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Residents stand up to drug dealers at French housing project

AFP archive | Saint-Denis is a hub for cannabis dealers

Fed-up residents of troubled Paris suburb Saint-Denis have been camping out in front of a building monopolised by drug dealers. Their initiative has drawn comparison to the “Nuit Debout” (“Up All Night”) sit-ins in central Paris.

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Building 7 of the Paul Eluard housing estate in central Saint-Denis has been a hub for the dealers, who sell mostly cannabis, and for years, residents have been complaining.

And while the mostly young peddlers make a surface effort to help their neighbours in the building – by opening doors and helping carry shopping up the stairs – the constant coming and going of clients, the noise and the degradation of living conditions in the building has become more than a passing annoyance.

“It’s the same story every night until about 4 a.m.,” resident Georgette told French daily Le Figaro. “The customers' cars drive past our windows, they leave the doors of the building open. We are completely fed up.”

According to the residents of the run-down estate, the dealing has been a problem for 20 years.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, they say, was the burning of a car near the building as part of an apparent settling of scores.

The residents’ answer has been to camp out in front of the building every night. They have been there for more than a week.

And although their numbers have been small – no more than a dozen – they have the support of local councillors. Their presence has deterred the dealers.

“In a state that operates under the rule of law, residents shouldn’t have to do this,” Slimane Rabahallah, a deputy to the mayor of Saint Denis, told AFP.

Some of the dealers and their associates have directly threatened residents, who immediately called police. But before there is even a sign of the police arriving, they disappear into the shadows,” said Georgette, resigned to the fact that the dealers have not gone away, and are waiting for the opportunity to resume their trade.

Stéphane Peu, who is also a deputy to the town’s mayor, told France Info radio that the run-down suburb, which served as a hideout for the surviving attackers of the November 13 terrorist mass killing in Paris, was effectively lawless.

“We hope the police will be able to come and sort this out,” he said, lamenting the impossibility of policing the neighbourhood. “If we had the same number of police here as in the average Paris district, we would have double the police presence on the streets.”

The problem in Saint-Denis, he said, was “neglect and discrimination in terms of the number of police officers, justice and education”.

In the meantime, the residents say they are determined to continue their nightly sit-ins until the dealers “have completely left the area around the building”.

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