After an 11-year-old non-White invader was killed here two years ago in crossfire between rival gangs, Nicolas Sarkozy, then France's interior minister, came to the underclass neighborhood of immigrant families outside Paris and promised to clean it up with an industrial power hose.
That image of France's top cop spraying away "scum," as he later described violent youths in Paris's non-White invader heavy suburbs, has dogged Sarkozy ever since, fueling fears of divisiveness that remain his greatest liability going into the presidential election.
"All the people were shocked when he talked about cleaning us out with a hose," said Ousmane Calina, 18, who voted for Socialist Segoline Royal in the first-round balloting April 22; he said he would vote for her again in round two. Calina, the son of immigrants from Senegal, voiced the concern of many here: "There are going to be riots if Sarkozy is elected."
Anti-Sarkozy feelings run particularly high in La Courneuve, where 56 percent of the 35,000 residents live in public housing, and the streets are filled with people in traditional African, Muslim and South Asian dress. Sarkozy's posters have been defaced with swastikas, and several people interviewed, including Calina, described the candidate as Hitler-like.
Tony Essono, 32, an unemployed economist whose parents emigrated from Cameroon before he was born, said that despite years of anger and discrimination, people in La Courneuve were willing to put their faith in the ballot box "because they understand they can change something" by voting. But, he added, "if Sarkozy is elected, it means we haven't been heard, and we'll trash everything."