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Dijon's unchecked Chechen-Algerian war shows tiptoeing around ethnic gang issues doesn't work

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Dijon's unchecked Chechen-Algerian war shows tiptoeing around ethnic gang issues doesn't work
As Dijon saw four nights of terror between feuding gangs who fired AK-47s into the air and set cars ablaze, its mayor has hit out at a lack of police action – but, after three terms in charge, he’s part of the problem.

Rival ethnic gangs have roamed the streets of the Dijon over the past four nights, burning cars, setting fire to trash cans, and brandishing AK-47 assault rifles and baseball bats. As they did so, the French gendarmerie stood by and watched events unfold, telling anyone who asked that it was all part of the strategy.

If watching violence go unchecked and letting hooded thugs terrorize your neighbourhood passes for strategy then, maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a rethink.

After spending four nights huddled inside their homes, terrified residents were then left puzzled when told by state prefect Bernard Schmeltz that the government’s policing goal was to “supervise and surround to avoid abuses,” because “it was the only practicable strategy.”

Also on rt.com A social sore left to fester? How Dijon became the scene of open gang war

They could have made arrests as well, of course. Because what they were supervising was nothing short of mayhem. In one incident, a car was driven at speed towards a crowd of people, before hitting the kerb and flipping over. Elsewhere, men were filmed firing their weapons skywards, unchallenged by anyone, and the air was filled with acrid smoke. Dijon? It looked more like Damascus. 

Things kicked off last week after an alleged attack on a 16-year-old boy by members of a rival Algerian drugs gang. A nationwide callout was issued to the Chechen diaspora via social media to help avenge the assault. Backup came in the form of heavily armed Chechen men in balaclavas searching the streets for North African gang members in a series of “punishment raids”. One official described the Chechens’ online clarion call as eliciting a response at “lightning speed.”

But it was the city’s mayor, Francois Rebsamen, who nailed it. “We’re no longer in a [functioning] republic when that’s how things play out,” he said. “Since justice is passed too late and the police do not have the means to act, the Chechen community has come to enforce its own rights.”

The mayor went on to fix the blame on a lack of police resources – he is, after all, on the election campaign trail and looking to secure a fourth term in the top job.

Rebsamen was first elected in 2001 and has held onto the post three times since then. Maybe it’s time he stopped blaming the city’s woes on others and took some responsibility for allowing things to deteriorate to such an extent that armed police units need to be called in from outside the city to try to contain a situation already way out of control.

The question has to be asked as to how, in this modern Western nation, vigilante ethnic gangs can assemble so quickly, arm themselves to such a frightening level, and be allowed to take matters into their own hands so easily, totally unchallenged, bringing terror to the streets of a city of 155,000 citizens and enjoying a free pass from law enforcement.

France has long suffered from the lack of a joined-up approach in its policing of ethnic communities in the neighbourhoods surrounding its cities, tip-toeing as it has around allegations of racism while it seeks to keep the peace. Judging from what happened in Dijon, where events were allowed to unfold without intervention, it has a long way to go to find an acceptable solution.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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