‘We are afraid of stray bullets’ – Residents of multicultural French neighborhood take antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds to deal with growing insecurity

By M B
7 Min Read

Problems with crime, traffic, and even trash have put enormous pressure on residents of the troubled multicultural Guillotière neighborhood in the French city of Lyon; according to one community leader, many people are turning to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication just to continue living in the area.

“People take sleeping pills, anxiolytics, antidepressants (…) the mental health of the inhabitants is impaired,” said Nathalie Balmat, the founding president of the association “the Angry Guillotière” which represents thousands of residents who are fed up with the neighborhood’s decay and crime. She notes that many residents have decided to leave.

“Before we were used to them attacking each other with a knife, we could move away (…) Now we are afraid of stray bullets,” Nathalie added.

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While interviewing Nathalie, the LyonMag noted that street vendors were trying to sell counterfeit cigarettes in the area, and the police tackled a suspect to the ground right at the Grande Rue de la Guillotière and arrested him. Nathalie is one of a number of citizens raising their voices about the ongoing crime wave in Lyon,

The multicultural neighborhood has made national and international headlines over the last year or so for its surge in crime, drug dealing, acts of violence, and general urban decay.

In all illustration of what residents face in the neighborhood, just yesterday, mass street brawls broke out between Algerian and Malians in a video widely shared on social media.

Shootings between rival gangs are also a major problem in Lyon, and although not directly in La Guillotière, the similarly troubled La Duchère area of Lyon saw a 16- and 20-year-old killed on June 14 in a gang battle, with two others wounded, according to Le Parisien. Video of automatic gunfire related to the incident was also posted online.

On May 1, three men were injured in this area of ​​Lyon from gunshots during a barbecue, with one of the attackers armed with a AK-47.

In April, police officers from the anti-crime brigade (BAC) were targeted there by projectiles, and in March, five minors were injured from gunfire at a point known for drug deals.

In October 2021, three police officers on patrol were shot in the same neighborhood, triggering a security operation.

Lyon ranks near the top in France for a range of crime categories, including placing third for assault and battery not directed at a family member and second for thefts without violence, just behind Paris. It is also second for unarmed violent robberies, third for vehicle thefts, and fifth for violent armed robberies. Many of these crimes are concentrated in the problematic areas of the city, such as the 7th arrondissement.

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Lyon has also been the site of several terrorist attacks, including the 2019 Lyon bombing, in which a bomb exploded outside a bakery, injuring 14 people. Mohamed M., who was later arrested for the attack, told investigators he had planted the bomb after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. In the same year, an Afghan migrant stabbed nine people, killing one of them and wounding the other eight. The Muslim man said he heard voices that were insulting God in the run-up to the attack.

Much of the everyday violence in Lyon is perpetrated by migrants or people of a foreign background, but the French media does much to obscure such information. For example, in 2020, after a man in his 20s was stabbed and beaten to death with beer bottles, the news media — despite providing detailed information about the incident — was remarkably silent on reporting that the two suspects in the case were illegal immigrants.

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Lyon is also where 23-year-old Axelle Dorier was killed in a hit-and-run involving two migrants in 2020. She was dragged nearly 800 meters to her death in a case that shocked the French nation. The same year saw 12 “youths” set up an elaborate ambush for a police officer, brutally beating him so badly that he was forced into the intensive care unit of the hospital for eight days after suffering broken teeth, head trauma, and severe lacerations. 

Quality-of-life issues also dominate

People are not turning to psychotropic drugs or fleeing these troubled neighborhoods simply because of crime either. Traffic and garbage are weighing on residents as well.

“This pedestrian crossing is dangerous,” one resident told LyonMag. “Worse, motorists honk more than before, and traffic jams are even worse.”

While the government has made moves to reduce traffic congestion, some efforts have been less successful. For example, authorities turning roads into pedestrian areas has angered some citizens and made finding parking more difficult. On top of that, efforts to place plants and frescoes in the new pedestrian zones have just led people to single out thees areas to dump their trash. They have also turned into open-air drug markets, with residents of Guillotière finding syringes among the wood shavings used in children’s playgrounds.

The issue of trash has long plagued Guillotière, but residents say it is getting worse. They point to overflowing trash cans, empty beer bottles, and shops turned into underground bars and drug dens.

The smell of urine dominates many areas.

“It’s overflowing, it stinks! It’s a disaster,” said Nathalie Balmat. “Some people here forbid their children to look out the window to avoid them seeing the often-exposed genitals of the users of these urinals.”

She is referring to the open-air urinals that have sprung up in France, with the controversial urinals allowing people to pee right on the street in front of pedestrians and children.

“The Angry Guillotière” has responded to these various social ills by filing a complaint against the city and the metropolis of Lyon with the administrative court. The organization made their first referral at the beginning of June.

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