This Covid-19 crisis has seen numerous initiatives emerge, especially as young people from working-class neighbourhoods are building an impressive momentum of solidarity and creativity. Actions of care towards healthcare personnel and those most affected by the crisis were launched throughout France. These actions will most likely continue and increase during the month of Ramadan, a time of mutual aid and charity.
As early as the second week of lockdown, the suburbs began to rumble. Suburban populations understood that they had to isolate themselves in order to break the chain of transmission. Of course, a minority of people did not respect the lockdown... which was also the case everywhere else in France, as shown by the geographical and numerical distribution of fines. Yet, the image of young people at the bottom of their ten-storey buildings does not convey the same message as the image of a barbecue organised with friends in a suburban city or in a rural area. The eruption of "riots" was quickly attributed to a rejection of the lockdown, but the reality is that urban violence in certain neighbourhoods has other roots. Social divides in France have fostered a habit of confrontation with police officers and firefighters, as well as a defiance of authority. Let us not ignore that the lockdown disrupts drug trafficking, which has not magically stopped as a result of the health crisis, and which sustains a number of families in normal times, or at the very least improves their daily lives. The government had to grapple with the question of how the lockdown could be enforced in areas where police officers and firefighters are routinely targeted. Police officers are being asked to "keep a low profile" and to "leave the area very quickly" in order to avoid riots. But how can this be done when, for decades, their presence has been required to protect firefighters during their interventions?
In a context of exceptional crisis where the priority lies in saving and sparing the maximum number of lives, it seems natural that "fighting" against minor offenders who provoke the police is not paramount. The period defines what the priorities are. However the reality is that delinquency in these neighborhoods has been a recurrent problem for several decades, one that public policy has yet to successfully resolve.
This phenomenon is all the more worrying considering the young demographic in these neighborhoods, consisting of minors under the age of 15, has been on the rise in recent years.
Disproportionate effects in the suburbs?
If the lockdown in these neighborhoods is overall respected, how can we then explain that their inhabitants are overrepresented in hospital admissions for Covid-19? Why can we count so many patients in Marseille, Perpignan and Seine-Saint-Denis? Precariousness is often put forward as an explanation. It is a fact. 40% of the population in these neighbourhoods live below the poverty line, a rate that can reach 80% in some cities. These neighbourhoods are therefore territorial bubbles of poverty in France. But the "poor" also live outside these so-called priority neighborhoods (only a quarter of the population under the poverty rate live in these areas), which thus magnifies the problems induced by precariousness.
This is not sufficient to explain this population’s over-representation in hospitals. Sociologically speaking, these inhabitants differ from the "city population": this is the France of workers. Let us not forget that in the suburbs, 51% of men are blue-collar workers, compared to an average of 26% in France, and 59% of women are employees, compared to a 42% national average.
In contrast with the persistent cliché of these men and women living off society’s back, people in suburbs are forced to go to work and therefore cannot confine themselves, as opposed to many executives and managers who are working from home. Care workers, cashiers, medical staff, delivery workers, drivers, cleaners, security guards are all workers indispensable to the continuity of daily life. They are forced to take public transports and to work alongside other people, thus increasing their risk of infection.