France’s second city will be European capital of culture in 2013. But for the moment, news from Marseille is dominated by feuds among Kalashnikov toting drug dealers who hold sway over entire neighbourhoods. Excerpts.
Yves Bordenave | Laurent Borredon
As night falls, an unmarked anti-criminal brigade police car relentlessly patrols the neighbourhoods of northern Marseille. In each of the cités or housing projects, the ritual is the same. With the arrival of the police, shouts ring out from block to block, from building to building, and from stairwell to stairwell. The lookouts, children no more than 15 years old, are there to carefully supervise the drug trade. On occasion, the police are escorted by one or two motor scooters until they leave the area. Font-Vert, Clos la Rose, Castellane are just some of the many districts that are organised and structured by drug trafficking.
Over the last three years, the cités have engaged in a war that has brought blood to the streets of Marseille. In his office in the city’s main police station, known as l’Evêché (in honour of the building’s past as bishop’s palace), judicial police chief Roland Gauze reels off the figures: “In 2010, there were 54 murders and attempted murders in Marseille, including 17 drug feud killings. In 2011, there were 38, of which 20 were caused by drug feuds.”
It was a quieter year, but one that was marred by a particularly violent month of December, with five fatalities aged between 18 and 38, including one policeman: all of them mowed down by Kaslashnikovs. The four other victims all had a record of varying degrees of involvement in drug trafficking. “It is such easy money that they are willing to kill for it,” explains Yves Robert, a representative of SNOP, the main police force union.
“The problem will never be overcome by policing alone”
When police raids are organised, the haul brought back by investigators is usually the same: a few dozen kilos of cannabis, a few thousand euros in cash and various weapons. In the Cité de la Visitation, monthly wages for dealing range from 5,000 euros for lookouts to 10,000 euros for charbonneurs or sellers. However, elsewhere in the city there are many dealers, even retail sellers, who do not earn more than 1,500 euros per month. “There are many youngsters who in fact earn very little, but they flaunt what they have,” explains Claire Duport.
“The problem will never be overcome by policing alone,” remarks, Jean-Louis Martini of the Synergie-Officiers police union. A year ago, the judicial police dismantled just one of the networks in the Cité de la Busserine, arresting four dealers in their twenties and seizing a haul of 25 kilos of cannabis and 6,000 euros in cash. The sales point, which was open daily from midday to midnight, was taking in an average of 15,000 euros per day from approximately 300 customers.
Today another network has now taken over the business and the lookouts have returned to La Busserine. The new charbonneur even has an armchair in front of one the buildings. As they do everywhere, the housing projects in Marseille abhor a vacuum.