Friday, June 10, 2016

Punches in Paradise

Dramatization, not a photo of the event described below
Sitting at a sidewalk café with friends on an otherwise perfect late Spring morning in the normally placid little village of Argèles-sur-mer, France, we witnessed a sequential altercation among several young men that could have become very ugly.

It started a few feet from our table, at the bottom of the steps up to the church. Pushing and shoving and angry words. The combatants then drifted down the street, where they resumed the skirmish in front of the artwork framing shop owned by a friend of ours (scaring her to tears). The fracas broke up, the young men drifted in different directions, then recongregated in front of the shop where punches seem to have been thrown and shirts ripped.

In the midst of this was an unwise young mother and her two-year-old daughter; I think she was trying to calm the situation. 

As the event unfolded, there were also a couple of school group field trips visiting the church and the local history museum around the corner - the teachers did their best to steer the students away from the action, but certainly the kids received more of an education than was planned.

A few minutes later, as some of the belligerents were walking away toward the river, a police municipale car, siren blaring, came racing up the street and screeched to a stop adjacent to the church. They were told the young men they sought were on foot, and they zoomed to the crest of the hill and intercepted the largest of the young men. Not hard to spot with his ripped shirt and barbed wire tattoo circling his forearm.

Soon, another police municipale squad car and one from the gendarmerie (the federal police) showed up as well. Bit of a surprise as we had heard the police were on strike this week.

Other than too much testosterone, a key problem for French youth is lack of work. More than 25% of young people are unemployed. Often their lack of education or technical skills makes it very difficult to find and hold what low-end jobs may be available. According to The Economist, "Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth. Countries with high youth unemployment are short of such links. In France few high-school leavers have any real experience of work."

Hopefully one of the outcomes of the morning is that the elementary school students who inadvertently witnessed the "rumble on rue de la Republique" will make the connection that staying in school is better than skirmishing on the streets. Though I doubt they are old enough to bridge that concept.

I wonder, too, if open-carry guns were allowed in France as they are in the US, might one or more of the volatile young men opened fire, wounding or killing their adversaries ... and perhaps innocent bystanders nearby ... such as a group of friends sitting at a sidewalk café?

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