Rachael Harvey, Section 01 – Critical Synthesis: The Comparison of Race Riots in France and Chicago

Chapter 3 in Abu-Lughod’s Race, Space, and Riots along with the article “Rioting as a Political Tool: the 2005 Riots in France” draw similar conclusions and analyses about race riots, “what caused them, what sort of behaviors and people they consisted of, and what sort of repercussions they produced” (Jobard, 236). Abu-Lughod’s chapter titled “The Black Uprising after King’s Assassination in 1968” speaks of the “low-intensity war” (Abu-Lughod, 79) that describes Chicago’s mid-1950s and mid-1960s period. This period also hosted the civil rights movement that was essentially being strained in Chicago. The lack of support and interest for the movement as well as the unclear path of progression helped build tensions amongst the advocates of “integration, desegregation, and black power” (Abu-Lughod, 81). The separation of neighborhoods also contributed to the growing tensions. In France, the wave of riots would occur in towns and neighborhoods of immigrants and minorities. Urban segregation and migratory activities play very important roles in causing rioting, where unemployment was higher due to the social segregation of these zones. These social strains amongst both Chicago and France both demonstrate underlying tensions and causes for rioting.

The tensions in Chicago acted as antecedents for the race riot after MLK’s assassination. Politically powerless zones in Chicago, specifically the West Side, consisted of predominately black neighborhoods that dropped in population due to land being cleared for institutional projects and developments. These developments, meant to drive out the black population, began to crumble resistance in these neighborhoods. These people just kept being pushed further and further out of these development zones and this resulted in displacement of the population. In response to this, King developed the goal of open housing in these neighborhoods and led marches into the white areas that circled black districts. After the King assassination, reactions were set off in black communities throughout the country with the worst being in Chicago. This was due to “its large black community and the uneasy race relations that were endemic to the city” (Abu-Lughod, 93). Any sort of progression for open housing became frozen, and the hopes of these powerless people became shattered, leading to the frustration and violence that occurred in these ghettos. Police tactics and intimidation were implemented to prevent the spread of riots, and the collective youth also began to get involved. The way that police responded and handled the riots is debatable, and did not serve as protection for the population. The death of Dr. King as well as the remaining underlying tensions that led to this violent riot remains relevant to labeling this event as a race riot.

In France, riots labeled as “race riots” were used to describe “disorder or uprisings in poor ghettos or poor urban estates” (Jobard, 236). These riots have been occurring since the 1980s and have certainly remained the same for 2005. Events such as street battles and rioting in “deprived urban areas” usually followed the “death of a civilian” due to the acts of police (Jobard, 235). When looking at the sociological facts, the 3-week long riots are rooted from urban segregation and migration issues. Similarly to Chicago, these issues have been creating growing tensions for years and years with uprisings occurring quite often. Youth were also collectively rioting in 2005, some being the children of 1990 rioters. This engagement of generational behavior demonstrates that migrant and racial tension issues still remain extremely prevalent today, and especially come out during riots. For police involvement, “the rioters’ means of expression were therefore limited (though conversely, also facilitated) by the actions of the police” (Jobard, 240). The behaviors of the rioters reflected their choice in destruction “on the basis of local political histories” (Jobard, 240). In the eyes of the community, race is believed to be the underlying factor for destruction and violence in riots. The targets are chosen based on the real racial tensions and ideas that still remain in this society. Previous events in history are very prevalent in these riots and have shown to be motivators to keep rioting.

The similarities in the riots in France and Chicago both present race as an everlasting issue. The tensions that continue to build amongst deprived and ostracized communities also continue to reflect volatile behaviors. These individuals are not given the opportunities or chances to have their voices be heard in legal terms, so rioting in their cities is bound to occur with what is constantly being stripped away from them.


Works Cited:

Jobard, Fabien. “Rioting as a Political Tool: The 2005 Riots in France.” The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice 48.3 (2009): 235-44. Web.

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

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