A policeman checks the identification papers of a tuk-tuk driver near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (AFP)
Paris, Aug. 24: Bars, fast-food outlets and corner shops in two crime-ridden Paris suburbs are under curfew, forced to close at 8pm after a summer surge in violent crime and drug-dealing.
“It’s a radical step but the situation at night had become unbearable,” said Stephane Peu, a deputy mayor of Saint-Denis, a mainly immigrant area north of Paris that is notorious for muggings and has been nicknamed the “crack supermarket”.
“Hundreds of people were gathering and drinking in the streets and drugs were being sold, especially crack cocaine,” Peu said. The area’s housing estates are plagued by gangs of teenagers who roam the streets at night and terrorise local families.
The curfew, on all businesses except sit-down restaurants and bakeries, has been imposed for three months in Saint-Denis and the southern suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges.
“The real problem is the large number of shops and hairdressers selling alcohol without licences,” said Christian Meyer, the police commissioner of Saint-Denis.
Jacques, 37, a businessman who recently moved to Saint-Denis, said: “You see groups of youths spending the whole night drinking vodka in the hairdressing salons. They’re always ready for a fight and they’ll turn on you if you say a single word they don’t like.”
Many of the area’s 110,000 residents are fed up with the presence of drug-dealers but are sceptical about the effectiveness of the curfew, introduced at the start of this month. “The dealers and the troublemakers will just find somewhere else to go, a few blocks away,” said Jamilla, 30, an accountant who grew up in Saint-Denis.
“It’s always been like this here and nothing seems to change it.”
Bernard Pasqualini, a former police chief in the area, described the curfew as “a good idea” but admitted that the dealers would simply move on. “You feel a bit powerless because crime doesn’t disappear,” he said.
One local resident, who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals, said that the reinforced police presence had brought calm to some parts of Saint-Denis but had not discouraged the drug-dealers.
“Curfew or no curfew, from my window I see the dealers carrying on with their business, especially after 10 or 11 at night. You feel like you’re in a place where the law doesn’t exist,” he said.
Ali Amrouche, owner of the Soleil de Kabylie bar, complained that his business was being ruined by closing early. “People start coming in around 7 and I have to close an hour later,” he said.
The customers, almost all men, agreed. “They’re trying to intimidate us,” said one of them, Mohamed, angrily pointing at two police vans parked outside the bar. “Why are they doing this? We’re not in Egypt here.”
“It’s because of the dealers, but we haven’t got anything to do with them,” said Aboud, another customer. “The small shops and hairdressers are the ones creating problems because they’re selling liquor illegally,” Amrouche said. “I don’t see why I have to suffer because of what they do. I’m going to talk to a lawyer to see what I can do about it.”