In the interview he granted me shortly after the riots of 2005, the chief of police for the district in which I was then carrying out research expressed his amusement and surprise at the attitude of youngsters from the projects who, he said, would routinely run away when they saw a police car. “So they’re running, but they don’t even know why. I often have officers telling me that when they get somewhere they see kids running away. They catch them and bring them in to the station. And they find out they’ve done absolutely nothing. So they ask them: ‘But why did you run off?’ It’s amazing: it must be a Pavlovian reflex.” I refrained from replying that his description of such a scenario seemed considerably more benign than what I had already witnessed, but I could not hold back from suggesting that the fact that the police officers chased after the youngsters when they saw them run was perhaps a similar reflex. I am not sure he appreciated the irony of my remark, but his observation seems to me illuminating.
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