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On the same day that a 17-year-old of North African descent was killed by police outside Paris, teenagers attending a workshop at a youth centre in another of the city’s low-income neighbourhoods said his fate was a fresh reminder of the discrimination they faced in French society.

“One asked, ‘since when should driving without a licence be a death sentence?’ Others spoke of the persistent discrimination they have faced from police,” said Nora Hamadi, who has led journalism workshops in banlieues, as the deprived suburbs are called, for the past 15 years.

Many of the participants were black or Arab youths whose parents or grandparents had immigrated to France from its former colonies. “Liberty, equality and fraternity: they know this saying does not apply to them,” she said.

The following night, protesters angry about the death of Nahel, who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Nanterre, set ablaze the youth centre where the workshop had been held, leaving a charred shell.

Similar acts of violence have scarred Paris and other towns and cities in the five days since Nahel’s death was captured in a viral video. About 250 police stations have been attacked, according to the interior ministry, but so have health clinics, town halls and libraries, supposedly as symbols of the state. 

The government has sought to quell the revolt with a mix of empathy — President Emmanuel Macron called the shooting “inexplicable and inexcusable” — and a muscular security crackdown. Some 45,000 police officers have been deployed in recent nights, including brigades with armoured vehicles. 

In a rare step, one of the officers involved in the shooting has been jailed while preliminary charges of voluntary homicide are investigated. He denies wrongdoing, and investigators have not disclosed any racial motivation for the shooting.

But tough talk has also been heard, notably from Macron’s combative interior minister Gérald Darmanin. “It’s not the Republic that will back down but the thugs,” he said.

For many in France, a profound sense of déjà vu prevails, with Nahel’s death and the starkly different reactions to it underscoring deep divisions in society, tensions between youths and the police, and the inability of successive governments to improve conditions despite 40 years of plans for the banlieues.

France has been here before. In 2005, two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, died while running away from the police in Clichy-sous-Bois, leading to three weeks of explosive protests. Once calm had been restored, President Jacques Chirac pledged to fight what he called “the poison” of discrimination. 

But Chirac’s promises have not been kept. A 2017 report found that young men perceived to be Arab or black were 20 times more likely to be stopped for an identity check than the rest of the population. The polarisation of society has worsened as Marine Le Pen’s far-right has risen to new heights and public sentiment against immigration has hardened. 

Although protests have always played a role in French politics, discontent has picked up in recent years as institutions and elections have struggled to channel them. Macron has faced three episodes since 2017: the gilets jaunes populist movement, demonstrations this year against pensions reform and now the rioting and looting linked to the death of Nahel.

Some progress has been made in poor areas. A transportation upgrade has begun to improve connections to banlieues, while sports facilities are being built as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Olympic Games. About €50bn has been spent over 15 years to renovate public housing, according to an Institut Montaigne study.

But Hakim El Karoui, the study’s author, said investing in infrastructure was not enough. More teachers and police officers were also needed, he said, as well as activities for young people and professional training for adults to work with them. “A lot of effort has been put into renovating buildings and very little into helping the people who live in them,” he added. 

A further complexity was that, as residents of the banlieues climbed the economic ladder, they move out and are replaced by new immigrants who are poorer, starting the cycle again.

Macron’s critics say he has a particularly weak record on the banlieues despite having been elected on promises of more inclusion and economic opportunity. “Macron has done very little . . . [his government does not] even have the diagnosis right,” said El Karoui. 

The challenges can be seen in Clichy-Sous-Bois, the epicentre of the 2005 riots where the poverty rate has stagnated at around three times the national average. Segregation has worsened: 59 per cent of residents are immigrants, up from 40 per cent in 1990, and three out of four children have a non-French parent.

The municipal library that was opened in 2016 as part of a government-funded push to improve public services was barricaded shut on Saturday after it was damaged by fire during this week’s revolt. Burnt-out cars dotted nearby parking lots.

“What does anyone gain from the library being closed and kids not being able to do their homework?” said housing minister Olivier Klein, who used to be mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, on France Inter radio station.

But he disputed the idea that little had changed since 2005 and defended Macron’s actions. “We’re doing a lot but resentment remains because things are not going fast enough and people who live in these areas feel discriminated against.”

Nabil, a 43-year old taxi driver shopping at a bustling outdoor market in Clichy-sous-Bois on Saturday, was fatalistic. “Look at these neighbourhoods, how they are abandoned. In places like this, there is nothing that is going to happen aside from delinquency.” 

He agued that entrenched racism, especially against Muslims, meant that “as parents, we know that if our children get into trouble, they risk death.”

Malik, who is in his 20s, grew up hearing his older relatives discussing the riots of 2005. “Everyone is talking about [police violence] now, but nothing changes,” he said.

“It will pass, and you will go home,” he said of the violent scenes that have once again drawn the media to his neighbourhood. “Why should I bother speaking to you?”

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