You know, I saw this coming, but somehow, my brilliant French friends did not. Brilliant because they do and have done so many other things "right," but on this one, well they just got it all wrong.
You see, in 1998, I gave a speech before the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Lyon, France, where I was appearing for the first time as the newly appointed UNCTAD goodwill ambassador to the United States. Well, I told the audience that I was sure that the civil strife that had impacted the U.S. during the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s was coming their way too. I was booed by the mostly French audience, and told that they knew well what was going on in their own country, and more so, that the French had "good relations" with its poor. Guess not, must be the verdict, following riots in Paris in 2005 and again, well, now. Read the story here.The New York Times report on the Paris Riots.
Leaders in Paris proclaimed initially in 2005 that these riots were the work of Islamic extremists, but the this could not be further from the truth. These youth were not Islamic extremist, but simply frustrated and without hope. In short, they only felt truly French when they paid their taxes, as they did not see individuals that looked like them in the higher ranks of government, business and civil society. By logical extension, one could then say "why stop at red lights, why obey traffic laws, why listen to the police, who seem to disrespect me at every turn, …why go to school, or strive forward, when it doesn’t seem like it will lead somewhere for me?" Good question. France will need to answer it, if they want to get beyond the current and increasing state of crisis in this great country, rich in world history.
I have a little experience with these issues, as Operation HOPE was born out of the Rodney King riots of 1992 in South Los Angeles, but when I extended a hand to help in 2005, directed to the then French president, the offer was not valued. Well, here we go again, but only this time officials are simply referring to the youth as thugs, rather than Islamic extremist. What they want, at bottom, is opportunity. Their means may in fact be wholly inappropriate, as no one has the right to burn or tear up another’s properly, under any conditions, but their cause is just. As I said following the acquittal of the LAPD officers accused of beating a swollen Rodney King in 1992, "we need justice, and not just us." Operation HOPE was my positive response to the crisis of 1992. I would encourage the new president of France, who I understand to be a competent and visionary leader, to take a similar lead, with answers that balance law enforcement with the greater carrot of true opportunity in France, for France, and by the new and established French alike.
This is part of my vision for a global "silver rights" movement — finally making capitalism and free enterprise relevant to the poor. Making capitalism and free enterprise finally work for the poor.
Rainbows after storms. You cannot have a rainbow, without a storm first.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant