Spread of Rioting Takes a Toll on Small Towns in France

by Joshua Brown
Rioting in small towns

After a delightful evening of wine-tasting dubbed “Grapes and Friends!” in the charming town of Quissac, France, the mayor was heading home when his phone abruptly rang. The urban unrest that had gripped the nation following the fatal police shooting of a teenager on the outskirts of Paris had now reached Quissac, disrupting its peaceful ambiance.

In a swift act of vandalism, a small group, believed to be no more than four individuals, bombarded the local gendarmes’ barracks on Quai de la Gare road with powerful fireworks. They dented the metal shutters and set fire to a cypress tree. Although this incident paled in comparison to the widespread destruction, arson, looting, and rioting witnessed in numerous other communities across France during six nights of chaos, it was nevertheless a significant event for the town of Quissac, home to 3,300 residents in the southern region of Gard.

This unsettling occurrence in Quissac, along with similar incidents in other remote towns and villages affected to varying degrees, distinguished the recent wave of rioting in France from previous cycles of violence that had periodically erupted since the 1980s. Unlike previous instances primarily concentrated in blue-collar towns and disadvantaged housing projects in cities, fueled by anger over social and racial inequalities, this time the unrest seeped into previously untouched areas.

By virtue of social networks that bridged the gap between urban centers and vast rural spaces, the upheaval found its way to locations that had been spared from a similar nationwide rioting wave in 2005. Mayors of small towns, perplexed by the torching of vehicles, fires, and attacks on the police, questioned why their previously tranquil communities were now experiencing the same issues that had seemed distant and confined to big cities.

“In the press and even on TV news, the focus was mainly on Paris and its suburbs, Lyon, and Marseille. But upon closer examination, incidents also occurred in a number of small communities,” remarked Philippe Van-Hoorne, the mayor of L’Aigle in Normandy, where fires were ignited, cars were set ablaze, and the police pursued small groups of suspects. “Unfortunately, the rise in uncivil behavior and violence is even affecting modest towns like ours… It’s very challenging to resolve.”

According to government statistics, over 500 cities, towns, and villages were impacted following the police shooting of Nahel Merzouk in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on June 27. The 17-year-old French-born individual of North African descent was fatally shot during a traffic stop. The ensuing protests rapidly escalated into widespread mayhem, fuelled by the amplification of events on social media. While the majority of the violence was concentrated in cities, large towns, and their disadvantaged neighborhoods, the extensive scale of destruction—over 6,000 vehicles and 12,400 trash bins burned, and more than 1,100 buildings attacked—was not limited to previously recognized hotspots. This time, even smaller communities were affected.

In Quissac, authorities are searching for four individuals who fled on foot after the firework attack, according to Mayor Serge Cathala. Apart from this incident, Cathala recalls only a few minor incidents during his 28-year tenure, such as rare trash fires and sporadic graffiti. Quissac had been spared from the extensive nationwide riots in 2005, which initially erupted in the outskirts of Paris.

“The level of violence has never been like this,” the mayor expressed. “Now it’s spreading to the countryside.”

Similar accounts from other officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, indicate that videos of unrest circulating on social media may have encouraged copycat violence.

“It’s a competition,” Cathala observed. “A way to show off.”

An analysis by The Big Big News identified 297 cities, towns, and villages where officials reported incidents of unrest, representing every letter of the alphabet except U, X, and Z. From Achères, a commuter town west of Paris, to Yutz near France’s eastern borders, the wave of unrest extended across the country. In Rugles, a Normandy village with a population of 2,200, rockets were launched outside a supermarket, and fires were ignited. Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, situated at the mouth of the Rhône River, witnessed the burning of a school minibus and around 30 trash bins, graffiti on the town hall, and a gas bottle used to shatter the window of a clothing store on Avenue du Port.

Metz lost a library to flames, while a section of a sports complex designated as a training venue for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games was set on fire in Macon. In Sens, where a social center was under construction, the building was destroyed by fire.

Not all larger towns were heavily affected. Colmar, renowned for its picturesque timber-framed houses and canals in the Alsace region, experienced car fires and minor damage to a bank. Mayor Eric Straumann noted the paradox of such limited unrest considering Colmar’s low unemployment rate of around 5%.

In L’Aigle, three cars were set ablaze, 18 fires were ignited, and five store windows were targeted. Mayor Van-Hoorne reported that the police made seven arrests, including five minors, some of whom documented their actions on mobile phones. It was yet another instance of a small French town experiencing the repercussions of nationwide events, underscoring the fact that in the 21st century, geography no longer serves as a protective barrier it once did.

“When you analyze the situation on a national scale,” Van-Hoorne reflected, “it raises important questions.”


AP journalist Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Rioting in small towns

What caused the spread of rioting in France’s small towns?

The spread of rioting in France’s small towns was triggered by the urban unrest that followed the deadly police shooting of a teenager on the outskirts of Paris. The incident sparked protests that quickly escalated into widespread mayhem, aided by social networks that facilitated the dissemination of events and potentially encouraged copycat violence.

Why were small towns impacted by the unrest this time?

Unlike previous cycles of violence, the recent wave of unrest in France was not limited to big cities and disadvantaged housing projects. Social networks played a role in bridging the gap between urban centers and rural areas, bringing the unrest to smaller communities that had previously been untouched. Videos of the riots circulating on social media platforms may have contributed to the replication of violent acts in these towns.

How many cities, towns, and villages were affected by the rioting?

According to government statistics, over 500 cities, towns, and villages were affected by the rioting following the police shooting. This indicates the wide geographical reach of the unrest across France, impacting various regions and communities.

What were the consequences of the rioting in small towns?

The consequences varied, but incidents reported in small towns included vandalism, fires, attacks on the police, and destruction of property. Vehicles were torched, buildings were attacked, and public spaces were graffitied. The extent of the damage varied from town to town.

Was this wave of rioting unprecedented for small towns in France?

Yes, this wave of rioting represented a departure from previous cycles of violence in France. Many small towns had not experienced such acts of violence before. Mayors and officials in these communities expressed surprise and concern about the escalation of uncivil behavior and violence, which had previously been associated with larger cities.

Did the rioting have any connection to social and racial inequalities?

The rioting in France, although initially sparked by a police shooting, highlighted long-standing issues of social and racial inequalities in the country. While the riots spread beyond disadvantaged housing projects, the underlying anger and frustration related to these inequalities were factors that fueled the unrest.

What role did social media play in the spread of unrest?

Social media platforms played a significant role in the rapid spread of unrest. Videos and images of the riots were shared on social networks, amplifying the events and potentially inspiring others to engage in similar acts of violence. The ease of sharing information through social media narrowed the gap between urban centers and rural areas, extending the reach of the unrest.

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RadicalThinker July 7, 2023 - 8:24 am

wow, the riots reachin’ dem small towns! didn’t see that comin’. i guess inequality & frustration got folks riled up. social media be fuelin’ da fire, makin’ things spread like wildfire. it’s a crazy world we live in.

BookWorm42 July 7, 2023 - 2:48 pm

Interesting read! The riots in France’s small towns show how social media has broken down barriers between urban centers & rural areas. Copycat violence is a worrying trend. It’s important to address the underlying issues of inequality that fuel such unrest.

HistoryBuff77 July 7, 2023 - 5:48 pm

This wave of rioting in small towns is a departure from previous cycles of violence. It raises questions about the state of social and racial inequalities in France. Social media’s role in spreading unrest highlights the power and influence of online platforms.

Dreamer_23 July 7, 2023 - 9:00 pm

Can’t believe those quiet towns got hit too! It’s like the whole country was on fire! Social media be like instigating folks to show off their destructive side. We need more solutions to the deep-rooted problems causing these riots.

Jenna89 July 8, 2023 - 1:31 am

omg, dis rioting in france’s small towns is cray cray! social media is like tots responsible for it, spreading stuff like wildfire. y do peeps copy each other’s violence? smh.


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