In an interview with Le Monde on May 30 2002, Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s recently appointed « Minister of Internal Affairs, National Security and Civil Liberties », declared : « I wasn’t given this job to analyze the situation. I’m here to stop violence and provide French people with the most important of liberties : safety. » Whose safety is he talking about ? Probably not ours, which has for long been threatened everyday physically by an arsenal of laws that either target us or forget us. Threatened by the recent resurgence of repressive ideologies since April 21. By the hunting down of foreigners, the ban on drugs, the violence of the penitentiary system. By the insults - racist, sexist, homophobic - that go unpunished. By the scorn shown towards our protest that AIDS is an emergency. For us, as a minority group, Sarkozy’s « safety » means nothing more than danger.
Danger from the alarming presence (are we in a state of emergency ?) of police patrols night and day - everywhere from subway stations to public parks, from the suburbs to the city centers. Alongside this constant surveillance, threatening enough in itself, are the actual police beatings and errors : two people were killed in the space of three days in the Parisian suburb of Dammarie-les-Lys : Xavier Dem on May 21, shot in the head by a police officer ; and Mohammed Berrichi on May 23, killed whilst being chased by the Anti-Criminality Brigade.
Danger from a return of the repressed : repressive State institutions, always quick to act, did not even need to wait for their new orders. Raffarin’s government was barely in place when police headquarters began issuing deportation orders ; when magistrates began overturning their decisions to release prisoners, refusing all requests for parole ; when judges began imposing unbelievably stiff penalties : on May 17, the Bonneville correctional court in Haute-Savoie gave a person afflicted with both HIV and hepatitis C a two year minimum prison sentence for use and possession of marijuana.
Danger amplified by hard-line actions designed to get votes, such as the arrest of prostitutes along the highways circling Paris. Danger from hasty decisions taken by an Interior Minister who is clearly overstepping his authority, suggesting that a number of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan be sent home, whilst the French agency for the protection of refugees had already approved their requests for asylum. Danger from the rhetoric of war used by Mr. Sarkozy, speaking as he has done of equipping his troops with weapons for counter-attack. Troops, ignorant of the disaster wrecked on young peoples’ lives by denying the under 25’s any access to minimum welfare, are now loading their guns with rubber bullets to be aimed at the deprived youth of Paris’ slum suburbs.
Danger fuelled by the creation of groups of citizens who are taking the law into their own hands, encouraged by the local police. The « Pères de Famille » (« Fathers ») of Paris’ 18th arrondissement want to set up a system of patrols against drug dealers in drug-ridden areas of the city. Residents of the « Quinze » neighborhood in Strasbourg are leading a witch-hunt against prostitutes’ clients, whom they call « miserable sex slaves », so as to keep their property values high. « Private militias » is the term to describe such groups.
Danger from the recently appointed Minister of Youth and Education, who had previously spoken out in support of the incarceration of minors, placing them in so-called « closed educational centers ».
Danger fuelled indirectly by the government’s freeze on all funding to associations that grant emergency funds to people in extreme poverty, that provide legal aid, or that distribute HIV prevention material. This is no doubt a temporary freeze, while the administration finds its feet, but this doesn’t seem to bother the police or even doctors, who have just received the right to increase their fees. In the course of just half a day, the Minister of Health, Jean-François Mattéi, succeeded in restoring the former priorities of his ministry : doctors first, patients second.
No one in the new administration has so far said anything about AIDS, but war has already been declared against prostitutes, drug users, foreigners and prisoners. AIDS will certainly thrive in such an environment. Undocumented immigrants who have just started to receive treatment will probably prefer to give it up than be exported. More and more drug addicts will be refused emergency treatment. Those who had just started to re-integrate into society will end up being caught in the net of repressive legislation. Prostitutes will have to hide, thus seeing their access to sources of prevention withdrawn. Prison overcrowding will make the current violence and lack of hygiene worse. More and more AIDS victims will remain untreated ; due to constant harassment by police and the law, they will be less able to get access to vital prevention information, or to take advantage and follow the lengthy and complicated course of existing drug treatments, therapies that have disastrous effects if they are not taken carefully and regularly. Years of progress, made step by step, risk being destroyed.
We fought against the Jospin administration for five years so that we would never have to witness this kind of low again.. During those five years, Jospin and his administration created the Sangatte refugee camp, letting the situation for thousands of immigrants worsen. Jospin’s administration refused to regularize the status of 60,000 immigrants. It was shown public-funded reports denouncing prison conditions, with figures of some five hundred-odd prison suicides, without putting into place one single penitentiary reform. It refused to grant rights to prostitutes, or even to consider creating a special social status for the work they do. It turned a blind eye to the demands to revise the 1970 Law on drug consumption and classification. It sent the police to harass the unemployed. It told HIV-positive members of Act Up-Paris that « there is more to life than just AIDS ». It refused to give gay men and lesbians the same rights as heterosexuals. What’s more, for five years, Jospin’s socialist administration preferred to ignore minorities, rather than to minimize the dangers they face. Today Raffarin and his crony Nicolas Sarkozy have essentially taken a direct stance against us. For two months they have harassed, intimidated and oppressed minorities. Perhaps they intend to get rid of them altogether, à la Jean-Marie Le Pen ?
On May 30, 2002, Sarkozy told Le Monde, « This danger is real, not some kind of ghost ». At least we agree with him on that point. The action he has taken since May 10 has had real effects. Minorities are now in real physical danger. More than ever, we must remain strong on all fronts.