It all started with an argument between a Tunisian taxi driver and a Senegalese man who lives in my building, and who also happens to be one of my friends. He told me that the taxi driver called him a “guera guera”, meaning a monkey, and that they started fighting. The driver took out a baton and started to hit him, so my friend grabbed it away from him and hit him back. Passers-by intervened and broke up the fight, and my friend walked away. All this happened right in front of our building. The taxi driver later came back accompanied by several other men armed with batons and stones. They started throwing them at the building’s façade. However, what they didn’t know is that my friend’s apartment doesn’t open onto the street, and he wasn’t even home!
He kept repeating, “But I’m the one who called you! I’m not the one you should arrest!”
I live on the second floor. When my roommates and I heard all this racket, we rushed to our windows. That’s when the attackers saw that we were all black, and started hurling racist insults. None of their rocks reached my window, but they shattered windows of the apartment on the first floor. The student living there called the police. He then went downstairs to meet the police officers, thinking they had come to help him. But very quickly it became clear this was not the case. The police acted like he was the one who had caused the violence. He got defensive and kept repeating, “But I’m the one who called you! I’m not the one you should arrest!” Meanwhile, the attackers, who were standing just a few metres away, baton in hand, kept yelling racist insults.
From what I could hear, the policemen asked him to come with them for questioning. They ended up forcing him into their patrol car, as you can see in the video. [According to Raoul Fone, the former president of the Organisation for African Students and Interns in Tunisia, in these types of situations, the police sometimes take away the victim for their own protection. He believes this could be the case here.] At 0’33 minutes into the video, you can see one of the attackers hit my neighbour with a baton. [A policeman pushes the assailant away, but doesn’t arrest him.]
Video of the young man's arrest, filmed by our Observer.
My neighbour was freed two hours later. The attackers didn’t get into any trouble at all for throwing stones and for trying to force their way into our building, which thankfully was well-locked.
The front of the building. Photo taken by our Observer a day after the incident.
Photo of a broken window on the building's first floor.
"I heard people yell: 'Ben Ali is gone. This is Tunisia, not Africa!'”
This incident is representative of the climate of insecurity we’ve lived in since the fall of Ben Ali’s regime. Of course, insecurity is a problem for all Tunisians, but I think that we foreigners who are black are particularly at risk. Racism against black people runs quite deep in Tunisia. [Editor’s Note: As of yet, the Tunisian authorities haven’t published any studies on racism in the country.] And recently, it’s become even worse, because many Tunisians believe that foreign students, especially black ones, were too well-protected under Ben Ali’s regime. It is true that the police often defended us when there were minor altercations. Black students make up the majority of the student body at private universities here, so the regime didn’t want to lose this source of income. Many people, however, now want us to leave. Monday night, I heard people yell: “Ben Ali is gone. This is Tunisia, not Africa!”