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Violence at Aulnay-sous-Bois. Père Michel Erche (parish priest): “Justice will have to win. We must not surrender to evil.”

We must believe that “good is always possible” and that “justice will defeat violence”, said Père Michel Erche, in charge of the Pastoral Unit comprising the parishes of Aulnay-sous-Bois. It’s a suburban area north east of Paris, where four police officers assaulted a black youth, sparking off fears of a resumption of violence in the banlieue

The violence perpetrated in Aulnay-sous-Bois must not have the last word. “Good is always possible”; “justice must defeat violence.” It’s the “hope” of Fr Michel Erche, head of the Pastoral Unit of the parishes of this city located in the suburbs north-east of Paris, where clashes between youths and police officers broke out for three nights in a row.

Violence broke out past Saturday after four police officers assaulted a 22-year-old youth. The episode was caught on video. One of the four police officers allegedly sodomized the boy with a baton and was charged with aggravated rape and three others with aggravated assault. Theo, the victim, visited in hospital by President Francois Hollande, appealed to young people to be calm. The same appeal was launched earlier by his sister and mother. The youth underwent surgery and is recovering in the hospital, where he was treated also for wounds on his forehead and on his face.

“Not only his physical wounds but also the psychological ones will need to be healed”, the priest said.

Aulnay-sous-Bois –Fr Erche told SIR – has a population of 90 thousand inhabitants. It’s a suburban, multiethnic area located on the outskirts of Paris, with high-density housing and apartments in its northern part. “At the beginning the facts were garbled. People were shocked and nobody knew exactly what had happened and how it could have been possible. Then we learned the truth.” And with the truth the clashes broke out.

“There is a risk that violence could spread”

said the parish priest. “Some youths experience everyday violence, but the families don’t want the neighbourhood to fall in the grips of an eruption of violence”, he added. On Sunday afternoon people took to the streets to march in solidarity with Theo, and appealed not to surrender to violence.

The inhabitants of Aulnay-sous-Bois are in a state of shock for what has happened, and they display it in different ways. “Youths expressed their feelings in a violent way”, but “there also those who, despite their anger, realize that it would be wrong to generalize: some policemen behaved badly, they failed their assignment and their job. But it would be wrong to ascribe such misbehaviour to all police officers.”

Hence what President Hollande promised to Theo is extremely important, namely that “we must trust the legal process to get to the bottom of this.”

“It’s important to say No to violence and Yes to justice – concurred Fr Erche –and not to surrender to evil. Good is always possible.” Speaking to the camera Theo’s sister and mother appealed not to add more violence to violence. That appeal is the “silver lining of this neighbourhood. They could have demanded revenge, but they decided otherwise. And despite the suffering, despite the pain as well as the anger for the violence inflicted on Theo, they appealed to stop all acts of violence.”


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