan to fight gangs is scheduled to take effect on May 1. It includes measures that focus on strengthening the police as well as a policy aimed at addressing the causes of gang violence – in particular by increasing the monitoring of fraud.

This article has been translated from the original into French.