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AP PHOTOS: On patrol with police in Paris' tough suburbs

Both fuming and bragging, the man told the police officers that he used his car as a weapon during the street battle in a northern suburb of Paris, ramming the vehicle into a fighter from a rival group.

“I destroyed him,” the man said. “For certain, he’s at the hospital. He’s got a cut on his skull, he’s got a cut on his mouth.”

For the veteran police major called out to deal with the aftermath of another bloody brawl, the eye-opener this time was the sheer brutality, the clear intent on both sides to gravely wound and perhaps permanently maim.

A police car arrives at the police station in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. The police station in Sarcelles was attacked in February by youths who launched noisy fireworks and threw stones, according to authorities. No injuries were reported but the attack was one of several targeting police stations that have heightened anxiety in police ranks. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

On a national level, such disorder is translating into polarized and politicized debate about violence ahead of France's presidential elections next year and local elections this month. President Emmanuel Macron’s opponents are using the perennial hot-button issues of crime and policing to attract votes.

Violent rivalries have long been part of the policing geography in the rotting high-rises of tough Paris-region neighborhoods where inequalities and hardship are often more common than good jobs and opportunities. But police say that fighting over turf or differences of race, religion and cultures wasn’t always as savage as it increasingly is now.

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

Police officers patrol in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. Officers say that as well as fighting crime, their job involves a lot of social work, everything from helping parents discipline unruly children to assisting families with medical or other emergencies. Here, police were responding to a family's call about a man diagnosed as schizophrenic who had neglected to take his treatment and was said to be wandering around with a knife. Officers, some with stun guns drawn, searched through the halls and stairwells of the man's tower block for him, but were unable to track him down. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

“In a fight that perhaps 20 years ago would have been sorted out with fists or kicks, we now see people being run over with cars,” he said. “The population is increasingly violent. It’s no longer simply fighting. They absolutely have to win, even if that means leaving someone in agony on the floor.”

From the police perspective, recent years have been difficult. Like other Western nations, France has seen large and angry protests over fatal cases of police brutality and allegations of law enforcement racism singling out Black people and other minorities.

Police are also increasingly the targets of violence. Most recently, the murders of two police officials in April and May — one in a stabbing, the other in a shooting during a drug bust — reinforced officers’ concerns that enforcing the law in France is an increasingly perilous profession.

Police officers patrol in a car in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. In the run-up to France's presidential elections in 2022, crime and policing are again becoming hot-button issues. Some political opponents of President Emmanuel Macron argue that France is becoming an increasingly violent country. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

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

Officers say they’re scared of being tracked down at home. They're under orders to change into civilian clothes when they finish shifts, to avoid being readily identifiable as police officers. Nicolas said he also keeps close watch of his rear-view mirrors on his drive home so he isn’t followed.

Attacks on Paris-region police stations with noisy fireworks, stones and other projectiles have fed tensions. The station in Sarcelles, the Paris suburb where Nicolas is assigned to lead night patrols, was targeted in February.

Housing projects are pictured from the police station in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. The view from the Sarcelles police station looks out over tower blocks that were once the height of modernity but which now, like public housing in many of Paris' tough neighborhoods, often looks worse for wear. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

But out on patrol with Sarcelles officers, it also is evident that their presence is appreciated or, failing that, at least tolerated by many residents.

The family in neighboring Villiers-le-Bel that called for help after the brawl was clearly grateful that officers and rescue workers sped over, lights flashing, to assist injured relatives.

One man seemingly severely beaten in the fight groaned as rescue workers lifted him onto a gurney. Major Nicolas quickly determined that another injured family member had been hit by a car.

A police officer works in the police station in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. In Sarcelles, police say they work hard not to stir up tensions and try to reassure people by regularly patrolling neighborhoods that are troubled by drug-dealing and other crime. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Questioning witnesses, the major and his colleagues started piecing together how the conflict spiraled.

“They got calls from their cousins saying, ‘Come quick, we’ve run into trouble over there.’ Everyone rushed over there. Full-on fight,” the major said.

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

A police officer works in the police station of the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. In the run-up to France's presidential elections in 2022, crime and policing are again becoming hot-button issues. Some political opponents of President Emmanuel Macron argue that France is becoming an increasingly violent country. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

“They’ll surely have another go at each other,” he said.

Police officers stop and search a motorbike driver and his passenger who did not wear any helmets, in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel on Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police officers patrol in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. On their patrols through the northern Paris suburbs of Sarcelles, Villiers-le-Bel and their surroundings, officers make a point of regularly driving past – and sometimes stopping – at street corners and neighborhoods that they have identified as hotspots for drug dealing and other crimes. Officers say they want to make clear to inhabitants that there are no 'no-go zones' for the law. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police officers check people driving a van in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. In the run-up to France's presidential elections in 2022, crime and policing are again becoming hot-button issues. Some political opponents of President Emmanuel Macron argue that France is becoming an increasingly violent country. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police officers arrest three men suspected of setting a bushfire, in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. After being called out to help deal with a fire, night patrols stopped a vehicle carrying young men they suspected may have been involved in setting the blaze. The young men waited patiently and quietly on a roadside kerb until officers let them go. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police officer Victor, 26, left, checks documents as he patrols in Paris suburb Garges-les-Gonesse Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. Clement, right, and Victor, with tattoed arms, refused, like many officers, to give their surnames to reporters who went out on patrol with them. They said they were concerned for their safety amid an upsurge of anti-police violence, including two murders of police officials in April and May. "With everything going on, we don't give our names," Clement said. "It's also to protect our families." (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police officer Clement searches a driver with no license, no insurance and an OQTF (leaving French territory obligation) in Paris suburb Garges-les-Gonesse, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. Traffic stops like this can generate mounds of paperwork. The officers' initial determination was that the man was an illegal immigrant and had been previously flagged for explusion from France. They also suspected that he was driving without a licence or insurance. Clement, the officer who patted the man down, and his colleagues later headed back with the man to their station in Sarcelles and started to process the paperwork generated by the case. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Rescue workers take care of an injured man after a violent brawl, in Paris suburb Villiers-le-Bel, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. Police who patrol the tough suburbs north of the French capital say they feel that violence is ticking upward. Fights between rival groups are a long-standing problem in the Paris region's depressed neighborhoods, and police say they're increasingly bloody. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

A police officer, right, secures the evacuation of an injured man after a violent brawl, in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. Police who patrol the tough suburbs north of the French capital say they feel that violence is ticking upward. Fights between rival groups are a long-standing problem in the Paris region's depressed neighborhoods, and police say they're increasingly bloody. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police officer Damien, 30, questions a witness after a violent brawl in a nearby town, in the Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. Police who patrol the tough suburbs north of the French capital say they feel that violence is ticking upward. Fights between rival groups are a long-standing problem in the Paris region's depressed neighborhoods, and police say they're increasingly bloody. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police major Nicolas, center, talks to a street vendor to check authorizations in the Paris suburb of Garges-les-Gonesse, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. He is a veteran patrolman in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles and its surrounding towns that are hotspots for crime. He is among the officers who say violence is getting worse. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

Police officer Victor walks inside the police station of the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, Tuesday, June, 15, 2021. The police station in Sarcelles was attacked in February by youths who launched noisy fireworks and threw stones, according to authorities. No injuries were reported but the attack was one of several targeting police stations that have heightened anxiety in police ranks. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)