I have avoided writing about this, although I was aware of it from the first night because I read foreign news services.
The initial report was that this was a reaction to the death of two juveniles who had reportedly fled the police and hid in an electric substation. The boys were apparently accidentally electrocuted, but I couldn't swear to that because there has been no clear information as to what actually happened. You don't know if the boys were fleeing a crime scene, merely being chased as suspicious, or simply wandered into the station. You don't know for certain that they were electrocuted, although that seems to be implied.
Initial reports all talked about "Muslim immigrants", but the French officials talk about third generation "dark" people as "immigrants" while Northern European immigrants are never labeled that way. The bulk of those involved are the children and grandchildren of immigrants. They were born in France and educated in France. Most cannot speak any language except French and are not notably religious, as evinced by the lack of reaction to fatwas
issued by prominent French imams to stop the demonstrations.
I have learned that the burning of cars has increased, but it has been a feature of weekends in many of these areas for a very long time. I would have thought that someone should have taken some action about cars being burned every weekend before now, but the French reaction has been to reduce the local police presence in many of these areas.
It took several days for the story about police officers being shot by rioters to be resolved as an attack by BB guns, not Uzis. Coke bottles of gasoline and cobblestones are a good deal more dangerous to my mind.
What you have in the end are the Watts riots. French citizens of a darker shade of skin color have discovered that, stated guarantees notwithstanding, if you are not of a pale complexion, you are not likely to find stable full-time employment. Without a full-time job you have only limited access to the benefits of the society.
The conservative government of France really kept this going when the Minister of the Interior decided to call the people involved "scum" and other epithets. That minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, is a part of the problem. The grandchildren of immigrants are really annoyed by the child of immigrants telling them that they are not French. Mr. Sarkozy is the child of a Hungarian immigrant father and a Greek mother. The fact that he is now the Interior Minister while they are still stuck in ugly, concrete housing blocks is proof to many of the discrimination.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has promised new programs for development in the affected areas, the same promises that are made every decade or so in France, but nothing really changes. He also announced curfews under a law passed as an attempt to control the uprisings in Algeria in the mid-1950s. The people in the communities have noticed the connection.
The French government is right when it says the problem is that these people haven't assimilated into French society, they haven't. However, the root of the problem is that French society has refused to allow them to assimilate.