The City of Marseille Rises Up in the Face of Collapse

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On November 5, 2018, two poorly-maintained housing building collapsed in Marseille, killing eight people — this, when the city is the site of aggressive gentrification. The residents have risen up to protest the ever-growing urban inequalities.

Translated from French by Chanelle Adams.

On Wednesday December 5, 2018 at 9:05AM, a crowd of two hundred people united in downtown Marseille, not far from the site where, just one month prior, the apartment buildings at 63 and 65 Rue d’Aubagne collapsed. Those that gathered were there to observe 9 minutes of silence: 8 minutes for those who died in the collapse (Chérif, Fabien, Julien, Marie-Emmanuelle, Niasse, Ouloume, Simona, and Taher) and a 9th minute for Zineb Redouane, 80, who died at the hospital on December 1, after a tear gas grenade struck her 4th floor apartment located just mere meters from Rue d’Aubagne.

From Emotion (l’émotion) to Riot (l’émeute) ///

The fatal grenade that struck Zineb Redouane was fired by the police forces that were suppressing the protests. The demonstrators came out in large numbers to denounce Marseille’s substandard housing conditions and to demand action from city authorities — especially regarding the 1,500 people hastily evacuated from their apartments by the city authorities who fear more collapses.

Ever since the fateful day of November 5, Marseille’s city center has been pulsing with the movement of evacuations and demonstrations in solidarity with the families of victims and evacuees. During an otherwise solemn demonstration of mourning on November 14, the Saturday following the collapse, grief gave way to rage. A packed crowd marched down Rue d’Aubagne, passing by the rubble of the collapsed buildings. Emotions palpably rose as the procession progressed, resembling a riot by the time the crowd arrived in front of the city hall. There, the protestors’ projectiles and smoke bombs were met by police officers ready to go to enormous lengths such as the deployment of tear gas. The repression was brutal. The prefecture called in a special brigade (the Anti-Crime Brigade, BAC) to handcuff protesters and beat anyone that came within reach of the baton, including ordinary passerbyers and people seated at nearby cafe terraces.

The highly repressive and punitive response to legitimate expressions of anger only further discredited the legitimacy of the municipal — most recognizably, Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin (holding office since 1995) who has been held responsible for the dilapidation of downtown Marseille. Slogans such as “Gaudin, murderer!” and “Gaudin, resign!” were among the chants of during the mobilization on November 14 and subsequent demonstrations on November 24 and December 1, protests which also turned into riots. The anger of the inhabitants has remained strong in the face of the municipality’s negligence. As essayist, activist, and well-known figure in Marseille, Alèssi Dell’Umbria, reminds us: “it is no coincidence that the French words for riot (émeute) and emotion (émotion) have the same etymological root.”