MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ? Erik Bleich, a Middlebury College assistant professor of political science, is available to comment on the ongoing racially charged riots in France. His book “Race Politics in Britain and France” was published by Cambridge University Press in 2003. He is currently researching state responses to racial and religious violence in Europe and the United States. Bleich can be reached at ebleich@middlebury.edu, work: (802) 443-3254, or home: (802) 388-8057.

On Nov. 8, France declared curfews in select neighborhoods in an effort to implement security measures and bring the rioting under control. Bleich, in response to current news, has noted that “the violent disturbances spreading throughout France may seem a world away, but in one crucial respect they closely resemble the riots that have periodically shaken American and European cities since the 1960s: the trigger is anger over longstanding police mistreatment, and recognizing that fact offers the clearest road to peace.”

Recalling such pivotal incidents of unrest as the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, the 1968 Sorbonne uprising of students protesters in France, and London’s three days of intense rioting in 1981, Bleich underlines how police aggression can trigger emotionally charged community riots. “But a single policing event is rarely sufficient to generate two weeks of vandalism and serious physical attacks,” says Bleich. “The fact that the French police deny chasing the two victims on the night of Oct. 27 is almost immaterial to many residents of marginalized neighborhoods, who view the police as an aggressive, invasive organization that automatically treats them as suspects and fails to grant them the respect they desire.”

Bleich notes that French administrators have borrowed ideas such as “zero tolerance” policing from New York City. “If, in looking abroad for lessons, French police reformers focus on the iron fist at the expense of the velvet glove, they risk reinforcing the sense of isolation, frustration, and anger among the country’s suburban youth, increasing the likelihood of future conflagrations,” says Bleich.