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After recent school violence, Paris minors to appear in court

High school students protest against police violence and the alleged rape of Théo in Paris, February 28, 2017. AFP/Thomas Samson

Two days after the violent confrontations between police and students at Suger High School in Saint-Denis, eight of the 55 people who had been held in police custody are set to appear before a judge in juvenile court this Thursday.

Eight minors from the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis will appear in front of a juvenile judge this Thursday. They are accused of assaulting public officials, inciting violence and unlawful assembly.

The summons comes two days after clashes between students and police came to a height at Suger High School in Saint-Denis.

The series of violent incidents began on Monday, when students blockaded the school. They also lit rubbish bins on fire and broke school windows.

The next day, students lit fires inside the school and set off smoke bombs. As a response, school officials decided to evacuate the premises. But the evacuation effectively grouped all students together in a large crowd on the sidewalk, alongside a large number of police, which escalated tensions even further.

Students began throwing projectiles at police, who responded with sound bombs and smoke grenades. Authorities then took 55 people into custody, including 44 minors.

On the same day later on, other groups of young people damaged property in the downtown area of Saint-Denis. It is unclear how many members of this group were high school students from Suger.

The school violence at Suger follows a series of protests -- some organised by high school students throughout the Paris region -- against police brutality after a black youth worker, Théo, was allegedly raped with a police baton in a north-eastern Paris suburb in February. The violent arrest was caught on camera and sparked unrest throughout the French capital.

‘Symbolic threshold’

While "the Théo case", as it has come to be called in France, may have played a role in the recent school violence, some school officials think the issue is more complex.

A Suger employee told French centrist daily Le Monde that the violence was a manifestation of Saint-Denis’s deeper socioeconomic problems. “Our educational institution doesn’t accomplish its mission, and its leads to students’ failure.”

Other teachers that spoke with Le Monde agreed. “Politicians play the blame game and differentiate school violence from urban violence, normal high schools from those in the suburbs, ‘our’ students and ‘those’ teenagers, but all of these distinctions are fluid,” one teacher said.

English teacher Aurélie Gigot told Le Monde that “if the government doesn’t listen to the whistle blowers in the suburbs, and if it refuses to reflect on the inequality between different neighbourhoods, then we’re ramming our heads against a wall.”

Some students were also upset after the recent violence. Ahmed accused police of “blindly firing” smoke grenades into the crowd of students, according to Le Monde. Mehdi called police violence hypocritical. “Adults are always going on and on about youth violence, but how can they remain credible if they respond to violence with violence?”

Political reactions

Presidential candidates Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Front (FN) party, and François Fillon, of right-wing Les Républicains (LR), both criticised the government for its inability to maintain order in schools.

On Wednesday, Fillon referred to the events as “veritable riots, followed by urban guerrilla warfare.”

Le Pen vowed on Wednesday “to reinstate order in the republic and win back the lost territories of our country.”

“It’s unacceptable that vandals threatened the future of our country,” she said.

Members of the Socialist government have responded to the criticism, such as Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who accused Fillon and Le Pen of “fanning the flames” for political gain.

She did however describe the confrontations as “very serious acts by vandals that we need to punish severely.”

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also accused Le Pen of “exploiting” the events “for electoral reasons”. He also called on the justice system to “punish the people responsible with the utmost severity.”