Tensions flare between addicts, Parisians in 'Stalincrack'

·4-min read

Crack has wreaked havoc in northeastern Paris for decades, but tensions between addicts and residents fed up with disturbances have reached breaking point in recent weeks.

Angry locals threw mortar fireworks at crack smokers in early May, as the violence between the two groups crossed a new threshold.

The presence of crack smokers has long been a source of tension with residents, who complain of the noise, increased crime and regular fights that break out between users.

Authorities responded to the latest flare-up by grouping addicts in a nearby park, to avoid them roaming the streets and causing disturbances.

But neighbours of the Jardins d'Eole park have met the decision with dismay, fearful that massing the drug users will transform the area into a no-go zone.

"It just moves the problem, it doesn't change anything," said head of a residents' group Frederic Francelle.

"It's going to end badly," he added.

Crack is created by cutting cocaine with another agent, such as baking soda, for an intense and highly addictive high.

After police raids cleared several camps of addicts dotted around the city, including the notorious "Crack Hill" near the Paris ring road, many headed to the Stalingrad area in northern Paris.

The area, named after the World War II battle in the USSR where Soviet forces defeated Nazi occupiers, is now dubbed "Stalincrack".

A bustling multicultural district with plenty of shops, cinemas and cheap restaurants, Stalingrad has long been the heart of the city's crack community.

But residents say that shouting, insults, fights, disorder and damage have increased since the first lockdown to contain the coronavirus in spring 2020 -- at times provoking angry reactions.

- 'Time to move' -

Incensed by multiple awakenings in the night, Francois -- who wanted to remain anonymous -- started chucking glass pots and eggs to disperse the rowdy addicts.

The 37-year-old father went even further and bought a paintball gun. During the first lockdown, he said he shot at addicts up to three times a week.

But he admits defeat.

"It's time to move...," he said.

Taty, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was on the receiving end of a paintball a couple of weeks ago.

But he has no hard feelings.

"We're the violent ones. There are old people in the neighbourhood, I understand that they need rest," he said.

Paris prosecutors have opened an investigation into the incident early this month when mortar fireworks were hurled from the ground floor of a building at a group of crack users huddled together.

"The question was not if there would be a confrontation, but when," said local resident Maelle, a project manager in the luxury industry who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Valentin, a 34-year-old artist working on a documentary about the area, told AFP he feels abandoned by local authorities. A sentiment which he said exacerbates tensions.

When he phoned the local police to tell them about a robbery, he said he was told: "You're at Stalingrad, we're not coming."

He keeps a collapsible baton in his back pocket.

- 'Appalling' -

Defending the decision to group addicts in the park, deputy Paris mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said on Tuesday it was easier to take care of users when they were all in one place.

But residents and associations fear the park -- one of the few green areas of the densely-populated district -- will no longer be family-friendly.

"It's going to be like Crack Hill. Every user in France is going to arrange to meet here," said head of a drug-focused association, Elisabeth Avril, on site late Tuesday to offer the addicts help.

"It's appalling. We could open a room to lower risks and calm the situation. Instead, we prefer parking people in the open air."

Fouzia -- between two inhales of crack -- said she was worried the regrouping would further exacerbate tensions between users.

"It's already more violent than at Crack Hill," she said.

City authorities have recorded two deaths, one homicide and six fainting fits due to crack since the beginning of the year.

More than 80 so-called fixing rooms exist across Europe, offering medical supervision for addicts and dramatically reducing drug-related deaths.

But in Paris, there is only one such room.

Open since 2016, it has accepted crack users since the summer of 2019. But, Gaia the association running the space, says it is full.

A May study by French research institute Inserm found the experimental facilities in Paris and Strasbourg had very positive health benefits.

In June 2019, authorities launched a three-year anti-crack plan, the result of a collaboration between the city and regional councils and the local health authorities.

The money has mainly been spent on increased work by organisations trying to get drug users into shelters such as hotels, where they can get support from medical professionals and social workers.

And while over 400 users have been given a roof, many others remain on the streets.

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