CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1In Europe, and especially in France and the United Kingdom, numerous studies demonstrate that ethnic minorities in the housing estates in the French suburbs or banlieues are marginalized, and several books have reported on the tensions that characterize the relationship between these minorities and the police. Very little work, however, has been done to examine the way in which the perception of the police in this population is specifically constructed. What are the elements that make up its image, how do members of minorities articulate and rank these elements, and what is the role of territorial and ethnic identification?

2According to several studies, members of banlieue minorities indicate there is police racism. In particular, “race-based checks” seem to increase the resentment of the members of ethnic minorities who are especially subject to them. [1] The idea of racism or unfair treatment based on a racial categorization means that the police is viewed through the lens of racial or ethnic belonging. However, other studies show that inhabitants feel instead that they are subject to poor treatment by police because they are members of deprived neighborhoods. In this article, we suggest that the image of the police is constructed from an understanding of belonging that is both racial and territorial, in a way that is not concurrent, but interlinked. Members of minorities feel that they are targeted less solely on the basis of race than because they belong to a specific group, banlieue minorities (ethnic minorities from poor suburban areas), which is also defined on the basis of territory. From this perspective, the image of the police among banlieue minorities is not first constructed through the individual experience, as is the case in the literature on attitudes toward the police (ATP); rather, it is related to the perception of a collective conflict in which the police represent a hostile figure.

3In this article, the notion of identity refers to the results of identification processes that vary depending on the context, according to which the same individual may think of him/herself as belonging to various groups. [2] We thus avoid essentializing the idea of identity, even though we keep the term, unlike some authors. [3] Here, we have adopted a situationalist approach, which could also be qualified as pragmatic: the situation is what makes identity salient, or what makes a specific mode of identification operative. [4] For the notion of ethnicity, we have followed Frederik Barth’s approach: [5] ethnicity is understood as the result of a categorization process based on the idea of a shared origin. For this study, we begin from the idea that it is well established that individuals construct their identities in relation to groups, [6] and we have tried to determine which ones are concerned and how these identities are activated. The establishment of a shared relationship to the police is part of a specific mode of identification: the feeling of belonging to banlieue minorities, a grouping defined both by ethnicity (race in the social, and not biological, sense, related to the visibility of certain physical characteristics and the value given to them) and territory. In support of this thesis, we refer to the results of a study using focus groups, a component of the European project Eurojustis. [7] The group interviews were conducted in July 2009 in Grenoble. The focus-group method is still very little used in this area of study. [8] We will compare the dynamics of the exchanges in two focus groups made up of ethnic minorities living in La Villeneuve (youth on one side, adults on the other) to understand, first, what sets the view of the police, and the role of this view in forming a territorial or ethnic identity. By comparing these results with those from the analysis of two focus groups composed of white people (youth and adults) living in La Villeneuve, presented here in summary form, we will be able to interrrogate the existence of an ethnic divide within the same neighborhood regarding the perception of the police.

4We begin by positioning our approach in the field of studies which address the same topic. We then present the results from the group analysis, focusing on the groups composed of ethnic minorities. Finally, we discuss the scope and limits of our results: we emphasize the role the relationship between minorities and the police plays in the production of ethnicity in France, which contibutes to the construction of a “we, the banlieue minorities” – an ethno-territorial identity – without ignoring the limitations of what is an exploratory study.

Available studies and research strategy

5So as to understand the image of the police among members of ethnic minorities, we first summarise the contribution international quantitative studies have made to ATP. We then review the results of French studies concerning the perception of the police by minorities in French banlieues, before presenting our research strategy.

The quantitative study of attitudes toward the police: why do minorities mistrust the police?

6Current trends in explaining ATP show a high number of studies on individual variables – the characteristics of persons – and interactions with police officers. The literature focuses less on the role of territorial belonging, our main focus in this article. In this overview, analyses of contextual variables, which refer to the effects of the type of neighborhood of residence, are thus over-represented.

7The study of attitudes toward the police is part of a research tradition dating from the 1960s and 70s in the United States, using the acronym ATP. It has been the subject of various literature reviews. [9] Already in 1994, Steven Brandl et al. identified no less than 200 published studies, mainly in the United States. [10] In Europe, it was especially in Great Britain, and hardly anywhere else, that the riots in the 1980s, and even more so in the 2000s, prompted studies by researchers on the relations between the police and the population. [11]

8Particular attention was given to the link between race or ethnic belonging as an individual variable [12] and attitudes toward the police. [13] Ethnic minority groups have generally been the most critical or unsatisfied with regard to the police, a recurring finding ever since the question has been studied in the United States, [14] and which also applies during the recent period in France. [15]

9To explain the influence of ethnic origin, researchers made a preliminary hypothesis concerning the “effect of population composition”: if ethnic minorities reject the police to a greater degree, it may be that the individual characteristics that encourage rejection (like the fact of being young or poor) are over-represented in this population. Thus, at the same age and more generally, “all things being equal”, ethnic origin should not make any difference. The hypothesis was discussed [16] and not necessarily confirmed: even when “all things being equal” is argued, the distrust of or dissatisfaction with the police remains more widespread among members of minorities. [17]

10Along with individual characteristics, the study of ATP showed the role of interactions with police officers: studies indicate repeatedly that poor contacts with officers worsen the perception of the police. [18] Here we note in particular that members of minorities are more often subject to identity checks, [19] which encourage rejection of the police. [20] But the frequency of contacts with police officers does not fully explain the differences seen between minorities and the ethnic majority. According to recent studies, it is necessary to consider the specific dimensions of the interaction with the police: the fairness of the officers, the respect they show, and their ability to listen contribute to procedural justice, which strongly influences the view of the police. [21] The aspect of fairness seems to be particularly important: members of minorities feel they are often treated in a partial, discriminatory, even racist way. [22] Thus, regardless of the ethnic group of belonging, the image of the police is constructed in the same way, namely, based on mechanisms that authors qualify as “psychological” and which are supposed to be universal. [23]

11Most often, though not always, the study of ATP does not consider the potential role played by the geographic context, the neighborhood. Very early on, however, studies showed that the formation of a “neighborhood culture” or of an “atmosphere of mistrust” influenced the view of the police. [24] According to Linqun Cao et al., [25] the effect of perceived incivilities or petty crimes, and thus of the quality of living conditions in the neighborhood, would seem to fully explain the differences in the perception of the police according to ethnic group: race as such seems to play no role. When studies focus on the oft-neglected role of the neighborhood, they do not necessarily show how its characteristics influence the view of the police. [26] The following hypothesis, in particular, has not been tested: in deprived urban areas, the image of the police may be related to identification with the neighborhood. As soon as the neighborhood is invested with identity, actions by the police within it tend to be perceived as stigmatizing and targeting the neighborhood as a whole. Identification with the neighborhood then encourages hostility, which follows from the will to to “defend” the group of belonging.

12For the last few years, identification with minority groups has begun to be considered by researchers interested in ATP, which seem to be affected, according to Ben Bradford, [27] by the majority or minority social identity in Great Britain. According to Matthew Millings, the way in which the police are perceived affects the construction of identity. [28] In these studies, identities are not, however, considered in reference to the territory of deprived urban areas. Yet the phenomena of identification with a neighborhood, especially among youth, seem very salient (see the following section). The idea that the image of the police, in these areas, might be related to this kind of identity construction thus remains to be verified. In addition, territorial and ethnic or racial identifications may interact, since the feeling of belonging to a territory has particular weight for members of ethnic minorities. Territories with a high proportion of ethnic minorities would thus be viewed as “ethnicized” or “racialized”.

13Generally in the field of ATP, no conceptualization or theoretic framing of “the effect of ethnicity” has really been proposed. [29] However, studies indicate that racial and territorial belongings are salient, and are not independent from the perception of the police in underprivileged urban areas.

Ethnographic studies in the banlieue housing estates: police and the identification process

14In France, the study of ATP remains undeveloped. Some books on the housing estates in the banlieues[30] show that the police are subject to rejection that is mostly connected to the denunciation of police racism. [31] Thus, suburban minorities seem to feel that they are especially targeted as members of a racial or ethnic group. But these studies also give an overview of a way of thinking that cannot be understood in terms of racial discrimination: in these deprived neighborhoods, the police tend to be perceived as an adversary in opposition to the banlieues or youth “gangs” (groups of youths who may be involved in petty crime or criminal activities but cannot be directly compared to US gangs). [32] And while Didier Fassin denounces the racism that presides over some of the Anti-Crime Brigade’s (BAC) activities in the banlieues, he also shows how inhabitants of these zones are subject, as such, to suspicion that leads to a specific procedure. [33] Didier Lapeyronnie even argues that sometimes “belonging to a neighborhood is interpreted as the key reason for police harassment”. [34]

15Some of these studies conclude by wondering about the very possibility of a phenomenon of shared identification in deprived neighborhoods. According to Loïc Wacquant, banlieue housing estates are especially affected by anomie and mutual mistrust. [35] Territory represents a negative reference [36] that does not lead to any identification. The inhabitants of these neighborhoods would also not claim to have an ethnic identity. In this view, disadvantaged neighborhoods in the French banlieues are not ghettos: [37] the ethnic dimension, as the key for understanding the challenges related to housing estates, is not relevant. This analysis is consistent with that of other authors, for whom the characteristic phenomena of housing estates, for example, riots, must be understood in socio-economic terms. [38] In contrast to this perspective, several studies affirm the ethnic dimension of suburban housing estates, which are then compared to ghettos. [39] References to a “sub-culture”, [40] or “counter-world”, emphasising the centrality of “cultural, ethnic, and racial questions”, [41] provide a glimpse of the possibility of shared identification processes. Books on suburban housing estates indicate, however, that there are divisions within minorities, between North Africans and Blacks from sub-Saharan Africa. [42] A division also contrasts adults and youth, especially those who spend time on “the streets” and are deemed responsible for various disturbances.

16The literature thus opens up several questions: in the French banlieues, are the police viewed based on generally shared patterns of representation? Do these patterns refer to the idea of racism, or rather, to the idea of an organization that targets the banlieues? In these zones does the relationship with the police lead to phenomena of identification that may, especially, transcend the distance between youth and adults?

Research strategy: the interest of focus groups

17We want to test the idea that attitudes in the French banlieues are formed based on an opposition between the police and banlieue minorities as a collective. The role of territory would thus seem to be key. It is seen as a referent of identity, which interacts with another referent, race. Minorities from the banlieues feel stigmatized, which conditions their relationship with the police. The relationship is viewed on the basis of a collective belonging, since the members of the grouping react to the idea that this grouping is subject to an “attack” or is in any case “targeted” by the police. Here, individual phenomena – the personal relationship with police officers or racism as such – independent of the territorial dimension, are not the main issue. A supplementary hypothesis supposes that the conflict that opposes the police to these minorities has, in turn, effects on social identity.

18To test our hypotheses, we conducted six focus groups in July 2009 in La Villeneuve, a suburban area or banlieue, and in “downtown Grenoble” (the more affluent city center). We thus sought to understand collective ways of thinking in situ, in a more in-depth way than simply via a series of individual interviews. Focus groups were composed of either young people or adults. For this article, we draw on the four focus groups from La Villeneuve: two were composed of members of ethnic minorities (youth in one, adults in the other), and the other two comprised members of the majority (that is, Whites). The final two groups were composed of adult inhabitants of downtown Grenoble, members of minorities in one and members of the ethnic majority in the other. The two groups composed of ethnic minorities living in La Villeneuve are at the center of our analysis, which focused on clarifying the link between perception of the police and identity phenomena, and understanding how these phenomena use the neighborhood as a referent, which may interact with the ethnic dimension. Due to limitations of space, the results from the two other groups (Whites living in La Villeneuve) are presented in summary form.

19La Villeneuve, a neighborhood in Grenoble’s southern banlieue, is a large complex built in successive waves during the 1960s. Its sophisticated urbanism that distinguished it from towers and high-rise buildings was initially thought of as a social laboratory, a place with a social mix, as opposed to dormitory towns (it has been famous as a social, political and urbanistic experience since the 1970s). It has many services, a large mall, and is well connected to the city center by mass transit. However, for various reasons, it was not attractive for very long, the population decreased, and the neighborhood became impoverished. [43] Classified as a Sensitive Urban Zone (ZUS, an administrative category for the most deprived zones which become the target of specific programmes), the Village Olympique-La Villeneuve neighborhood had around 15,500 people in 2009. It is known as a site of confrontation with the police, especially during the riots of 2005 that spread across France. With regard to police operations, a local neighborhood unit [unité territorialisée de quartier (UTEQ)] was created there in 2008 following an injunction by the minister of the Interior, Michèle Alliot-Marie: the particular mission of these units is to really get to know the neighborhood in which it regularly operates. The riots in summer 2010 and the “Grenoble speech” by the Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy at that time [44] occurred after our research.

20The use of focus groups does not target a particular statistical representation or the “saturation” effect that characterizes the individual interview method (based on a certain number of interviews, the same “frames” repeat). It involves bringing to light collective dynamics in the construction and sharing of meaning, in an approach that seeks to be exploratory. For the strategy behind the formation of the groups, their composition, and the way they were moderated, please refer to the methodological appendix.

The analysis of focus groups: the collective construction of an image of the police

21We want to know whether or not territorial identity interacts with ethnic identity: do the Whites of the French banlieues identify themselves with the territory, or is territorial identity valid mainly for members of ethnic minorities? Is territory, or the grouping it designates, thus perceived implicitly as ethnic, that is, participating in an ethno-territorial identity? According to this hypothesis, Whites and members of minorities in the La Villeneuve neighborhood should not construct their image of the police in the same way and should thus not share a common image of this institution.

22We first compare the modes of identification that are salient within youth groups and adult members of ethnic minorities. We then study their view of the police: in each group, does it refer to common patterns of perception and is it related to claimed identities or identities participants refer to implicitly?

Modes of identification by suburban minorities

Youth in the banlieue: is the neighborhood the meeting point for ethnic minorities?

23In response to the opening question, “Can you talk to me about life in Grenoble generally?” youth belonging to the minorities from La Villeneuve reacted, significantly, by speaking not about Grenoble, but about their neighborhood: they considered that in La Villeneuve, “there are all kinds”, “we are all mixed up”. This immediate attachment to a “we” (“we are all”) shows, at the outset, the strength of the identity “inhabitants of La Villeneuve”. Diversity (“there are all kinds”) is right away included in a “we”, a collective identity. Throughout the discussion, the participants constantly mentioned this same “we”, a marker of a feeling of shared belonging. Later, however, one participant, Walid, indicated that there nonetheless existed in the neighborhood an “Arab” (North African) community and a Black community: they might enter into conflict if there was “some trouble” (dispute) between an “Arab” and a Black, each person benefiting from community solidarity. Here, we see the idea of ethnic divisions within the banlieues. Clément confirmed that in the case of “trouble”, he might benefit from solidarity “as an Arab”. But Yassin put these claims into perspective: collective conflicts mainly oppose interethnic “gangs” from different neighborhoods. This statement, which reaffirms the primacy of the neighborhood identity, was collectively agreed to during the discussion: for young people, ethnic divisions seemed easily overcome in favor of territorial identifications.

24Thus, possible conflicts between “Blacks” or “Arabs”, which were not immediately spoken of and only came up later in the discussion, were mentioned only as one-time possibilities. In addition, participants made no mention of “we the Blacks” or “we the Arabs”. There were, however, several occurrences of a collective subject, that is, a common grouping bringing together these two groups. Thus, for example, Walid said that “the Blacks and the Arabs have to fight more than others to find work”.

25Later in the discussion, in response to the direct question by the moderator, “How do you define yourselves?”, Nejib responded that they lived as “inhabitants of the neighborhood”. The other participants agreed (“There you go!”), except for Yassin who said nothing, then affirmed: “We don’t define ourselves in relation to our neighborhood… [pause] The definition of ourselves… It’s more than that.” But Yassin, who said nothing more about it, did not offer a competing identification to the neighborhood. His comment seems to us to express not a questioning of the collective “neighborhood” identity, but rather some reticence at defining himself only (“the definition of ourselves”) according to territory. But the subject of his sentence, “we don’t define ourselves”, paradoxically reaffirms the relevance of the neighborhood as a marker of collective identification. At another point, a member of the group was talking about the “riffraffers” [“racailleux”] – a derivative of “riffraff” [“racaille”] – who were being distinguished from other young people in the neighborhood. However, the existence of “riffraff” was not brought up spontaneously, but after viewing a short video, [45] in order to qualify a film character. While those being surveyed were very ready to answer the moderator’s questions, they were not particularly motivated by the subject of “riffraff”. In the end, the discussion did not reveal any challenge or real competition to the “members of the neighborhood” collective identity, which seemed to transcend more specific belongings.

26The identification of these young people with the “neighborhood” is even more striking since they absolutely did not see themselves remaining in La Villeneuve in the future: the idea that they might be living there in the future seemed so absurd that, when the moderator mentioned it, they reacted with laughter. They strongly affirmed their desire to “succeed” through their studies, a project they believed they were in the process of achieving and which would lead them to leave La Villeneuve. More than others then, they had the means as well as reasons to distance themselves from the neighborhood. The fact that they nonetheless identified with it in a territorial mode demonstrates the strength of the reference to the neighborhood among youth in housing estates – much more than those that live in “the street” or belong to gangs.

Adults: the absent neighbourhood

27In response to the opening question on “life in Grenoble”, contrary to the youth, the adults did not use “we” to reflect a feeling of common belonging. They reacted by mentioning, variously, the city as a whole, the neighborhood of La Villeneuve, or “deprived neighborhoods” in general, in Grenoble or France.

28And the discussion never remained limited for very long to the neighborhood of La Villeneuve. In this regard, after La Villeneuve was brought up, Ema mentioned “contacts and enriching activities in Grenoble”, and thought that “Grenoble has evolved”. Sidoine, for his part, referred repeatedly to “deprived neighborhoods”. He recalled that the problems found in La Villeneuve were not unique to this neighborhood, but were part of a larger context: “If they [the politicians] were to put projects, for ZEP [Priority education zone] and ZUS [Sensitive urban zone], in the neighborhoods of the city, because La Villeneuve is not the only one…” And when the researcher asked whether there were problems specific to the La Villeneuve neighborhood, he answered: “In all of France, in all the sensitive neighborhoods there is a lot of unemployment […], an above-average level of problems in those areas.” Even though he ends up mentioning La Villeneuve, it is to include it in all of Grenoble’s deprived neighborhoods: “Especially La Villeneuve, Mistral, Teisseire.”

29These statements reveal three modes of distinction between “us/them” that transcend or fragment the neighborhood entity. First, participants spoke of the responsibility (concerning the problems of the “neighborhoods”) of “the politicians who could no doubt do more” (Noel). The other participants took up this statement, but did not contrast “the politicians” with the members of the neighborhood. They distinguished them more globally from the people in general: “They don’t listen to the population” (Sidoine), “we the population” (Ema). And when the moderator asked, “By ‘we the population’, do you mean the people from the neighborhood or from the entire city?”, Ema clearly specified that, “No, it’s everyone.” Up to this point, we saw no sign of identification with La Villeneuve. Thus, when the moderator asked if there were “more neglected areas”, Ema simply answered, “Yes, areas called ‘sensitive’.”

30Furthermore, generational differences within the neighborhood seem to be formative. When the moderator asked what were “the negative points of La Villeneuve”, Ema mentioned crime, which he immediately associated with “the youth” of the neighborhood: “It’s due to a certain idleness among the youth.” The generational specificity concerning crime was highlighted. Ema affirmed, “I don’t excuse young people or anyone who sets fires […] [46]. That is very bothersome […]. For me, the most bothersome [is] when the population is held hostage either by the politicians, or by the oppressed class.” Shortly after, when the participants returned to the problems in La Villeneuve, Ema spoke very explicitly of “a generational conflict as well. There are several generations. Very often the connection is not made. For us, our associative role is to form a bridge.” No one in the group argued with this point, and Noel asked, “Isn’t it because, in the end, there is no more communication between the generations?” In relation to the question of crime in La Villeneuve, the participants therefore spoke of a group of common belonging, the adult population of the neighborhood, in contrast to the youth. But this group was not subject to any affective or identity investment: during the discussion, it never provoked the mentioning of a “we” that would reflect attachment.

31In addition, the adult members confirmed the existence of ethnic divisions within the neighborhood. According to Noel, La Villeneuve is a place that is “multicultural but not intercultural. There are no interactions between people. Each group has its set place depending on its origin.” In response to the moderator’s question, “Why isn’t it intercultural?”, Ema agreed and confirmed, “Today if I meet Sidoine, I don’t dare say hello”, implying that Blacks, like himself, and North Africans, like Sidoine, tend to avoid each other. Noel confirmed this and lamented “that a barrier is developing. Distance has been created, people no longer communicate.” To this Sidoine added, “Intercultural exchange is rare.” Finally, the participants mostly spoke of the neighborhood negatively: “La Villeneuve is not the calmest part of the city. In La Villeneuve it is less safe, there is noise from the motorcycles... A gym was burned” (Noel). All the participants spoke of “the less safe aspect” (Ema) of the La Villeneuve neighborhood, or the fact that “now people do what they want, how they want” (Sidoine).

32In total opposition with the youth group, the adults thus depicted a neighborhood divided by ethnic and generational tensions, and affected by anomie and crime. And the divisions that ran through the neighborhood did not constitute groups of belonging: while the youth were contrasted with the adults, there was no “we, adult members of the neighborhood” that appeared. The neighborhood was always held at a distance, with the participants positioning themselves as observer, as if external to the place in which they live, speaking, for example, of “the existence of tensions” just as a sociologist might, without showing that they were personally involved.

33At first view, these results seem to refute the hypothesis of an ethno-territorial mode of identification in suburban housing estates, among both adults and youth. But is identification with the neighborhood really excluded? It remains to be seen if the relationship with the police, as it is taken up during the discussions, can make a difference.

The police as enemy of the banlieues

34Do the identity referents that appeared at the beginning of the discussion remain salient when participants take up the theme of the police?

Youth: the police as enemy of the neighbourhood

35When the moderator introduced the theme of the police – “If I say to you, ‘Police’, what comes to mind?” – Walle spontaneously responded “neighborhoods”: “Me, I think ‘neighbourhoods’ directly.” “Which means?”, continued the moderator – “The police and the neighborhoods, it’s the same old song.” Throughout the discussion, the police were exclusively viewed in relation to “the neighborhoods” and their inhabitants. And the statements made were immediately critical: “In the neighborhoods, the police are looking for shit for nothing. People are doing nothing wrong in the neighborhoods.” These words began to clarify the way in which the police are seen in relation with the territory. Thus, Walle did not mention, as he did at the beginning of the discussion, “the neighborhood”, that is La Villeneuve. He only said, “Neighborhood(s)”, that is, probably “the neighborhoods”, plural, or “neighborhood” as a generic term to refer to all of them. What followed confirmed that Walle was not just speaking about La Villeneuve, but about all banlieues: “In the neighborhoods, the police.” The discussion then took up the subject of “the police” in its relationship with “neighborhoods” in general, as seen in the following extracts, where the young people illustrated what they were talking about by referring to Argenteuil [French city near Paris]. And even though the participants referred constantly to “the neighborhoods”, they did not often mention police officers, but rather “the police”.

36The police were thus viewed in a “police-neighborhoods” dialectic, where it is less a matter of individuals being at issue – police officers, inhabitants – than collective entities. And what brings these two groups together – police, neighborhoods – is a conflict situation in which the police are referred to implicitly, but unambiguously, as the source of the problems. Thus, at the outset Walle confirms: “In the neighborhoods, the police are looking for shit for nothing.” Here, the police organization is not presented nor criticized in its policing role, even though it is viewed critically, nor is it denounced as being repressive, violent, or unfair: it is viewed primarily as provocative. The idea that it “is looking for shit” seems to refer to a latent conflict that it is trying to stir up, seeking, it seems, a confrontation that it cannot provoke too directly.

37The other members of the group confirm this image of the police as provocative. Thus, Nejib thinks that “sometimes, the police arrive in the neighborhoods and tense up, they get annoyed and launch insults”. Reda, for his part, explained that lately, police officers have begun patrolling in La Villeneuve, even though “there is nothing happening in the neighborhood”. It was the willingness to provoke that, here again, was given as a motive for police behavior: “They know that we take that as a provocation. They know it very well. Why do they walk around La Villeneuve, with their pistols, in front of the youth?” The symbol of the police officer’s function, the weapon, is perceived as one of animosity. The assertion is clear: the police have no place in the neighborhood. If they go there, it is out of a desire to provoke the inhabitants, to stir up a conflict. Here, the neighborhood is seen as a territory or place: not as a simple space, but in connection to the group that occupies it, which defines itself through the territory to which it belongs. The police force is thus not criticized as a state institution failing in its duties, or for the fact that police officers are apparently committing abuses individually: it is, in any case – the premise is never discussed – an enemy, criticized for stoking a conflict, concerning which it knows the rules. Compared to the beginning of the discussion, the theme of the police creates a shift: it is perceived through its identification with the banlieues in general, rather than the specific neighborhood of La Villeneuve. Participants point to many behaviors, police provocations and the expression (only once) of ethnic prejudice, but they are always subsumed by a more global relationship with the police. Under the pretext of its official function, it is working to undermine in the housing estates: it is patrolling even though “there is nothing going on” or “people are doing nothing wrong”. In all cases, we note that the participants are referring to a grouping or identity that is defined based on the territory.

The adults: the police prompt a social identity

38To the extent that the adult participants contrast the young generation with the rest of the population in connection with crime and do not seem necessarily to identify themselves in relation to the neighborhood, we wonder if they perceive the police through the lens of a territorial identity, or whether speaking of the police would instead refocus their attention on the issue of youth crime.

39After the moderator directed the debate to the theme of the police, the participants no longer distanced themselves from the neighbourhood, nor did they talk in generalities (by speaking of a larger context or of politics, for example). On the contrary, throughout the discussion, the participants spoke primarily of police action within La Villeneuve. Sidoine said that officers, “when they ask questions, they are aggressive”, and Noel related an experience where police officers questioned him by mistake, taking him for someone else, before a witness came to help him. Far from expressing some solidarity with the police force against young offenders, the adults spoke of its failures.

40The statements appeared to be exclusively critical, emphasizing first, officers’ misconduct, their aggressive way of speaking to people: “It is especially the way they come to question people. When they ask questions, they are aggressive. When they approach you, you have the impression of being considered as the one who’s guilty”, said Noel. Sidoine summarized the general feeling of the inhabitants: “You see them little, very little, when they should be here. And when you do see them, you see them too much.” Later, he said, “There was an intervention, I was with my little girl and now she is afraid of the police.” He spoke of “three cars, four motorcycles”, or a deployment of force he felt was disproportionate to the purpose, the “simple” arrest of a young person from the neighborhood. Thus, Sidoine considered that “an intervention, now it is there to create fear and apply pressure. It even scares someone who has nothing to worry about. It’s very bad advertising, you are afraid of being taken in for forty-eight hours by mistake, because that’s happened. Now that the stories are being told, whether it’s true or not… When I see the police, I have fear in my belly.” All agreed, and Noel mentioned the general feeling of “terror”, because “when they see the police, people think they will be confronted, accused or falsely arrested. A person can be arrested without really….” Later, he added, “Yes, it’s clear, you have a certain fear, an apprehension, you can be confused with a criminal.” Ema repeated that for him, “the feeling is really general”. This expression of fear of the police is even more striking since it comes from survey takers whose age, appearance, or general attitude give the impression of father of the family with “no issues” rather than a thug from the suburbs.

41The excerpts quoted also reveal a shift in language. While previously participants put the neighborhood at a distance, once the discussion turned to law enforcement, “we” appeared repeatedly (“we are afraid of being…”, “when we see them we see them too much”). Thus, in answer to the question by the moderator, “What do people from La Villeneuve say about the police?”, Sidoine responded based on a shared identification, including himself right away among the “people from La Villeneuve”: “we hardly see them […]”. In the relationship with the police a “we” is thus constructed with the territory of the neighborhood as the referent. At the same time, gradually a collective entity, “police”, is also defined: the participants were suggesting that the police were not only abusing their power, but that this abuse was deliberate and that the fear caused was the goal. As in the youth group, a picture thus emerged of a police force that does not intervene in the neighborhood as it would elsewhere: it seems to direct itself toward the collectivity “neighborhood”, upon which it wants to “put pressure”. The police appear here as the enemy of the estates, trying to impose their domination. This image crystallized in the rest of the discussion. Ema reported on an experience with the police in La Villeneuve. Even though he said hello to the police officers and politely asked, “So you are coming to pay us a little visit?”, they curtly replied, “What are you doing here?” “Why this attitude of immediately being authoritarian? We want to shake their hands but their attitude makes us react negatively”, he continues. But he said in particular, “The question is, what are you doing here. Here, this is our place.” The relationship with the police here clearly evokes territorial identification, even though until that point the territory was a negative reference. As in the youth group, the neighborhood establishes belonging. It also appears, implicitly, as the “property” of the group that occupies it: the police presence is not fully legitimate there, the police officers not being “in their place”. Ema reaffirmed this: “People say: you can go make yourselves seen elsewhere, here, we are in our place, we don’t want your presence here.” He explained that with the members of his association, they “spoke with the local public authorities: we’re sick of it in the neighborhood. Police officers should only intervene when asked and when there’s a problem.” All agreed.

42If police officers are not legitimate in the neighborhood, it is because the police is perceived as an enemy of the estates. The mention of its goals (“create fear”, “put pressure”) revealed this. Noel then clearly affirmed it: there is “a situation of rejection, because the police is now a matter of opponents”. Ema continues, “They come like masters and rivals who impose themselves.” When the police embody the enemy, they create an identification with the neighborhood that responds to the way it is regarded. This is why Ema, who himself connected youth to the theme of crime, could say, “The police have a poor image of the youth of the neighborhood.” The identity boundaries have shifted: the youth of the neighborhood now belong to the “we”. Territorial identification comes into effect in the relationship to the police force.

43The first exchanges confirmed the existence of a generational gap in La Villeneuve. Depending on the generation, the modes of identification seem at first to be different. But concerning the representation of the police, the adults and youth make use of the same reference to the territory and the grouping it designates.

The adults of the majority and the police

44We also need to ask whether this identity is defined solely based on the territory or whether it also has an ethnic dimension, as we hypothesized. Here, we use the results drawn from the two groups of Whites living in La Villeneuve, which makes it possible to consolidate the analysis. The main conclusion is that the members of these groups, on the one hand, never referred to a “we, inhabitants of the neighborhood” and, on the other hand, did not in principle reject the police. The police were viewed especially through the lens of youth violence from ethnic minorities and defense against assault. From this point of view, the police force was considered to be an ally.

45Thus, the police, as an institution, was never subject to criticism with regards to its modes of operation, or to the climate it creates or its missions. Some participants recognized that there were sometimes “abuses”, but without particular reference to the behavior of police officers in their own neighborhood or in the estates. In addition, they agreed in saying that these abuses were rare, or represented isolated incidents, undermining the behavior of certain officers, but not the police as a whole. A statement in the group of adults summed up the general feeling pretty well: “They are isolated incidents in particular circumstances.” All agreed to this, with one participant adding “that there are stupid people everywhere” (another mentioned “black sheep”). And the participants did not say much about these “abuses”, and instead justified much more the aggressiveness of some police officers in the French suburb estates: “Young people are sometimes also aggressive towards them, I have to say”, “Cops are people”, “They are just people”. The feelings towards the police therefore sharply contrasted with those expressed by members of ethnic minorities living in the same neighborhood.

46The white participants lived there only as inhabitants of the neighborhood, not as members of the grouping it designates. While they did not define themselves as an ethnic group, they specified that their life took place essentially outside of the neighborhood. From this point of view, they are a separate population, which does not perceive itself and is not perceived as representative of the housing estate. One of the members of the group reported that in going to pick up his children at the La Villeneuve day-care center, some youths asked him what he was doing there, adding that he “is not in his place”.

47At the same time, and significantly, the participants of the groups made up of La Villeneuve minorities never talked about the white inhabitants, even when they spoke of ethnic diversity, as if the members of the ethnic majority did not really belong to the neighborhood. In this way, the “we, members of the neighborhood” implicitly refers to ethnic minorities. This appeared more clearly when an adult participant asked, “How do you expect us to feel French?” As Camille Hamidi has already noted, for some inhabitants of underprivileged urban zones, the “territorial dimension has an ethnic signification”, even though “unlike the territorial dimension, the ethnic dimension is not necessarily mentioned spontaneously”. [47] Thus, from the point of view of suburban minorities, ethnic and territorial identities are not opposites but are combined within the same grouping, experienced as “ethno-territorial”. This does not mean, however, that ethnic and territorial identities are equivalent, with the territory just representing a euphemism or indirect way of speaking about race. Rather, it involves ethnic minorities that belong to a specific territory: minorities that live “downtown” are not part of this grouping. The interviewees clearly made this distinction and themselves mentioned the ethnic group in a larger sense when it seemed relevant to them. Thus, in the youth group, concerning discrimination at work, participants spoke of “the Blacks and the Arabs”. But concerning the police, they did not use this term: the police treatment they denounced did not concern the ethnic group in a larger sense, but involved a more limited, ethno-territorial group. This is also the reason why the relations between suburban neighborhoods and the police are not interpreted in terms of racism, a notion that would include all the members of ethnic minorities, outside of the banlieue. Reda’s words, “A police officer apparently said a young person was from a filthy race’”, caused very little reaction, because it is not a matter of race in a larger sense. In the same way, when the moderator asked if “police officers are racist”, the adult members of the ethnic groups were not convinced and did not find the notion was pertinent in accounting for officer abuses. Also, these participants never mentioned race-based checks: the examples given concerning police behavior deemed to be illegitimate always made reference to the neighborhood, rather than being race-based or related to ethnic belonging generally.

48The police are thus seen through the lens of a specifically ethno-territorial mode of identification. We now want to attempt to specify the way in which the police contribute to the construction of this specific ethnic identity, one that is based both on race and territory.

Police and identity construction: the police as identity marker

49Do the exchanges that took place within the focus groups present elements that would allow us to understand how the formation of a specific, ethno-territorial identity is based on the relationship with the police? Here again, we can observe a distinction between the points of view expressed in the youth group and the group of adults.

The youth group: hostility towards the police as “cultural transmission”

50In the discussion, what are the reasons youth give for their rejection of the police? First, we can see that the statements almost never refer to interactions they experienced. This is not particularly surprising given the profile of the participants: even though police checks broadly affect minorities and not necessarily based on their behavior, those most involved in crime have more contacts with police officers. [48] Clément (who perceives himself as “Arab”) reported a single experience of a police check: “I was stopped and with me, they were cool” (the police officers found some cannabis on a friend who was with him and they simply confiscated it). While his experience with the police was positive, he nonetheless added, “I’ve also heard other versions”, again emphasizing the importance of reported stories, which provide a counterweight to his own experience. The other participants had never experienced a police check. But Nejib also related indirect experiences: in La Villeneuve, “a police officer apparently said a young person was from a filthy race”. And Yassin explained: “It is the neighbors who talk with the mother on the stairs”, thereby emphasizing the importance of “stories” told in the neighborhood.

51Is the representation of the police constructed based on these stories? This seems doubtful: they did not really motivate the participants, who did not dwell on the subject, and it should be noted that Nejib used the conditional tense in French (“a police officer apparently”), indicating a critical distance. When the moderator asked about the plausibility of the stories told, he received an ambiguous response: of course not everything is true, but “what we hear about is not necessarily exaggerated either”. Several times, with regard to things heard and taken to be probably true, the participants also specified that “this was not our experience”. While the stories circulating were plausible and must be listened to, the participants clearly took some distance from them and never said that they were the basis for their view of the police. Walid spoke of “what we see on television”, but did not dwell on it. He also spoke of rap, considering that the texts concerning the police, stories or facts mentioned “certainly existed […]. It has to come from experience. I don’t think they invented it.” But here Walid was wondering aloud. He did not seem really convinced, and his statements were not echoed in the group.

52In fact, the participants, who were nonetheless well able to argue for or rationalize their positions, struggled to justify their feeling towards the police. Concerning the rejection of the police by La Villeneuve inhabitants, Yassin said that he “doesn’t understand it”. Walid had announced very early in the conversation, “The police and the neighborhoods, it’s the same old story.” The representation of the police thus referred to a certain story that was somewhat old and could not be reduced to current anecdotes reported in the neighborhood. But Walid, while he took part in this conversation about the relations between the estates and the police, was not familiar with the history. It seems then that an attitude toward the police had been perpetuated through diffuse forms of un-attributable transmission. Concerning radical criticisms of the police, Yassin said, “We’ve always heard that”, as if the hostility had saturated them without them knowing exactly how, almost in spite of themselves, or without their active participation. Here, the participants made no mention of direct or even indirect experience of the police, and no reported stories which may have led to an opinion. Only an idea of the institution which is said and repeated. Reda, the participant most hostile towards police officers and who said he was filled with “hate” and many times presented reasoned critiques, expressed this very clearly: “In us, there is always hate – and I mean hate – towards police officers, I don’t know why.” Thus he believed that in the end, in spite of anything he might say, know, or rationalize, he did not know why he hated the police. Thus, participants gave the impression of not knowing the basis of their rejection of the police. What the discussion reveals – for us, but for them as well – is that the reason for their negative view of the institution, the source of their hostility, seems to have been lost and remains so.

53These statements thus show the existence of localized phenomena of “cultural transmission”, or ones that involve “sub-cultures” specific to the banlieues. Representations formed within a group, in a particular historical context, are being passed on even though their origin may have been forgotten. This does not mean that an image of the police is received passively or even for no reason. [49] No doubt, for hostility to be passed on, it must remain “relevant” to a certain degree. In the case of the young participants, the reported experiences and behavior of police officers during “raids” in the neighborhood show that this hostility can be based on real, often indirect experiences. Nevertheless, the view of the police and the hostility directed towards them seems to be primarily inherited and collectively transmitted rather than based on personal experience or opinion (“us, we never experienced anything special”; “we’ve always heard that”).

54And the participants did speak about the way that the transmission of the image of the police takes place. It is passed on, generally, by the talk of the “big brothers”, “the older ones”, or “the big guys”, who belong to the previous generation. They are “around thirty years old”, with a past in crime (they have “done things”, most notably hold-ups) and are listened to – or at least heard – by the neighborhood youth, over whom they exercise some influence. Thus, even the members of the group who were not in a “gang” or spent time on “the streets”, could say that they had “always heard that”: a certain line from the “big guys”. “It’s what the big brothers say. We experienced nothing special”, affirmed Walle. The participants recognized the influence this talk has had on them, even if they do not support the view of “the big guys”. [50]

55A historic and ongoing conflict between the police and the banlieues forms the background (of which people are more or less conscious) that gives meaning to the series of representations concerning the police, and that establishes its image. Participants are thus able to bear witness to hostility toward the police without exactly knowing why, while also having, in spite of this, an obvious reason they are unable to articulate: one mistrusts one’s enemy. Knowing that one has, as a member of a group, an enemy justifies the hostility, without needing any further reason or needing to know the precise history or causes of the conflict inherited (“I really mean hate, without knowing why”). The systems of enmity between families, clans, or larger groupings are clearly inherited.

56In this way, in a very general way among the youth of the neighborhood – beyond those who are on “the streets” and deal the most with police officers – an image of the police or hostility towards the institution is passed on. As an enemy, the police appear to form the basis of a group of belonging, which can be defined based on the existence of an antagonism (the police are opposed to them). The relationship with the police sets the boundaries of the group: the ethno-territorial identity responds to the police identification – real or perceived – of a grouping defined by both race and territory, which sees itself subjected to a specific treatment. In this regard, law enforcement constitutes an agent in the ethnicization of suburban minorities, through the conflict felt within the space of the neighborhood.

Adult participants: the police gaze, a marker of otherness

57Contrary to the youth, the adults make no mention of socialization by “big brothers”, and we do not know whether or not this socialization happened. The adult participants, however, did express how the relationship with the police constantly causes them to be aware of an otherness, a difference from the rest of society. They therefore mention the “look” the police officers give them: “Whatever we do, the police officers scowl at us” (Ema), “In their eyes, we feel like we are always suspect” (Sidoine). Ema explained that they thought that as they aged, the gaze of the police officers would change, but that this has not been the case: “When they look at you, you always have the impression that they are criticizing us for something”, a statement that receives marked approval.

58Noel brought up the possibility that perhaps they were incorrectly interpreting the gaze directed towards them by the police (“Are we making things up, I don’t know…”). But this hypothesis, proposed without much conviction, was not echoed at all by the group, and Noel did not continue along this line. On the contrary, he said very clearly that “the police officers show us that we don’t belong to normal society”. Ema specified: “For them, people in the banlieues do not belong to the rest of society”, “Whatever we do, in their mind, we are always an inhabitant of La Villeneuve.” And towards the end of the interview, when the moderator asked the members of the group whether they felt French, Ema summed up everything in a single sentence: “How do you expect us to feel French when police officers scowl at you?” In this way, the relationship with the police contributes to the consciousness of an otherness, which refers to a “we, members of the neighborhood”, an ethno-territorial identity. In the group of adults, this identification only arises in relation to the police force, which thus appears to be the principal agent in this identity.

Discussion and conclusions: individual and collective approaches to the relationship with the police

59The statements made within the different groups clearly show the salience of shared attitudes toward the police, in connection with an identification with the neighborhood and minority group. We did not find these phenomena in the majority groups. We can thus clarify the connections between neighborhood, ethnicity, and age in the minority group. First, the ethnic dimension is rarely asserted directly and by itself. The adult minority participants speak less about a police force opposed to ethnic minorities in general and more about them targeting the neighborhood, with which they do not identify in principle. The young minorities identify themselves with the territory – even though we note that they have fewer reasons for this than the “riffraffers” – and this identification in principle supports the rejection of the police. The claimed territorial identity is implicitly based on an ethnic foundation and appears as a particular ethno-territorial identity, which combines belonging to a neighborhood and a minority ethnic group. The role played by the police in the formation of identity is different for the minority adults and youth. For the adults, mentioning the police activates a reference to the territory: it causes the neighborhood to exist as an identity marker, with which otherwise they would not identify. For the youth, the view of the police is more a part of the continuity of their strong identification with the neighborhood. Here, the police are viewed as an established enemy, passed on by the collective memory of the neighborhood.

60Our results reflect those of – often qualitative – studies that have suggested there exists a collective population-police tension in the suburb estates, while adding some specific elements. For our participants, attitudes toward the police result from a collective phenomenon: the perception of a conflict based on which the minorities from La Villeneuve, as a grouping, constitute themselves as enemies of the police. We thus suggest that the idea of an organization that is hostile to the estates is passed on within the group and across generations. David Harding, drawing on an analysis of interviews in Boston, also isolated an effect based on context and argues that it is the product of the socialization of older peers. [51] This “cultural transmission” phenomenon is different from current explanations for the rejection of the police in the field of ATP, which mainly demonstrate the role of encounters with police officers. The few studies that have looked at the effect of the neighborhood have interpreted it mostly in terms of socio-economic characteristics or spoken of a “climate of mistrust”. They have not asked how, in some underprivileged urban neighborhoods, the relationship of minorities with the police can partly be understood based on a history of hostile relations passed on by memory.

61We therefore suggest that there are, generally in French housing estates, collective patterns in the perception of the police. The results from the four focus groups seem clear and consistent. But they also have various limitations and need to be confirmed through systematic studies. Even if the demographic and socio-economic phenomena comparable to what was observed in La Villeneuve are well known at the level of underprivileged neighborhoods in French cities, our observations remain local. They would need to be consolidated by replicating focus groups in other French or European cities. A second limitation is due to the fact that our focus groups only involve a small number of people each time, as is the rule with this kind of approach. They allow for isolating discursive mechanisms and shared representations, or discrepancies, but they do not allow for determining how extensive these may be. We should add that the space given to negative experiences with police officers would no doubt be more significant for young people with a higher criminal profile. Focus groups with Flemish adolescents have in this regard shown the importance of earlier contacts, as well as the neighborhood of residence, for 13 to 19-year-olds. [52] Finally, the results only concern France, and neighboring countries have institutionalized other ways of relating ethnic minorities, the police, and the state. Thus, the comparisons of attitudes towards the police of adolescents belonging to minorities in France and Germany reveal certain differences, with tensions being much more limited in Germany, which suggests the existence of a national context effect. [53] This important point cannot be addressed with our data and we do not have space to develop the theory in this article.

62In spite of these limitations, by beginning from the collective dimension of representations of the police, it becomes possible to include, in a broader perspective, social psychology approaches that dominate the academic field of ATP today, and for which bad experiences with officers generally condition the negative perception of the police. Within the ongoing studies on procedural justice, many have measured the attribution of qualities or faults to the police (being impartial, etc.) in sample surveys, independent of any experienced interactions, and argued that these can explain ATP. [54] The collective and contextual creation of these opinions is thus set aside, since the attitudes of people are explained by other attitudes (believing that the police generally respect “procedural justice”).

63In our focus groups, what counts (aside from individual experience) is what contributes to sharing the idea that the police, as an institution, maintains a conflict with suburban minorities, that is, mainly, from the point of view of young people, the talk of the older ones or the “big brothers”. Each member of the minorities from suburban housing estates can thus believe that he or she is caught up in a collective conflict, regardless of personal experience with police officers. While our results do not contradict the conclusions of existing studies (mainly Anglo-American), they tend to show that these studies may miss an important aspect of the minorities’ perception of the police. Several publications based on quantitative studies have also pointed out this limitation [55] and called for better accounting for context. Furthermore, European comparisons, from a neo-institutional perspective, show that the construction of identities can be affected by the national framework: the processes of identity construction and related tensions appear different in Germany and France. [56] An approach that takes into account the various territorial levels of the organization of social life and simultaneously the local and national context, as well as the role of the state, would further develop our hypotheses.

64Concerned with understanding ethnic identities contextually, studies have not paid enough attention to the role of the police. The relationship established between the police and minorities in suburban estates seems to represent an important aspect in the construction of ethnicity in the neighborhood studied, and no doubt elsewhere as well. Each time that the minorities in underprivileged urban neighborhoods interpret the action of the police as being part of a historic collective conflict, this action strengthens an ethno-territorial identity. In the literature on ATP, our results that indicate the importance of collective identities echo several recent studies. [57] Even though the police claim to be interested primarily in the safety of people and their property, they also fulfill a symbolic function. The practices by officers should thus be considered in terms of their effect on the construction of collective forms. Police practices by agents on the front lines could then, from this perspective, be added to the other elements already taken into account to understand the determinants of social cohesion within the context of the state, [58] such as the institutional framework and definition of citizenship, as well as public policies concerning the attribution of social rights. [59]

Appendix: Constituting and moderating the focus groups

65We constituted four groups of inhabitants from La Villeneuve: youth belonging to ethnic minorities, adults belonging to minorities, white youth and white adults (two groups were added, but which we do not refer to here, made up of minority adults and white adults from downtown). In so doing we focused on a potential generational division, on the one hand, and ethnic, on the other – two divisions brought out by the literature on the relationship between the population and the police. By constituting the groups in this homogeneous way, we wanted to know to what degree the view of the police, for each category, seems to be shared and whether this view differed by group. Homogeneity encouraged the trust of participants. [60] The population selected was entirely male, since men have, according to surveys, a greater tendency than women to reject the police. For the youth groups, we did not select any participant with a criminal profile or who was failing at school, a category for which the rejection of the police has been well documented and seems to be expected. These “unruly” or even criminal adolescents only represent a small fraction of youths above and below the age of majority living in suburban estates. [61] Youth who are “successful at school” or not part of a gang have fewer reasons in principle to reject the police: they make it possible to test the extent of the rejection of this institution, beyond the groups most involved in population/police conflicts. Within these relatively homogeneous groups, we looked for diversity in origin for the groups composed of minorities: they thus included participants of North African and sub-Saharan African origin (the most represented minority origins in La Villeneuve and France). We would suggest here that this criterion – which according to the literature on suburban estates in France refers to periodic tensions between ethnic minority groups – is not really divisive. Finally, we did not choose participants who had just moved to La Villeneuve, for whom the relationship with the neighborhood might still be uncertain.

66Concerning the Whites that live in La Villeneuve, the youth group was composed of three members who were 16 or 17 years old. All were going to school, planned to continue their studies and did not “hang out” in the neighborhood, where they have lived since childhood. The group of adults included eleven participants from 30 to a little over 50 years of age, who had been living in La Villeneuve for ten years or more. One member of the group lived in public housing and said he was obligated to live in the neighborhood, which was not the case of the other participants who choose to live there. The groups composed of ethnic minority young people and adults living in La Villeneuve included, respectively, five and three participants. The youth were all between 18 and 20 years old, the adults between 35 and 45. One of the members of the youth group was Black (Walid), and the others were of North African origin. One of them was going to take the French baccalaureate exam [high school exit exam] at the end of the year, the others were continuing their studies (IUT [technology university institute] or BTS [vocational training certificate]) and all had been successful in their academic career, expressing a desire for upward mobility. All had lived in the neighborhood since childhood. The group of adults was composed of three members, two of whom were Black and one from North Africa (Sidoine). Noel had been living in La Villeneuve for a few years, while the others had been there for more than ten years.

67The participants were recruited during July 2009, during peak hours (beginning of the evening) near the entryways to the neighborhood (an external organization was not used). The survey was presented as relating to “life in Grenoble”, a subject that served to launch discussions within the groups. The moderator followed up based on statements that could direct the discussion towards the subject of the police, without presenting any guidelines. He emphasized differences in points of view in the group, in order to know whether they could be ignored or appeared to be formative.


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    In the international quantitative literature concerning attitudes toward the police, or ATP, contact with police officers is a central focus. The image of the police seems to depend directly on what form these contacts take. As a further step in this approach, procedural justice seems to be decisive.
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    On the definition of ethnic identities: Abner Cohen (ed.), Urban Ethnicity (London: Tavistock, 1974); Lee Drummond, “The cultural continuum: a theory of intersystem”, Man, 16(4), 1980, 352-74; Philippe Poutignat and Jocelyne Streiff-Fenart (eds), Théories de l’ethnicité (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995).
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    Martina Avanza and Gilles Laferté, “Dépasser la construction des identités? Identification, image sociale, appartenance”, Genèse, 61, 2005, 134-52; Roger Brubaker, “Au-delà de ‘l’identité’”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 139, 2001, 66-85.
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    Fredrik Barth (ed.), Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference (Boston: Little, Brown, 1969), 117-118.
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    Henri Tajfel and John Turner, “The social identity theory of intergroup relations”, in Stephen Worchel and William Austin (eds), Psychology of Intergroup Relations (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1986), 7-24.
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    European project Eurojustis supported by the European Commission (FP7 No. 217311), directed by Mike Hough (United Kingdom) and Sebastian Roché in France. See
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    See however Astrid Dirikx, Dave Gelders and Stephan Parmentier, “Police-youth relationships: a qualitative analysis of Flemish adolescents’ attitudes toward the police”, European Journal of Criminology, 9, 2012, 191-205.
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    Ben Brown and Reed Benedict, “Perceptions of the police”, Policing, 25(3), 2002, 543-80; Decker Scott, “Citizen attitudes toward the police: a review of past findings and suggestions for future policy”, Journal of Police Science and Administration, 9, 1981, 543-80.
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    The conceptualization of race as an individual variable is part of the tradition of the quantitative study of ATP and methodological individualism. Overall, quantitative studies of ATP are not interested, for example, in collective mobilizations in the name of this identity, but ask rather how racial belonging, as an objectified variable, affects attitudes.
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    Yanhua Liu and John Crank, “Attitudes toward the police: a critique and recommendations”, Criminal Justice Studies, 23(2), 2010, 99-117.
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    Vincent Webb and Chris Marshall, “The relative importance of race and ethnicity on citizen attitudes toward the police”, American Journal of Police, 14(2), 1995, 45-66; in contrast, see Erin Holmes and Doug Goodman, “African-American and white perception of police services: the impact of diversity on citizens’ attitudes toward police services”, Journal of Public Management and Social Policy, 16(1), 2010, 3-18.
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    Guillaume Roux, Sebastian Roché and Sandrine Astor, “Final report based on the two french opinion polls. Minorities and trust in the criminal justice. French case study”, analysis of the French data from the European Eurojustis survey, 2011, available at, accessed 13 March 2016.
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    Alessandro Oliveira and Kristina Murphy, “Race, social identity, and perceptions of police bias”, Race and Justice, 5(3), 2015, 259-77.
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    See, for example, Stephen Rice and Alex Piquero, “Perceptions of discrimination and justice in New York City”, Policing. An International Journal of Police Strategy and Management, 28(1), 2005, 98-117; TeO team, coordinated by Cris Beauchemin, Christelle Hamel and Patrick Simon, Trajectoires et Origines. Enquête sur la diversité des populations en France: premiers résultats octobre 2010, Ined-Insee, 2010; and, for France, Roux et al., “Final report based on the two French opinion polls”.
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    Sutham Cheurprakobkit, “Police-citizen contact and police performance: attitudinal differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanics”, Journal of Criminal Justice, 28, 2000, 325-36.Online
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    Jérémie Gauthier, “Origines contrôlées. Police et minorités en France et en Allemagne”, Sociétés contemporaines, 1(97), 2015, 101-27; Fabien Jobard, René Levy, John Lamberth and Sophie Nevanen, “Mesurer les discriminations selon l’apparence: une analyse des contrôles d’identité à Paris”, Population, 67(3), 2012, 423-52; Clive Norris, Nigel Fielding, Charles Kemp and Jane Fielding, “Black and blue: an analysis of the influence of race on being stopped by the police”, The British Journal of Sociology, 43(2), 1992, 207-24.
  • [20]
    The most problematic interactions in terms of relationship with the public are those that it does not initiate: during a check, the police are viewed less favorably than if the contact originated with a request by individuals to officials (a point verified in the initial studies by David Bordua and Larry Tifft, “Citizen interview, organizational feedback, and police community relations decisions”, Law and Society Review, 6, 1971, 155-82).
  • [21]
    Lauren Mazerolle, Sarah Bennett, Jacqueline Davis, Elise Sargeant and Matthew Manning, Legitimacy in Policing. A Systematic Review, The Campbell Collaboration, Campbell Systematic Reviews, 2013; Tom Tyler, Why People Obey the Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
  • [22]
    John Reitzel and Alex Piquero, “Does it exist? Studying citizen’s attitudes of racial profiling”, Police Quarterly, 9(2), 2006, 161-83; Ronald Weitzer and Steven Tuch, “Racially biased policing: determinants of citizen perceptions”, Social Forces, 83, 2005, 1009-30.
  • [23]
    Jason Sunshine and Tom Tyler, “The role of procedural justice and legitimacy in shaping public support for policing”, Law & Society Review, 37(3), 2003, 513-48; Tom Tyler and Yuen Huo, Trust in the Law. Encouraging Public Cooperation with the Police and Courts (New York: Russel Sage, 2002).
  • [24]
    Roger Dunham and Geoffrey Alpert, “Neighborhood differences in attitudes toward policing: evidence for a mixed-strategy model for policing in a multi-ethnic setting”, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 79, 1988, 504-21; Herbert Jacob, “Black and white perceptions of justice in the city”, Law and Society Review, 6(1), 1971, 69-89; Michael Reisig and Roger Parks, “Experience, quality of life, and neighborhood context: a hierarchical analysis of satisfaction with police”, Justice Quarterly, 17(3), 2000, 607-30; Brown and Benedict, “Perceptions of the police.”
  • [25]
    Liqun Cao, James Frank and Francis Cullen, “Race, community context and confidence in the police”, American Journal of Police, 15, 1996, 3-22.
  • [26]
    David Harding, “Violence, older peers, and the socialization of adolescent boys in deprived neighborhoods”, American Sociological Review, 74(3), 2009, 445-64.
  • [27]
    Ben Bradford, “Policing and social identity: procedural justice, inclusion and cooperation between police and public”, Policing and Society, 24(1), 2014, 22-43.
  • [28]
    Matthew Millings, “Policing British Asian identities: the enduring role of the police in young British Asian men’s situated negotiation of identity and belonging”, British Journal of Criminology, 53(6), 2013, 1075-92.
  • [29]
    As shown in Cao et al., “Race, community context.”
  • [30]
    Here, we focused on studies that devote the most attention to population-police relations, as well as recent works. Several authors in fact emphasize the breadth of changes that have taken place in French banlieues recently: see especially Hugues Lagrange and Marco Oberti, Émeutes urbaines et protestation. Une singularité française (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2006).
  • [31]
    Manuel Boucher, Casquettes contre képis. Enquête sur la police de rue et l’usage de la force dans les quartiers populaires (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013), and Les internés du ghetto. Ethnographie des confrontations violentes dans une cité impopulaire (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2010); Didier Lapeyronnie, Ghetto urbain. Ségrégation, violence, pauvreté en France aujourd’hui (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2008; Éric Marliere, La France nous a lâchés. Le sentiment d’injustice chez les jeunes des cités (Paris: Fayard, 2008), and Jeunes en cité: diversité des trajectoires ou destin commun? (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005).
  • [32]
    Boucher, Les internés du ghetto; Lapeyronnie, Ghetto urbain; Marliere, La France nous a lâchés; Marwan Mohammed, La formation des bandes (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2011); Thomas Sauvadet, Le capital guerrier. Concurrence et solidarité entre jeunes de cité (Paris: Armand Colin, 2006).
  • [33]
    Didier Fassin, La force de l’ordre. Une anthropologie de la police des quartiers (Paris: Seuil, 2011).
  • [34]
    Lapeyronnie, Ghetto urbain.
  • [35]
    Loïc Wacquant, Parias urbains. Ghetto, banlieues, État (Paris: La Découverte, 2007).
  • [36]
    See also Cyprien Avenel, Sociologie des “quartiers sensibles” (Paris: Armand Colin, 2004).
  • [37]
    Jean-Marc Stébé and Hervé Marchal, Mythologie des cités-ghettos (Paris: Le Cavalier bleu, 2009).
  • [38]
    Stéphane Beaud and Michel Pialoux, Violences urbaines, violence sociale. Genèse des nouvelles classes dangereuses (Paris: Fayard/Pluriel, 2003).
  • [39]
    Boucher, Les internés du ghetto; Michel Kokoreff and Didier Lapeyronnie, Refaire la cité. L’avenir des banlieues (Paris: Seuil, 2013); Lapeyronnie, Ghetto urbain; and for an overview of the debate: Michel Kokoreff, “Ghettos et marginalité urbaine: lectures croisées de Didier Lapeyronnie et Loïc Wacquant”, Revue française de sociologie, 50(3), 2009, 553-72; Éric Maurin, Le ghetto français. Enquête sur le séparatisme social (Paris: Seuil, 2004).
  • [40]
    Boucher, Casquettes contre képis.
  • [41]
    Lapeyronnie, Ghetto urbain.
  • [42]
    Lapeyronnie, Ghetto urbain; Sauvadet, Le capital guerrier.
  • [43]
    See, at a date close to our study, Alain Berthelot, “Précarité dans l’agglomération de Grenoble: pas uniquement les zones urbaines sensibles”, La lettre analyse, 99, Insee, 2008, available at, consulted 15 May 2017.
  • [44]
    In this famous speech, the minister announced “a war against delinquents” and a harshening of the youth justice system and immigration policies, as well as the policies targeting Roma. He was accused of coming very close to the Front National.
  • [45]
    The members of each focus group viewed a clip from the film L’esquive (Adellatif Kechiche, 2003), in which a group of young boys and girls from a French banlieue are subjected to a particularly aggressive police check (a scene judged to be unrealistic, by each group).
  • [46]
    Refers to the recurrence of burning cars in the French banlieues, especially (but not only) during riots.
  • [47]
    Camille Hamidi, “Catégorisations ethniques ordinaires et rapport au politique: éléments sur le rapport au politique des jeunes des quartiers populaires”, Revue française de science politique, 60(4), 2010, 719-43 (725, 727).
  • [48]
    Sebastian Roché, La délinquance des jeunes. Les 13-19 ans racontent leur délits (Paris: Seuil, 2001).
  • [49]
    For an interpretation of cultural phenomena in terms of rationality, see Irving Lichbach and Alan Zuckerman (eds), Comparative Politics. Rationality, Culture and Structure (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • [50]
    Thus, concerning whether a member of the neighborhood who might become a police officer would be perceived as a traitor, they agree that “most of the guys would think so” – that is, “those who follow the older ones, the big guys” – but this was not the case for them.
  • [51]
    Harding, “Violence, older peers”.
  • [52]
    Dirikx et al., “Police-youth relationships”.
  • [53]
    Dietrich Oberwittler and Sebastian Roché, “Experiences, perceptions and attitudes: variations of police-adolescents relationships in French and German cities”, Criminology in Europe. Newsletter of the European Society of Criminology, 12(3), 2013, 4-10.
  • [54]
    See the summary on procedural justice and the police in Mazerolle et al., Legitimacy in policing.
  • [55]
    Kusow Abdi, Leon Wilson and Martin David, “Determinants of citizen satisfaction with police performance: the effects of residential location”, Policing. An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 20(4), 1997, 655-64.
  • [56]
    Riva Kastoryano, La France, l’Allemagne et leurs immigrés: négocier l’identité (Paris: Armand Colin, 1996); Nikola Tietze, Jeunes musulmans de France et d’Allemagne. Les constructions subjectives de l’identité (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2002).
  • [57]
    Bradford, “Policing and social identity”; Joanna M. Lee, Laurence Steinberg and Alex R. Piquero, “Ethnic identity and attitudes toward the police among African American juvenile offenders”, Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(4), July-August 2010, 781-9; Matthew, “Policing British Asian identities.”
  • [58]
    For a summary, see Irene Bloemraad, Anna Korteweg and Yurdakul Gökçe, “Citizenship and immigration: multiculturalism, assimilation and challenges to the nation-state”, Annual Review of Sociology, 34(1), 2008, 475-99; Christel Kesler and Irene Bloemraad, “Does immigration erode social capital? The conditional effects of immigration-generated diversity on trust, membership and participation across 19 countries, 1981-2000”, Canadian Journal of Political Science, 43(2), 2010, 319-47.
  • [59]
    We thank François Bonnet and Jacques de Maillard for reading and commenting on this article, as well as the journal’s anonymous reviewers.
  • [60]
    David Morgan (ed.), Successful Focus Groups. Advancing the State of the Art (Newbury Park: Sage Publications, 1993).
  • [61]
    Sauvadet, Le capital guerrier.

An analysis of four focus groups (young adults and adults) demonstrates that whilst the majority White group does not identify with the local neighborhood and holds positive attitudes toward the police (ATP), ATP among ethnic minorities are based on collective conflict. However, attitude construction differs between young people and adults. Strong identification with “the hood” is key to young people since it combines with a sense of ethnic identity and engenders an adversarial image of police. For adults, discussion of the police creates an identification with the neighborhood which isn’t otherwise in evidence. These findings underline the role of the relationship with police in the production of ethnicity in France: it contributes to the construction of the “minorities of the suburbs”, and of an ethno-territorial identity.


  • discrimination
  • racism
  • segregation
  • racialization
  • police
  • suburbs
Guillaume Roux
Guillaume Roux is a research fellow at the French National Foundation of Political Science, Sciences Po Grenoble, PACTE. He has published (with Florent Gougou), “Political change and cleavage voting in France: class, religion, political appeals and voter alignments (1962-2007)”, in Geoffrey Evans and Nan Dirk de Graaf (eds), Political Choice Matters. Explaining the Strength of Class and Religious Cleavages in Cross-National Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 243-76. He studies political attitudes, racism, and ethnic relationships in Europe and France. He has participated in several international projects (Eurojustis 7th PCRD, ANR UPYC) on the perception of the police by ethnic minorities. His recent work focuses on the relationships between minorities and the police, and the perception of discrimination in working-class neighborhoods (ANR Eodipar) PACTE, Sciences Po Grenoble, BP 48, 38040 Grenoble cedex 9).
Sebastian Roché
Sebastian Roché is research director at CNRS (Sciences Po Grenoble, PACTE) and teaches at the École Nationale Supérieure de la Police (Lyon), the University of Grenoble and the University of Bahcesehir (Istanbul). He recently published (with Laurent Bègue and Aaron A. Duke) “Young and armed: a cross-sectional study on weapon carrying among adolescents”, Psychology, Crime & Law, 22(5), 2016, 455-72, and De la police en démocratie (Paris: Grasset, 2016). He is particularly interested in delinquency, and in the legitimacy and comparative governance of the police. He has directed the French wing of several comparative projects (Eurojustis 7th PCRD, ANR POLIS, ANR UPYC). He is currently working on the effects of identity on trust in the police (PACTE, Sciences Po Grenoble, BP 48, 38040 Grenoble cedex 9).
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