Seine-Saint-Denis, France – April 24 will conclude the French presidential election, pitting incumbent Emmanuel Macron against far-right Marine Le Pen, but the political finale won’t be a big moment in Beaudottes, part of the deprived northeast suburb of Sevran. from Paris.
Home to high-rise buildings and a large number of French citizens of Middle Eastern, Maghreb and African ancestry, people shrug their shoulders when asked about the runoff.
“I’m not going to vote. I don’t trust anyone,” said Saloun Dramé, a 28-year-old unemployed man looking for a job as an accounting clerk. “It’s the ghetto. You have to live here to understand it. Politicians have no idea what life is like here.
Tensions recently increased in this neighborhood after police killed a black man named Jean-Paul Benjamin.
On March 26, a police officer shot the 33-year-old father of two in a van that had been reported stolen. It later turned out that Benjamin had kept the van after his employer, an Amazon contractor, refused to pay him.
Locals are upset that early media reports portrayed Benjamin as a thief, potentially legitimizing the murder. They are unhappy that the ensuing revolts in Sevran and the nearby towns of Aulnay-sous-Bois and Tremblay-en-France, which resulted in dozens of arrests, have been described as riots.
And, with the officer in question currently on probation as he awaits trial for manslaughter, they are angry at what they perceive to be a broader culture of police impunity among suburban immigrant populations.
“They did nothing to calm the situation. They just sent the riot police,” said Yao Tsolenyanou, 40, referring to the 15 vans of the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, the general reserve of the French national police, which were registered outside the main train station on 9 April by Al Jazeera.
“It takes things to a new level. The more they provoke us, the more the violence will increase. Now it’s who can go further, who will do the most damage.
With such strong emotions, the election almost seems like a side note. Tsolenyanou said as a black man he had no reason to vote.
“I was born in France. I’m French. But France doesn’t consider me French,” he said. “It’s a climate of war here.”
Macron, who won the most votes in Sunday’s first round – 27.8% nationally, compared to 23.1% for Le Pen – urged voters to “block”, to block Le Pen, who softened his image, distancing his party from the National Rally of the booted associations of his father’s National Front.
But while much of her campaign has focused on the cost of living crisis, she has maintained a hard line on banning the headscarf and introducing early French measures for benefits, health, housing and employment.
Even so, while much of the political landscape has shifted to the right, voters in places like Beaudottes do not view Macron as a sufficiently differentiated alternative.
His tenure has been characterized by rising inequality, a violent crackdown on gilets jaunes (yellow vests), work proposals against welfare, arbitrary closures of mosques and Muslim associations, and controversy. interview on Islam, the veil and immigration with the far-right magazine Valeurs Actuelles.
With an abstention rate of 32%, the municipality of Sevran is above the national average of 25%.
More than half of the voters of Sevran supported the socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who came third, with 22% of the votes at the national level, and now finds himself in the position of kingmaker.
Allée de la Pérouse, where a banner calling for “Truth and justice for Jean-Paul” is hung at the entrance to a basketball court, a supporter of Mélenchon who did not want to be named said he was tempted to vote for The Pen as an anti-system gesture – “just to p**s everyone”.
Naima El Kahlaoui, 40, who works as a mediator at Pimms, a citizens’ rights service in Beaudottes, said she would vote for Macron, but with a heavy heart.
“Le Pen scares me. She wants to take everyone’s headscarf off,” she said.
She confirmed that the atmosphere here has deteriorated considerably since Benjamin’s murder.
“He was just trying to get his due. People are furious. It could have been their father or their brother,” she said.
She recalled that, three days after the killings, the far-right candidate Éric Zemmour, came to Sevran to announce that he was going to eradicate the “scum”, or the rabble.
The nearby town of Clichy-sous-Bois has seen it all before.
In 2005, two teenagers were electrocuted at an electrical substation after being wrongfully chased by police, sparking massive protests in deprived areas of the country.
After rushing to the scene of the local uprising in 2005, Nicolas Sarkozy called the protesters “scum,” using the word Zemmour would utter in a similar context 17 years later.
Today, most residents of Clichy say they are grateful for a new tramway, inaugurated in 2019, which now connects them directly to Paris. For years they felt cut off from the heart of France – although close there were no affordable public transport options to reach the capital.
But despite the injections of funds into housing and education, life remains hard. The abstention rate in the first round was almost 42%, well above the national average.
Maanty and Emmanuela Seck-Pavelus voted for Mélenchon in the first round.
They live in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the 13th floor of an apartment building with their four children, one of whom has severe autism.
Life is a struggle, with the constant fear that he will climb onto the balcony.
For six years, they have pleaded with their housing association, Seine-Saint-Denis Habitat, and the town hall for a change of housing.
Both parents work full time – Maanty, 39, as a public transport worker, and Emmanuela, 35, at a local nursery. Working around the clock, with no support for their son, they feel like they’ve reached breaking point.
“We want to see improvements in society, in housing, in wages,” Maanty said. “Life gives us no gifts. Sometimes we turn against ourselves, we tell ourselves that we are not doing enough.
After the results of the first round, Maanty lost hope.
Emmanuela was still deciding what to do. But Maanty was certain that he would not vote in the second round.
“Why would I vote Macron? he says. “We will only have five years of struggle left, five years of misery.
“Politicians are good for nothing, they do nothing. For them, we are either the people of the city or the scum.
Saïd Baaziz, 67, a retired mathematics teacher, also voted for Mélenchon in the first round.
“The main problem in France is living together,” he said. “I was born in Algeria when it was a French department. I love France. I like living here. But I am not considered French.
“It’s a color problem. I want to see France become a mosaic.