VILLIERS-LE-BEL, France (AP) – Both furious and boasted, the man told police officers he used his car as a weapon during the street battle in a northern Paris suburb, hitting the vehicle against a fighter of a rival. group.

“I destroyed it,” the man said. “Sure, he’s in the hospital. He’s got a cut on his head, he’s got a cut on his mouth.

For the veteran Police Major called in to deal with the aftermath of yet another bloody scuffle, the revelation this time has been sheer brutality, the clear intention on both sides to seriously injure and possibly permanently maim.

Nationally, such a mess translates into a polarized and politicized debate on violence ahead of France’s presidential elections next year and local elections this month. Opponents of President Emmanuel Macron are using the perennial burning problems of crime and the police to attract votes.

Violent rivalries have long been part of police geography in the rotten skyscrapers of difficult neighborhoods in the Paris region where inequalities and hardship are often more common than good jobs and opportunities. But police say fighting for territory or for differences in race, religion and culture has not always been as savage as it increasingly is now.

“It’s getting more and more violent,” the police major said as he struggled to piece together the chain of events this week, from a clash in a pipe-smoking bar to a full-blown brawl between opposing groups from Pakistani and North African communities.

“In a fight that maybe 20 years ago would have been settled with punches or kicks, we are now seeing people getting run over with cars,” he said. “The population is increasingly violent. It’s not just about fighting anymore. They absolutely have to win, even if that means leaving someone in agony on the ground. “

From a police perspective, the last few years have been difficult. Like other Western countries, France has seen large demonstrations of anger over fatal cases of police brutality and allegations of racism in law enforcement targeting blacks and other minorities.

The police are also increasingly the target of violence. More recently, the murders of two police officers in April and May – one with knives, the other in a shootout over a drug seizure – have heightened police concerns that the enforcement of the law in France is an increasingly perilous profession.

One measure of their anxiety is that officers like Major Nicolas, the 46-year-old man called to the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel for the street brawl, refuse to be identified by their full names.

Officers say they are afraid they will be found at the house. They are ordered to change into civilian clothes at the end of their shift, in order to avoid being easily identified as police officers. Nicolas said he was also watching his mirrors closely on the way home to avoid being followed.

The attacks on the Paris region police stations with noisy fireworks, stones and other projectiles fueled tensions. Sarcelles station, in the Paris suburbs where Nicolas is assigned to head the night patrols, was targeted in February.

But on patrol with the agents of Sarcelles, it is also clear that their presence is appreciated or, failing that, at least tolerated by many residents.

The neighboring Villiers-le-Bel family who called for help after the brawl were clearly grateful that officers and rescuers rushed in, flashing lights, to help injured loved ones.

A man apparently severely beaten in the scuffle moaned as rescuers lifted him onto a stretcher. Major Nicolas quickly determined that another injured family member had been struck by a car.

Interviewing witnesses, the Major and his colleagues began to reconstruct the spiral of conflict.

“They got calls from their cousins ​​saying, ‘Come quickly, we’ve got problems over there.’ Everyone rushed there. Fight hard, ”said the major.

The experience also told him that the enmity probably wouldn’t end there and that another grudge match was likely brewing.

“They will surely face each other again,” he said.

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