The recent rioting in France reveals a new and disturbing reality. Across the country, riots moved from the banlieues to town centres and fancy shopping areas, leaving behind a trail of destruction that included over 200 looted shops, 300 bank branches and 250 tobacconists.
Where past disorders, such as in 2005, were once largely confined to the suburbs, increasingly they have spilled into gentrified areas too. In addition, protestors are showing little respect for their supposed social betters: the pension protests, for example, made a show of targeting the offices of Wall Street firm BlackRock and torching President Emmanuel Macron’s favourite restaurant. Welcome to the class struggle, 21st-century style, where no area is fully safe.
Who are these rioters? A profile this week from Le Monde reveals that the looters tend to be active on social media and well-informed about the coming direction of the protest. Their motivations, as Macron has suggested, may not be purely political but also inspired by video games and social media. Yet there is no question that a lack of economic opportunity, crowded living conditions and frustration at repeated conflicts with police are all contributing factors.
This follows the American pattern. In the past, urban riots tended to be primarily restricted to poorer neighbourhoods. In the Los Angeles riots of 1992, which I covered first hand, little damage was inflicted upon elite areas like Beverly Hills or middle-class enclaves like the San Fernando Valley. Once I escaped the inner city, I could drink coffee from my house in the Hollywood Hills and watch South LA, Koreatown, and Pico-Union areas burn in the distance.
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Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.