Paris authorities evicted hundreds of crack cocaine users from a city park after an experiment to give drug addicts use of the space ended following weeks of protests from irate locals.
Residents of the northern 18th arrondissement, one of the poorest in Paris, have protested every week since May. Violence has been a problem since, with locals setting off explosives and a two-year-old child hit by a drug user.
In the early hours of Wednesday, police officers and city officials threw out some of the hundreds of regulars of the park with teargas and with no alternative place to go. Videos showed people screaming and throwing glass bottles at officers.
"They told us to go out at 1am, and they teargassed those who were reluctant to leave. We are consumers, we need to smoke. We don’t have anywhere to go now," Naima, a 50-year-old regular at the Jardin de L’Eole, told The Telegraph.
By mid-afternoon, the urban park by Gare de L’Est had been reopened to local residents despite heavy police controls. Armed guards stood by the one entrance that had been kept open, filtering entries and checking bags for bottles of alcohol.
But with nowhere else to go, dozens of addicts stuck in limbo had gathered right outside the park’s gates, smoking "le caillou," as the rock formed by the drug is known, in the street in broad daylight.
The situation at the Jardin de l’Eole highlights a growing standoff across France between advocates of medical support for addicts, like Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, and those who would rather criminalise them.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo (centre) and her deputy in charge of security, Nicolas Nordman (second from right) visit the Eole park (Jardin d'Eole) on the day of the ultimatum set by the mayor for the garden to be emptied of crack users
Credit: GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP via Getty Images
The one safe drug use room in Paris, a city with an estimated 13,000 crack users, is already full and cannot respond to the growing need. The ministry of health announced in June it would allow more long-term "drug shoot rooms" but no clear plans have been released.
Some of the addicts had managed to make their way back inside the park, where young men trained on street workout equipment and families with children had picnics on the grass and watched goats and rabbits in the small urban farm nearby.
"We can’t stop them from coming in if their don’t have a crack pipe in their hands; this is a public park and they are humans like the rest of us. We just won’t let them use inside the park," said one city official working in the park who asked to remain anonymous.
In the afternoon, one woman lit a crack pipe on a bench, with a purple scarf draped over her head to hide the smoke, as city officials walked by.
"We saw them every day and didn’t have any problems with them when they were here," he added.
But some residents, exasperated by the erratic and sometimes dangerous behaviour of users on their street, had demanded action from local officials.
Every day at 8pm, when last year people were clapping for health workers, residents started slamming pans and making noise from their windows in protest at the situation.
Earlier this month, one woman, a suspected user, hit a two-year-old with her handbag near the park, angering resident groups. Last weekend, young people from the neighbourhood threw mortar fireworks on the "crackeurs," as some of the users call themselves.
"I am not satisfied at all that people would be spread out in the streets without any sort of help. I am very angry that we are not taking these people into consideration," said Sonia, a 36-year-old resident who regularly visits the park with her young daughters.
"These people have nothing to do in a park but pushing them into precarious situations is not a satisfactory solution, neither for us residents nor for the users."