The black series and the very young age of the victims have once again thrown a harsh light on a phenomenon that has concerned the authorities for years: clashes between gangs of young people. This Monday, February 22 in Saint-Chéron, in Essonne, a 14-year-old girl died after being the target of a stab in the abdomen. The next day, at the other end of the department, it is another schoolboy of the same age who succumbed to a stab wound also received in a brawl. According to edifying figures from the Ministry of the Interior, in 2020, 350 clashes between rival groups were recorded throughout the territory, including 186 in Île-de-France and 99 in Essonne alone. Gérald Darmanin spoke on Tuesday evening of the existence of 74 gangs of adolescents and young adults, most of which, 70, are in Île-de-France.
Sociologist Véronique Le Goaziou, research associate at CNRS, has been working for twenty years on delinquency, violence, poverty and public policies relating to these questions. Author, with Laurent Mucchielli, of “The violence of young people in question”, she returns for L’Express on this phenomenon, its roots and its challenges.
With each new tragic news item, the politico-media debate focuses on the age and the ultraviolence of the young people involved. What is it? What data do we have?
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Véronique Le Goaziou: The sources are not very clear to have objective elements on this rejuvenation. What is complicated to generalize is that the police services only have the age of those who are stopped, not of others. What is certain is that this is a strong feeling on the ground, it is indeed something that all the local actors repeat. In some areas that cover popular housing districts, we can observe a kind of reproduction of aggressive and violent behavior. Earlier and earlier, children can witness brawls and settling of scores. Which may end up being part of their ordinary environment. When you see fights on a fairly regular basis, you end up imbibing them and considering that they are part of the life of the territory. We talk about it thanks to terrible events but in reality it is a constant phenomenon that has never stopped and I do not see why it would stop in the next few years.
What are the phenomena at play in these clashes?
In certain places concerned, there is first of all an intensification of competition from drug trafficking. Which in fact will increase the settling of scores and various tensions. Above all, this violence has moved on social networks. The fights between young people do not date from yesterday, they are as old as the world. But this new situation now leaves them no respite. Potentially, kids never get out of this vicious circle. With social media and their phones, they’re just in a tight spot, on 24 hours a day. It keeps them in a sort of ambient nervousness. They are pressure cookers and social networks play the role of amplifier. The last element at play in these phenomena is the disappearance of adults. The parents have resigned. There are also too few educators, mediators, in short, too few structuring adults. In some areas, the only positive models are then those who maintain the network. With increased dematerialization, many public service employees no longer travel. This lack of adults is coupled with a lack of leisure and activities. In some places there is nothing. While the proportion of young people is important.
Who are these sometimes very young minors found in gangs?
They are usually boys. Girls can exceptionally be part of it but it is extremely rare that they are authors or victims as was the case at the beginning of the week in Essonne. Bands remain a male phenomenon. They can be of variable geometry and be extremely temporary. They are establishing themselves in rather popular areas. In general, the school career of these young people is complicated, whether it is one or more repetitions, changes of establishments, orientation towards unwanted sectors …. Or even dropping out of school. It is said less, but there can also be intra-family difficulties. These children will have difficulty finding their place in their family, will sometimes be subjected to mistreatment, or will find themselves in overcrowded housing that they will seek to flee. When school and family, which are two pillars of children’s socialization, are struggling, young people go outside to look for what they don’t have at home. In their gang, they will find a second family, recognition and even financial resources with trafficking.
How to fight against? Should we necessarily oppose a penal and educational response?
We have to put in some community policing. The BAC or the companies that arrive in these neighborhoods when there is a problem do not know the families and the local specificities. And for some young people, it even becomes a game. We must return to these territories, add adults. There is often a huge gap between the stated ambitions in terms of city policy, the funding implemented and what we see on the ground. In this case, often nothing.