Violence: Our Lack of Safety is First and Foremost Social!

Police near the site of the knife attack in La Chapelle-sur-Erdre. Image credit: Loïc Venance, AFP

May 31, 2021, Editorial of the Workplace Newsletters of the Etincelle fraction of the NPA, Translated from French

On Friday 28 May, a knife attack took place in La Chapelle-sur-Erdre, near Nantes. This mentally unwell person attacked a municipal policewoman, took her weapon, took a person hostage, and wounded a gendarme. This tragic event – which only resulted in the death of the assailant – is indicative of many of the ills of our society. Which raises the question: how did we get here?

The Partisans of Order

Politicians on the campaign trail immediately had a field day. A suspected Muslim attacker, a knife, and a new security campaign. As he was a former prisoner, we saw profusion of descriptions of radicalized terrorist set free by a lax system of justice! “We need prisons, minimum sentences, and electronic surveillance,” say politicians on both the right and the left. Except that they are way off the mark!

Where does the violence come from?

As usual, the demagogues were too quick to draw the line. The assailant was certainly religious. However, above all, he was suffering from a serious mental illness. What was he doing in the streets? Why wasn’t he in a hospital for treatment? Simply because, in this country, psychiatric services are slowly being killed off; with understaffing, and employees on the verge of burnout – suicides are not rare among psychiatric workers.

Would prisons protect us from people who are above all ill? Who can believe that mental illness can be treated within four concrete walls? As much as anywhere else, even more than anywhere else, competent personnel are needed in sufficient numbers in order to prevent such situations. Government savings on healthcare has dramatic consequences that could be avoided.

Lack of “Safety”: what exactly are we talking about?

For politicians, the main problem is a lack of safety. What lack of safety? General violence has not really increased.

If this feeling of insecurity is real, it is on other grounds. With a million more people living below the poverty line, unemployment is exploding, and layoffs are multiplying, the context is very anxiety-provoking. If we add the absence of a future for young people – including students – and the too often miserable pensions of the elderly, we can feel trapped.

Violence does not fall from the sky. Most certainly an increase in poverty produces tension and despair! There is a legitimate link between the record profits of the CAC 40 (French stock market) and growing poverty. The proof? Between March 2020 and March 2021, French billionaires’ fortunes increased by 40%, while eight million people were dependent on food aid. Yet politicians feed us only fear on the horizon, so that we do not dwell on these figures, and discover the injustices of our society.

Fight Social Insecurity!

We won’t fight violence with surveillance cameras and police deployment, which always targets working-class neighborhoods.

We will not fight mental illness with blows from police truncheons or prolonged sentences. We will not fight misery by building more prisons.

While it is true that the social climate is bleak, a climate can be changed. Of course this can happen because of our struggles, but often also through the solidarity among workers in the workplace, and in our neighborhoods. It starts by not giving in to the workers’ enemies cries for security.

Politicians, with the bourgeoisie behind them, have no solutions; at the origin of most of our problems, is their race for profits. Fear prevents us from thinking, from acting; it is obvious, and more and more of us are not fooled.