Tomorow, October 27, 2015, we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna, two teenagers of Clichy sous Bois (North-Eastern Paris banlieue) who died in an electric transformer after being illegitimately chased by the police. For this reason, I chose this date to publish the second issue of The Funambulist Magazine, dedicated to suburban geographies (with significant contributions about the French banlieues). But, before tomorrow, I wanted to present a photographic report of a small investigation accomplished yesterday about the architecture of four police stations in the Northern banlieues.
For an important amount of the banlieues inhabitants, in particular the Black and Arab youth, the police incarnate a daily reminder of the structural antagonism at work against their neighborhood and their bodies. As explained in a past article entitled “The Banlieue Battleground: Designing the French Suburbs for Police/Military Interventions,” this antagonism reached its peak during the nine years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s executive mandates (four years as Minister of Interior and five as President) between 2003-2004, and 2005- (see the Karsher declaration, only a few days before the death of Bouna and Zyed) 2012, but it never really dissolved since then — the current Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, also formerly Minister of Interior shares a certain amount of similarities with Sarkozy’s politics, despite being part of the Socialist Party. The strategy of the State vis-a-vis the cités (high density public housing in a low density urban fabric) consists in a gradual withdrawal of its service and an increase of police control. The latter’s violence is characterized by disrespectful discourse, systematic identity control, random chase and/or arrests, and sometimes, the use of a potentially lethal arsenal coming from a prolific security market. The following photographs attempt to show that architecture as well constitutes a weapon both symbolic and effective reinforcing the strong antagonism developed by the police against the banlieue youth. The police stations’ architectures, through their spatiality, their aesthetics and the care in the materials used (brick for the Aubervilliers one, and even some marble imitation for the Pierrefitte one, see below) attempt to present them as authored works, designed by architecture offices that also conceive libraries, schools, housing, etc. However, the agenda of this architecture is fairly explicit to anyone who knows their antagonizing context: these police station are built to respond to the potentiality of a “siege” undertaken against them — a rather odd hypothesis when one knows the police arsenal — by what they imagine to be hordes of barbarian youth (paranoia is necessary to maintain the antagonism). The walls of these stations are thus opaque with various degrees of inclination (a well-known technique by 17th-century fortress architects!), the more transparent parts are elevated, out-of-reach, and the sidewalks in front of their entrances are made inaccessible for vehicles through the presence of metallic cones (ubiquitous on the Paris sidewalks). Architecture is weaponized here again, and architects should be held accountable for the responsibility of their contribution to the antagonism developed by the State and its police towards the banlieue inhabitants.
Let us simply nuance this article’s argument by insisting that the presence of a police station in a given neighborhood is not, as such, a necessary form of antagonism. In 1998, Lionel Jospin’s government had implemented a police doctrine based on “proximity” which was later terminated by Sarkozy when he began his functions of Minister of Interior in 2003. Although this ‘experiment’ of another police modus operandi did not disassemble in depth the mechanisms of police brutality and discrimination, many local voices recognized the value of police officers knowing personally the people who are supposed to be under their protection (rather than under their suspicion). In a recent conversation organized by Mediapart and the Bondy Blog (one of the well-known banlieue media) dedicated to the ten years that followed Bouna and Zyed’s deaths, their families’ lawyer, Emmanuel Tordjman, explained that the police that chased the two teenagers came from a neighboring municipality and their ignorance of the neighborhood certainly “contributed to their madness” chasing a group of children. Since then, a (colorful!) police station has opened in Clichy-sous-Bois. Although I am personally convinced that the very function of the police necessarily carries a form of violence, even in its proximity form, we also have to recognize that many of the activists organized against police brutality and criminality would be satisfied (as a first step) by a certain amount of reforms challenging the current impunity from which they benefit.
Read part 2 of the article, published on November 30, 2015.
SITUATION MAP ///
North is on the right side / The length of the map is 20 kilometers / Red squares are the cités (see past map/article) / Blue squares are the photographed police stations
All photographs by Léopold Lambert (October 2015):
01: VILLIERS LE BEL POLICE STATION ///
02: GARGES LES GONESSES POLICE STATION ///
03: PIERREFITTE POLICE STATION ///
04: AUBERVILLIERS POLICE STATION ///
05: LA PLAINE SAINT DENIS POLICE STATION ///
06: LA COURNEUVE POLICE STATION ///
07: BOBIGNY POLICE STATION ///
08: NOISY LE SEC POLICE STATION ///
09: GAGNY POLICE STATION ///