In 1923 the Parisian Municipal Council created a special police unit to control North Africans in Paris, known as the Brigade Nord-Africaine (BNA). During its twenty-year tenure, the BNA controlled the North Africans they policed through intimation and violence, but also through personal knowledge of the community. The BNA's harsh tactics had to be balanced by its officers' admitted reliance on North Africans for information. This article explores both the uniquely discriminatory and colonial nature of the BNA and the nuanced, intimate relationships that developed between the officers and the North African community. A repatriation of colonial control, the BNA reified the difference of those it policed, uniquely targeting North Africans but also offering a space of possible agency for them in interwar Paris. The BNA gives us insight into policing in the 1930s, demonstrating the acceptability of targeted policing but also showing the limits of coercive power.
En 1923, le Conseil municipal de Paris créa une brigade destinée à contrôler les Nord-Africains domiciliés à Paris : la Brigade nord-africaine (BNA). Pendant ses vingt années d'existence, la BNA employa non seulement l'intimidation et la violence, mais aussi des tactiques reposant sur une connaissance intime de la communauté, pour contrôler celle-ci. Le travail de la BNA exigeait un équilibre entre la répression et une entente avec la communauté nord-africaine qui fournissait des renseignements essentiels aux officiers. Cet article examine d'une part la nature discriminatoire et coloniale de la BNA et d'autre part, les rapports intimes et nuancés qui se tissèrent entre la brigade et les Nord-Africains. Rapatriant à Paris des formes de contrôle coloniales, la BNA contribua à réifier la différence des Nord-Africains qu'elle surveillait tout en leur offrant une certaine capacité d'action limitée. Etudier la BNA permet d'élucider les préjugés des policiers de l'époque, tout comme les limites de leur pouvoir coercitif.
On February 20, 1933, Omar ben Ahmed walked through the doors of the white stone building at 6 Rue Lecomte in Paris. Omar had been called to 6 Rue Lecomte by the Brigade Nord-Africaine (BNA).1 Created in 1923, the BNA was designed to curtail the perceived criminality of Paris's North African immigrant population. Inspector Tlemsani, himself a North African, had summoned Omar to Rue Lecomte to discuss a financial matter. A fellow North African living in Paris had accused Omar of reneging on a debt.2 As Omar presented his side of the story to Tlemsani and agreed on a repayment plan, he may have wondered at the strange array of Parisians gathered under one roof at Rue Lecomte. While Tlemsani spoke to Omar, a BNA officer across the hall might have berated a North African suspected of theft. In other rooms, BNA officers might have discussed the latest meeting of an Algerian nationalist organization with a North African informant. On any given day, BNA officers bustled around 6 Rue Lecomte, solving issues of inheritance or debt, hounding political dissidents, searching for missing family members, and performing myriad other tasks that brought them into the daily lives of Paris's North African immigrants.
Unique among the police brigades of Paris, the BNA explicitly targeted a group of Parisians based on their colonial origins. Housed for twenty years within the walls of 6 Rue Lecomte, the BNA, created to both protect and control, often blurred the lines between its twin missions of service and surveillance. A repatriation of colonial control, the BNA reified the difference of those it policed, uniquely targeting North Africans but also offering a space of possible agency for them in interwar Paris. How could such an overtly discriminatory brigade have persisted throughout the reforms of the Popular Front, the upheavals of World War II, and the reordering of German occupation? Infamous for their brutality, BNA officers nonetheless served an imperative role as interpreters, mediators, and at times advocates actively solicited by North Africans, a seeming paradox that proves central to understanding the BNA. Despite shifting regimes in Paris, consensus on colonial control and the efficacy of the BNA's intimate tactics kept the brigade functioning as usual. Everyday practices of violence and aid defined the relationship between the BNA and the North Africans it policed, a mutually dependent exchange that reveals patterns of policing centered on the personal.
The BNA, a metropolitan unit, drew on patterns of colonial policing. Scholarship on the BNA has examined the brigade through the lens of immigration history, highlighting the specificity of North African immigrants due to their ambiguous legal status.3 To monitor North Africans, Parisian authorities created a police force where a “colonial vision” dominated.4 The BNA adopted patterns of paternalistic control seen in colonial police forces throughout the British and French Empires, collapsing criminal and social control.5 The BNA defined those it policed by colonial categories of race, not class or politics. For the BNA, the salient characteristic of those it policed was that they were indigenous North Africans, understood as racially and culturally distinct from Europeans. The racial categorization of North Africans embodied by the BNA was a colonial import, drawing on broad imperial characterizations of the “inadequacy” of colonial subjects.6 The BNA's organization around dichotomous yet ill-defined colonial categories reveals a tension in interwar Parisian politics, between the Popular Front's platform of colonial reform and the endurance of the inherently discriminatory BNA. Despite, and amid, labor agitation and attempts at imperial reform, the BNA withstood challenges to its viability, in part because of its claim to having personal relationships with North Africans.
The BNA implemented practices traditionally used to police the “dangerous classes” of France, focused on enforcing order in public space, but its power also permeated the homes and private lives of North Africans.7 It is precisely this entry into the domestic that differentiates this study of the BNA from existing literature on Algerian immigration in the interwar period. North African Parisians were not just migrants but residents who built a transnational community connecting Paris and cities scattered across North Africa. The BNA inserted itself in this world by offering indispensable services, albeit ones that came with the risk of surveillance. Emphasizing the everyday relationship of the BNA to the men, women, and families it policed changes how we conceptualize colonial policing. Rather than simply enacting imperial mandates, colonial policing in Paris developed out of negotiated interactions between police and North Africans. Scholars of colonial policing have emphasized the centrality of state-supported violence to the colonial project, and the BNA is no exception.8 Yet this violence operated not just in streets or interrogation rooms but also in subtler forms of coercion in the home and the café. The BNA's need for access to the North African community set limits on the extent of its repressive power. The balance of violence and voluntary cooperation between North Africans and the BNA created a model for policing colonial populations in the metropole, setting precedents for discriminatory policing at the dusk of empire.9
Unfortunately, most of the records concerning the BNA have disappeared. Faint glimpses in the historical record reveal the crime prevention carried out by the BNA. A lone sheet from August 1928 shows that the BNA kept detailed monthly statistics of the brigade's arrests and administrative procedures.10 These statistics, destined for the administrative superiors of the BNA, included no details. The specific case files, which might have offered more information on methods of policing or the stories behind these crimes, no longer exist. Facing a dearth of information on their criminal policing, my analysis of the BNA relies instead on a recently inventoried collection on the BNA's social services and administrative records from the Prefecture of Police, as well as newspapers, written by both French populations and North Africans living in Paris.11 Though I cannot track the BNA's attempts to curb crime, using available sources I explore the quotidian exchanges of BNA officers and those they policed, bringing to light a mixture of repression and mutual reliance mediated by personal relationships.
Imperial Origins of the BNA
France began its conquest of Algeria in 1830, but the resulting stream of colonial immigration developed only in the twentieth century. On the eve of World War I, significant numbers of Algerian workers began to enter France. Plagued by drought, famine, and loss of land, many Algerians felt the pull of steady income in jobs vacated by deployed soldiers. When France declared sovereignty over Tunisia and Morocco in 1881 and 1912, respectively, immigrants from these North African countries also began to migrate to the metropole. The number of North Africans entering France shot up from 17,259 in 1921 to 44,466 in 1922 and reached 49,601 in only the first seven months of 1923.12 Though bureaucratic language tended to conflate “Algerian” with the broader category of “North African,” Algerians did comprise a significant majority of North Africans in Paris. Official discourse also assumed a Muslim identity for North African migrants, but a minority of North African Jews also immigrated to Paris and interacted with the BNA and other North Africans.13 The diverse North African immigrant population tended to settle in major industrial centers, especially Marseille and Paris. Most immigrants inhabited dilapidated, overcrowded lodgings, and Parisians quickly conceived of the newcomers as dangerous and undesirable.
In November 1923 Khémili Mohamed Sulimane, an unemployed Moroccan immigrant, committed a series of gruesome murders on Rue Foundry in Paris. Afterward the simmering fear of North Africans boiled over. For years the popular press had frequently reported the criminal acts of North Africans, disparagingly referred to as “sidis.”14 As an economic recession hit and working-class jobs became scarce, hardly a week passed without lurid reports of murder, fights, robberies, burglaries, and armed attacks committed by North African perpetrators.15 In the days following the Rue Foundry murders, popular Parisian newspapers demanded action, targeting the North African community as a dangerous element in urbanizing Paris.
Responding to the media outcry, Pierre Godin, a municipal counselor, campaigned to create a police force to monitor North Africans in Paris. Godin, an ardently right-wing politician, had served as a police officer in a remote commune mixte in Algeria.16 Transferred to Paris, Godin became an important figure in the interwar Parisian Municipal Council and a member of the colonial lobby.17 Working with fellow procolonial council members M. Bescombes, Emile Massard, and Paul Fleurot, Godin proposed a unique new police brigade attached to the Prefecture of Police.18 Previous police forces in France had targeted populations based on particular types of crime, but no previous unit singled out a population by ethnic origin or racialized category, as Godin's plan envisioned.19 Godin's justification for the BNA relied on colonial conceptions of control and his belief in the “uncivilized” nature of North Africans. Speaking in typical colonial clichés, Godin claimed, “[North Africans] carry with them, necessarily, the harshness and violence of the African temperament and their rudimentary customs propagate various contagions.”20 The BNA would, he implied, protect North Africans from their own imperfect nature and prevent them from menacing other Parisians. Godin praised the colonial approach to policing and blamed the lack of control over North Africans in Paris on the police's unfamiliarity with North African culture and languages.21 In the colonies, Godin argued, police officers spoke the local language and had a deep knowledge of the morals of the “indigenes,” supposedly so different from Europeans. This knowledge and ability to communicate, he believed, facilitated a tighter control of the colonialized population. Godin strove to emulate the centralization and “strict discipline” of the Algerian commune mixte police in his new force.22 Rather than merely respond to crimes, the BNA would, he envisioned, provide a more pervasive and intimate type of surveillance and intervention. With the BNA in Paris, as in Algeria, the private and social became the business of the police.
Godin convinced his fellow members of the Municipal Council, and in 1923 they voted to approve Godin's squad, officially creating the BNA. The Prefecture of Police assumed direct responsibility for the brigade and provided it with an initial budget of two hundred thousand francs.23 On July 3, 1925, the BNA moved into an unused school building at 6 Rue Lecomte in the seventeenth arrondissement of Paris.24 The BNA, like most police units, comprised both active-duty officers and administrative support staff, totaling around thirty-five employees.25 Unlike other police forces in Paris, the BNA required specific language skills. Prospective inspectors had to prove proficiency in either Amazigh or Arabic during a fifteen-minute oral exam and a series of written comprehension tests.26 Knowledge of Arabic and Amazigh remained limited in metropolitan France, and, initially at least, Godin suggested recruiting from the colonial administration of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.27 Godin also envisioned hiring indigenous North Africans as inspectors, a pragmatic recognition that North Africans had superior language abilities compared to French recruits.
Due to language requirements, the BNA employed men linked indelibly to French colonialism.28 As other scholars of the BNA have suggested, many hired at the BNA had previous service experience as colonial administrators or as soldiers stationed in North Africa.29 For example, the first chief of the BNA, Adolphe Gérolami, began his career as a functionary in a commune mixte of Algeria.30 Other officers spent their youths in North Africa before coming to Paris. Marcel Chalon, an inspector who served in the BNA from 1930 to 1945, grew up in Affreville, Algeria.31 Chalon came from the European settler community of Algeria, trained by local culture to hold discriminatory views of indigenous Algerians. Indeed, complaints about his treatment of a fellow officer, Ali ben Zeman Zitouni, centered on accusations of Chalon's deep-seated disdain for all North Africans.32 Employing former colonial settlers, soldiers, and administrators influenced the BNA's attitude toward the North African community, often criticized in dissident press sources.
However, the BNA also provided a unique opportunity for North Africans to serve in the French police force. Largely barred from such roles in the metropole, North Africans who might otherwise have had limited opportunities to work for the French state were employed in the BNA as inspectors, translators, and administrators. These inspectors, with their easy fluency in Arabic or Amazigh, would repress and prevent crimes committed by North Africans and also keep tabs on political movements among North Africans that might threaten “public order” or undermine France's control in the colonies.33 In relying on “indigenous” recruits, the BNA mirrored practices common among colonial police forces, including in Algeria.34 Ali ben Ferhat Ouarab was the only North African police officer in Paris when he joined the local police shortly after World War I. Transferred to the BNA, Ouarab worked his way up through the ranks of inspector, brigadier, and finally brigadier chief in 1939, before retiring.35 Though working in a force with a discriminatory mission, Ouarab found opportunities for personal advancement otherwise impossible for a colonial subject. Due to missing personnel records, I cannot fully reconstruct the ratio of North African and European officers in the BNA. Various accounts demonstrate, however, that North Africans often made up as much as half of the squad. North African police officers may have felt different motivations for serving in the BNA, seeing themselves as advocates of the North African community rather than their adversaries. Alternatively, North African inspectors may have simply joined the BNA as a means of personal advancement. The BNA's creation depended on a fear of North African criminality, but the administration also viewed North Africans as potentially important forces for maintaining order, as evidenced by the brigade's hiring practices.
Godin also envisioned complementary social services to operate alongside the BNA, designed to “protect” North Africans from the corruption of the bustling metropole. By the end of 1925 the services stationed at Rue Lecomte expanded beyond mere policing to include a medical dispensary, a small surgery, an employment service, and various other administrative aids.36 The Department of the Seine, not the Prefecture of Police, provided the budget for this section. Eventually the social services of Rue Lecomte became known as the Service des Affaires Indigènes Nord-Africaine, or SAINA. Associated with the creation of the Paris Mosque and the Franco-Muslim Hospital of Bobigny, SAINA also aided in the more mundane, everyday needs of North Africans. The service settled disputes over rent, worked out debt repayment plans, helped track down missing family members, offered educational opportunities, and monitored unemployment benefits for North Africans. Thus dual services existed under one roof at Rue Lecomte: a police force and a social aid organization. Though the departments drew separate funding, the two services remained distinct in name only. The same inspectors who policed nationalist organizations and arrested criminals also went out into the community to look for missing family members or settle disputes. North Africans addressed social concerns to SAINA, but their requests triggered the participation of the BNA, a potential source of tension for SAINA and its clients. Intertwined by design, this commingling caused less tension among the employees of the BNA and SAINA.
Although bureaucratic records narrate the creation of a professional police force, in fact scandals plagued the reputation of the BNA. When the first director of the BNA moved to the Franco-Muslim Hospital in 1932, Pierre Godin appointed his own son, André, the new director. Algerian nationalist press sources decried the nepotistic appointment of “this mediocre guy” and described André as a “future colonial functionary” for whom “a culture of discrimination against North Africans [bicotculture] is and will be both a means and an end.”37 Having served only in administrative positions previously, André proved unprepared and corrupt as a police chief. North African activists accused him of using BNA funds to set up “kept women.” The scandal rang true enough to receive comment in internal government sources.38 During World War II the Algerian newspaper Er Rachid published an article accusing the BNA of allowing one butcher to establish a monopoly on halal beef. This butcher supplied the BNA with the meat for its cafeteria, and the author accused the BNA of profiting from the butcher's price gouging. The same article also noted the recent arrest of two BNA inspectors for trafficking in textiles.39 An internal police study of the brigade on the eve of its dissolution suggested that, to believe North Africans, personal vendettas often governed the actions of the officers.40 As in colonial contexts, the officers of the BNA personally profited from their position as intermediaries of the imperial state.
The colonial inspiration and, at best, quasi-professional organization of this brigade distinguished it from other metropolitan units. In an era of police professionalization and centralization in France, the BNA instead practiced a politics of repression rooted in the personal, similar in style to colonial practices of administration through intermediaries.41 The BNA institutionalized daily level diplomacy, giving it official legitimacy in Paris. The ethos behind the creation of the BNA demonstrated a reconstitution of colonial practices in the metropolitan context. The BNA showed its colonial roots in hiring practices, too. The BNA's eclectic staff of native North Africans, European settlers (pieds-noirs), colonial administrators, and former soldiers reflected, and shaped, the mixed strategies and seemingly contradictory goals of the services of 6 Rue Lecomte. The adaptation of colonial techniques in Paris reveals a preoccupation with racialized categories, before the epoch of racialized ideology under the Vichy regime. Steeped in colonial norms and designed to single out a specific population, the BNA stood out as an oddity among other Parisian police units. Yet Godin's vision of colonial control prevailed, and the brigade persisted for two decades in the face of political change and protests against its very existence.
Political Policing: Violence and Constructed Difference
The BNA, designed to mimic colonial policing, demonstrated a similar penchant for violent repression. Godin described the North Africans of Paris as a “confused and anonymous” mass, where potential threats to the French colonial order lurked.42 To identify these threats, the BNA policed political sympathies. The BNA could be relatively sure of impunity if its political policing led to violence because the brigade operated outside the established police hierarchy and because of the subordinate, colonial status of those it policed. Unsurprisingly, little evidence of violence exists in the police record of the BNA. With the BNA understandably unwilling to record unnecessary use of force, evidence comes, rather, from the targets of its policing. Notably, complaints about the BNA appear in communist newspapers and Algerian nationalist speeches. Communists and nationalists routinely and loudly called for the suppression of the BNA, citing its inherently discriminatory mission and unpopular tactics. Approaching North Africans as racialized colonial subjects, the BNA introduced policies that would create important precedents for discriminatory policing. Violence, however, came in many forms, and BNA repression depended on information gleaned and personal relationships formed through the supposedly neutral aid services of SAINA.
The coercive policing techniques of the BNA come to light in their surveillance and control of the Etoile Nord-Africaine (ENA), an Algerian nationalist organization whose movements fell under the jurisdiction of the BNA.43 The BNA regularly sent records of its surveillance to the prefect of police and the minister of the interior, creating a tangible paper trail despite the disappearance of most BNA records. The reports on the ENA also offer a rare glimpse into the rhetoric and opinions of North Africans themselves. Many of the BNA's reports on the nationalist organization consist of anonymous notes that transcribe speeches at meetings. These reports, the result of spy infiltration, include long quotes from ENA leaders. Although a police employee recorded the quotes, they present a window into the sentiments of the nationalists in Paris and their accusations against the BNA. Disbanded in 1929 by the French government, the ENA reformed under entirely new leadership in 1933, quickly coming under the scrutiny of the BNA.44 Messali Hadj, an Algerian from Tlemcen who was respected for his intelligence and powers of oration, served as the key political director.45 Although the French government loathed the ENA, the group supported relatively mild policies. The ENA advocated equal rights and citizenship for all colonial subjects and, supported financially by the French Communist party, championed workers' rights. Its agenda did not, however, include calls for outright independence. Although the BNA was unlikely to report its own excesses in official records, the ENA happily highlighted every misstep of the BNA, an organization its members considered racist. Messali and the other leaders of the ENA spoke out vehemently against the BNA, calling for it to be disbanded at nearly every meeting. They viewed the BNA as part of a larger program of colonial injustice, like the indigénat legal code.46 In a typical statement, Messali deplored that even in the revolutionary city of Paris “there is . . . an abject back-room organization situated at Rue Lecomte where forty henchmen are charged to spy on us, to deport us and even to give us beatings.”47 In the press organ of the ENA, El Ouma, writers decried the colonial practices of the BNA, accusing the brigade of enforcing the “heinous indigénat laws” and calling André Godin a caïd, or colonial Algerian official.48 These repeated accusations, always variations on a theme of coloniality and brutality, suggest that there was indeed a pattern of BNA violence toward ENA sympathizers.
The targeted policing of North Africans could also occur through the complicated intermingling of police and social services at the offices of Rue Lecomte. Reports of the abuses one might expect from such a situation peppered communist newspapers and meeting speeches of the ENA. In 1927, for example, an unemployed North African worker wanted to sue his landlady. The landlady in question had a close friendship with Inspector Benchemine, a BNA officer, and Benchemine intimidated the worker into letting the charges drop.49 Benchemine likely had access to information about the case through the administrative services of SAINA. A L'humanité article from 1935 elaborated on this type of complaint. The article claimed that unemployed Algerian workers had been taken off unemployment lists for not seeking work “actively” enough. However, according to the author, the workers had been removed not for lack of effort but because of their political sympathies. Only workers endorsed by Rue Lecomte could obtain employment in the largest enterprises.50 The BNA and not SAINA tracked the political activity of North Africans. It would also have been the inspectors of the BNA who evaluated how “actively” North Africans looked for work. Even without entirely accepting the version of the communists, we can infer that the BNA used information from SAINA for its own efforts. This mingling of police and social affairs gave the BNA even tighter control over the North Africans it policed. As evidenced by these examples, the BNA employed a variety of forms of violence in its policing, which could be psychological and material rather than solely physical.51
Although only infrequently reported in the police record, cases of police brutality and excessive violence exist. The majority of such incidents enter the police record when accusations obliged officers to defend their actions. One such incident unfolded in 1927. L'humanité reported on a North African named Dijouti who went into Rue Lecomte to get his identity card, presented as mandatory by the BNA.52 While there, the “chaouch” in charge of his case mistreated him, and when Dijouti complained of the bullying, the officer Morsli Seddik struck him.53 Dijouti filed a formal complaint, but the court rejected his case, and Dijouti found himself instead brought to court for hitting an officer.54 A similar incident occurred in the spring of 1934, when the prefect of police received a complaint from supporters of the ENA about the arrest of Larab Sadoud. The letter explicitly accused the BNA of using “exceptionally brutal” tactics during the arrest and of having insufficient reason to make an arrest in the first place. The inspectors arrested Sadoud during a taxi washer strike, a strike involving mostly North African workers and thus heavily policed by the BNA. The prefect denied misconduct in the BNA and stated that, on the contrary, Sadoud had resisted arrest. He declared a follow-up investigation unnecessary.55
Similar complaints of violence came sporadically from ENA sympathizers. For example, Radjef, an ENA leader, frequently referred to an incident of BNA violence in his speeches. He claimed that in 1934, when he went to the BNA to inquire about an arrested “comrade,” the officers beat him.56 His remarks, recorded in a spy transcript, presented this brutality as typical of the BNA. The ENA also complained about police violence in the arrest of two adherents following a meeting in May 1936. According to the ENA, two BNA agents attacked Sliman and Mohamed Mouhoum as they exited an ENA meeting next to a hotel. According to the police, the two agents, Cerruti and Gaudin, had been occupied with North Africans who refused to pay their bill at the hotel restaurant. The Mouhoum brothers allegedly attacked the agents from behind, although the police report provides no motive for this action, and, after a fight, the officers arrested the brothers.57 Nothing in the police record indicates a follow-up investigation, and the police account entered the record as the official version of events.58 As all these accusations of violence show, the BNA employed violent techniques of repression with a relatively firm sense of impunity. Although scholars have previously examined the BNA's role in antinationalist policing, these everyday stories of violence show how BNA tactics permeated the lives of ordinary workers, too. Before the fight with the Mouhoum brothers, for example, BNA officers were already on the scene intervening in a restaurant, showing the quotidian, inescapable interaction of the BNA and Paris's North Africans.
One notable incident of police violence surfaced in the Epuration trials that took place at the close of World War II. Involved in policing North African Jews during the war, many BNA inspectors fell under suspicion and had to clear their names before Epuration committees. This rare moment of critical introspection allowed space for an unflattering portrait of the BNA. Raymond Mongaillard, born in Oran, had served in the BNA as an inspector since 1938. During his trial the Epuration committee accused Mongaillard of beating Azan Ahmed. The BNA had arrested Azan on April 28, 1944, for trafficking false identity cards. Azan claimed that as he was interrogated, the officers had beaten him so viciously that he had to be hospitalized, and he had kept his medical certificates as proof of the injuries. The official BNA report of the arrest asserted that Azan had hurt himself by falling on a wood-burning stove, fracturing his ribs.59 The Epuration committee found this story unsatisfactory. The ferocity of Azan's beating suggests a proclivity for violence in BNA interrogation techniques. Indeed, a statement from another officer during the trial hints as much. Chalon, the head of the BNA after Liberation, noted that Mongaillard was not the type to hit prisoners. He continued, “I will say something: that is more like something Godot would do.”60 This statement, though supporting Mongaillard, indicates that beating prisoners was a fairly normal and perhaps even accepted method of interrogation in the BNA. If Mongaillard did not usually partake in violence, other officers did. Further, Azan had no nationalist affiliations. The physical abuse used by the BNA in this case reveals a capacity for violence in dealing with all North Africans.
Singular cases of physical violence, as well as more quotidian incidents of political harassment or manipulation, reveal the deeply coercive nature of the BNA. The BNA operated with full state support despite constant critiques of violence from communists and the ENA. The BNA's reliance on coercion, and awareness of its ability to do so unchallenged, transposed a recognizably imperial, racialized form of violence into the metropole. Violence was a preexisting and standard tactic, not a reaction to militant nationalist organization, which remained relatively moderate in the interwar period. BNA officers sought to investigate and regulate the broadly defined “morality” of North Africans in Paris. Repressive actions aimed at nationalists spilled into violence directed at anyone who did not seem to comply with normalized ideas of correct behavior. The liminal citizenship of Algerians, neither fully French nor foreign, rendered this violence permissible, or at least more difficult to protest than in the policing of “dangerous” Frenchmen or noncolonial immigrant workers. The continued presence of and political support for the BNA through governments of varying political leanings reveals a consistent disregard for the civic rights of colonial subjects. Despite differing on almost everything else, Parisian politicians converged in acceptance of the paradigms and techniques of violent colonial control.
Aid Services: Cooperation and Community Reliance
The quotidian violence of the BNA demonstrated its discriminatory, colonial foundation, but paradoxically the brigade relied on the participation of the North African community to function. Nostalgic observers, after the brigades' dissolution, commonly evoked the BNA's close relationship with the North African community in Paris.61 And the BNA did indeed have a personal, collaborative relationship with many North Africans. In part, this cooperation stemmed from the dual function of the services at Rue Lecomte. The BNA, created to “surveil and protect,” shared staff and headquarters with SAINA, designed to offer social services. The prefect of police often emphasized that the functions of the two services, funded by separate governmental departments, remained completely separate.62 However, in cases where aid involved going out into the community, the inspectors of the BNA worked alongside the administrators of SAINA. The police work of the BNA included spying on nationalists and chasing criminals, but it also involved mediating disputes, helping coordinate issues of inheritance, and searching diligently for North Africans who had abandoned their families on arrival in the sprawling metropole. To succeed at these social tasks and at their political policing, the BNA relied heavily on the input of the North African community.
Given the violence of the BNA, one might naturally wonder at the willingness of North Africans to work with SAINA. How could they turn to a brigade known for its colonial inspiration and constantly accused of corruption, discrimination, and excessive brutality? Yet SAINA's programs included, in many cases, genuine attempts to improve the lives of North Africans in the metropole. If critics loudly denounced BNA officers, Algerians from outside Paris at times addressed complaints to Rue Lecomte instead of their local prefecture in hopes of fairer treatment. The aid services of SAINA, as well as its inescapable tie to the BNA's priorities, brought colonial policing into the homes of North Africans in Paris. Exchanges between BNA officers and North Africans seeking aid show a different type of policing, linked not to physical violence but to cooperation and daily, small-scale coercion. Ultimately, BNA coercion required the participation of North Africans, an exchange of services between police and policed that gave agency to both sides, albeit unevenly. I argue that the active engagement of North African families with the BNA created limits to its power. The negotiations of North African families in need of services and a police force in need of access to a cordoned community created a space where the colonial dominance of the French state could be mitigated. The personal, financial, mundane policing of the BNA reframes colonial policing in a private sphere. Imperial directives drove the creation of the BNA but on a quotidian level, policing required forming personal relationships.
To develop access to the North African community in general, the BNA cultivated favorable relationships with shopkeepers and café owners, a population seen as the elites of this social milieu.63 Cafés held particular importance for the North Africans in Paris during the interwar period. Typically, young men made the voyage from North Africa to Paris. These men, aiming to save as much of their meager salary as possible to support their family, often took the cheapest lodging they could find. With North African men residing in foyers or sharing a single room with many men, personal space cost a premium. Given these conditions, the social life of most North African workers happened in the “Moorish cafés” (cafés maures) that dotted North African neighborhoods. In these cafés men discussed politics, work, nostalgia for home, and hope for the future. Access to the cafés, therefore, meant access to the pulse of the community itself. Café owners proved key allies for the BNA in its quest to enter North African communal space. Many café owners, skeptical of nationalism or perhaps worried about the consequences of political involvement, avoided direct association with nationalist organizations. Indeed, at an Algerian nationalist meeting in 1936 a speaker complained about café owners who would not allow nationalist propaganda in their establishments. The speaker advocated boycotting one café in particular, whose owner had thrown out nationalist adherents when they tried to sell newspapers in his establishment.64 As this anecdote indicates, café owners often distanced themselves from an alliance with the nationalists, a fact exploited by the BNA. The BNA placed officers or informants in cafés as a means of acquiring information on the activity of nationalists, who used cafés as a meeting place.65 Likely influenced by the potential consequences of refusing to help the police, café owners proved at least tacitly willing to allow BNA informants into their establishments.
Befriending the BNA was not, after all, without its rewards. In 1935 the BNA selectively authorized cafés to remain open late at night to provide food during Ramadan. Only those café owners with a positive relationship with the BNA and its then director, André Godin, obtained authorization.66 A café owner came to the BNA and complained about not receiving authorization to remain open. Told that they objected to his nationalist politics, the café owner promised that he had no association with nationalists, and the BNA quickly granted him permission to remain open after sundown.67 Although using coercion, the BNA mostly worked in harmony with North African café owners. Each side had something to gain from the relationship, and the mutual reliance led to peaceful cooperation. The incidental involvement of café owners in police operations reinforced the structure of power in the North African community, based on class hierarchy, and shows the extent to which personal relationships between police officers and certain North Africans shaped police practice.
Even the political policing so unrelentingly criticized by North African nationalists relied essentially on the participation of North Africans. When seeking to control nationalists, the BNA needed information above all else. To get facts, it used spies, participants who could enter meetings unnoticed. This meant that in practice the BNA relied on North African informants for much of its knowledge. The BNA presumably paid its North African informants, creating an incentive for spying on fellow North Africans. Nonetheless, without the active participation of these North Africans, the political policing of the BNA simply could not function. While the anonymous notes offer no hint as to the identity of informants, they may have represented a marginal segment of the North African population that hoped to benefit materially from aiding the police. Surveillance also played a key role in the daily policing practices of the BNA. Seeking to control political enemies, apprehend petty criminals, or find missing persons, BNA officers spent much of their time out on the streets of North African neighborhoods in Paris. Hostility between North Africans and the BNA undeniably existed. However, the BNA could not have functioned effectively if North Africans had not cooperated with the police unit. No doubt grudgingly in many instances, North Africans seem to have worked with BNA officers.
North Africans living in Paris called on the BNA to intercede in disputes over financial matters, typically unsettled accounts with fellow North Africans. The inspectors summoned the indebted North African to the service and, if all went smoothly, got him to sign an agreement stipulating a repayment program of small installments. SAINA often served as the depository for these transfers of funds, particularly when it involved money being sent across the Mediterranean. Not all accused debtors accepted the intervention of the BNA meekly. The BNA inspector Hugonnot notes a case from 1935 in which Brahim ben Messaoud ben Brahim, a Moroccan worker, refused to cooperate. Informed that another North African said he owed money, Brahim retorted, “I have nothing to do with the North African Service; I owe absolutely nothing to Messaoud ben Lahcéne ben Ahmed, but he owes me eight hundred francs.” Hugonnot further added in his notes that Brahim displayed “great rudeness” toward himself and toward the service of the BNA.68 As Brahim's reaction shows, social service cases did not always proceed peacefully, and the indignation often expressed about coercive BNA measures could also cross into matters of SAINA. This surly response, however, stands out in the record; most North Africans seemed to cooperate calmly with the intermediation of the BNA in financial affairs. The BNA served as a neutral third party that could settle disputes without the cost and complication of going through the French court system.
Beyond matters of financial dispute, the BNA frequently served as mediator in personal quarrels of North African workers. Stepping beyond public policing, the BNA gained unparalleled access to quotidian affairs of anger, love, and loss. In one incident from July 1934 Inspector Marill of the BNA was called by Lamri si Mohamed Charikhi to Bagnolet to settle an ongoing disagreement between neighbors. Charikhi had married Marie Converset, a French woman, in 1925, and the two had settled into rooms nearby another couple, Arezki Mohamed and Besena Tetrachi. Charikhi turned to the BNA to stop the incessant bickering between Besena and Marie, whose apparently mutual dislike made living conditions in the building untenable.69 Though the complaint had been lodged against the wives, Inspector Marill answered the problem by bringing the two husbands in to speak with a SAINA administrator. As in financial cases, this involvement in the personal came at the behest of a least one of the involved North Africans, rather than through the unwanted interference of the BNA. Again, the potential for the BNA to serve as a neutral third party for Algerians seeking to navigate difficult situations outweighed concerns over potential surveillance. The patriarchal solution for two fighting women also reveals something about the relationship of the BNA to those they policed. Here the BNA reinforced a static, gendered ordering of social relations, common to both French and Algerian societies.
The BNA also stepped in to mediate disputes between North Africans and Europeans, acting as interpreter in conflicts between two parties who struggled to navigate language and cultural barriers. One L'humanité article accused the BNA of dubious connections to certain landlords of North African foyers, causing conflicts of interest.70 If the BNA officers sometimes came to the aid of landlords, they also could display a willingness to hear both sides of the story. In June 1935 a landlord came to the BNA to complain that his former lodger had left without paying rent. When inspectors brought the tenant in, he claimed that he had paid his outstanding debt and his landlord's complaints stemmed from his bitterness about having to find a new tenant.71 The BNA appeared to let the case go after this testimony. The BNA would also occasionally investigate claims of abuse of North African workers, serving in the role of police advocate. In 1940, for example, Inspector Nourredine recorded his investigation resulting from an anonymous letter describing a foyer for North African workers in which the landlord exploited the North Africans.72 The BNA's role as arbiter sometimes worked against North Africans, but the inspectors also allowed North Africans to express their side of the story and protest the narratives of French landlords or bosses.
Connected to the Paris Mosque, SAINA also attempted to facilitate the religious practices of North Africans, who were mostly practicing Muslims. The Islamic identity of North Africans had been used, in colonial rhetoric, as a proof of their backwardness. Yet if the BNA adopted a colonial understanding of North African inferiority in terms of religion, it also provided some real services to Muslims in Paris. For example, telegram correspondence shows that Gérolami coordinated with officials in Marseille and Algeria to arrange and partly fund the trip to Mecca of a group of Parisian pilgrims.73 Like most aid programs of SAINA, however, the trip also provided an opportunity for the BNA to gather surveillance. BNA officers investigated each prospective pilgrim, including a checklist of information on their economic status, country of origin, vaccination record, parentage, medical records, and “morality.”74 The inspectors' assessment of the North Africans' moral standing included details about their employment, marital and living situation, and criminal record.75 BNA officers reserved the right to refuse passage to North Africans considered too active in communist or nationalist politics. The BNA could prevent those North Africans it considered politically dangerous from going to Mecca and interacting with Muslims from around the world, a pertinent concern with the rise of pan-Arabism in the interwar years. In this regard, the trip to Mecca served as part aid, part coercive control, like so many other SAINA initiatives. The BNA, through its monitoring of this SAINA-organized program, could both reward “good” North Africans with the trip and prevent “deviants” from joining in the Hadj.
The BNA also coordinated with North Africans from across the Mediterranean, who solicited its help in locating family members. Many scholars of Algerian immigration emphasize the connection between temporary migrants and their home back in North Africa.76 SAINA records demonstrate longer periods of residency than generally suggested, with many North Africans living in Paris for decades. However, families in North Africa relied on the young, male immigrants to provide cash. Faced with a prodigal son, Algerian families in particular contacted the BNA to help them locate their missing family members. Hundreds of letters from North African family members exist even in the limited collection of the Archives of Paris. One typical case from 1933 fell to BNA inspector Raymond Chalon, one of the two Chalon brothers who worked for the service. The BNA received a letter from the father of Kadi Rabah in December 1932. In the letter the father piteously recounted how his son, a resident of Paris for eight years, had left wife and children in the father's care in Algeria. Rabah had recently stopped sending money home for their upkeep. Chalon, searching among the North African community, located Rabah, who declared his firm intention to return to Algeria in the coming summer.77 The BNA's determination to help Algerian families regain contact with their sons might have stemmed from a paternalistic desire to ensure North Africans in France adhered to norms of employment and traditional family order. According to files on these cases, BNA officers searched for missing North Africans principally by asking around for the missing person in cafés and North African neighborhoods. If North Africans refused to cooperate with the police and supply information, little could be done. Indeed, if street searches failed, the party in question had no criminal record, and no major enterprise listed him as an employee, a North African could disappear into the dense urban fabric of Paris. However, the BNA usually found its man, a reflection of the cooperation of other North Africans.
North Africans also called on the BNA to facilitate connections with North African colonial administrators. When problems of communication emerged, the BNA proved the most efficient method for getting word to faraway loved ones. In 1935, for example, the BNA contacted the administrator of the commune mixte of Azaga in Algeria regarding a family affair. Hamdani Hamel's wife had written to the BNA, lamenting that her husband had left her without resources. Hamdani protested, in shock, that despite being unemployed for three years, he had continued to send money back to his wife almost monthly, care of his brother. Hamdani communicated with his wife via the administrative correspondence between Rue Lecomte and Azaga, conveying his intention to send all future funds directly to his wife through SAINA.78 Similar cases fill the dossiers. An overwhelmingly male population, Algerian workers turned to the services of Rue Lecomte to manage their gendered duties as the head of household. The BNA and SAINA served as a direct connection to the complex colonial administration, useful for settling all manner of problems. Letters flew back and forth from Paris to Algeria, in particular, concerning the sale of land, disputes over paying for the living expenses of spouses and children, inheritance, and use of land in the absence of the owner. Though the French state often categorized North Africans as male laborers, the services of the BNA accommodated the more complicated reality of their marital and familial ties across continents.
Personal matters also motivated other individuals to contact the BNA and SAINA for help. Most studies of North Africans in Paris in this period focus on the marital attachment of North African men to their home communities. Families in North Africa, these scholars suggest, tended to send married men to France, hoping their commitment to their family and wife would keep them from succumbing to temptations in France.79 The records of SAINA, however, reveal that many North Africans came to France unattached and found comfort in the arms of French women. Hardly fleeting or illicit, these relationships often resulted in marriage or cohabitation for many years. Some of the couples had children, whose complicated status of citizenship and place in French society deserves further investigation. Perhaps because of their comfort with the French bureaucratic system or perhaps because of the sheer number of such mixed relationships, French wives and girlfriends appear with surprising frequency in the records of SAINA. These women came to the BNA for help in dealing particularly with the transnational nature of their relationship with North African workers. Mlle. Yvonne Piolat, for example, lived with her “friend” Lakhdar ben Bourouis ben Ali for two years in Paris. Together they had a ten-month-old son, whom Lakhdar had officially recognized as his. Piolat came to the BNA because Lakhdar had returned to Algeria to visit his parents, and she subsequently lost contact with him. The BNA inspectors investigated and eventually, with the help of Algerian authorities, found that Lakhdar had enlisted in the French Army in Algeria to earn money to pay back some debts. Lakhdar displayed every intention of returning to his son and girlfriend in Paris when his enlistment finished.80 In helping French women navigate issues of citizenship and transcontinental communication, the BNA displayed a willingness to facilitate relationships between French women and North African men. This accommodation of interracial relationships seems unexpected considering the obsession with the “purity” of national birthrates and the ambivalent attitude, at best, of the French toward mixed-race children in colonies like Indochina.81
The BNA could serve as an advocate for women, in particular French women, who solicited its help. In one case, a French woman, Augustine Morel, sent a letter to the BNA reporting that her live-in boyfriend, Ait Alek Brahim, physically abused her and extorted money from her. The BNA duly investigated her accusations, bringing Brahim into 6 Rue Lecomte for an interrogation.82 The BNA served as an outlet for Morel, allowing her to seek redress for domestic abuse. However, racialized colonial hierarchies likely also played a role in the decision of the BNA to take this woman's claims seriously. In believing her testimony, BNA officers reacted to protect a French woman jeopardized by an Algerian man. Although the domestic abuse Morel described could have been all too real, it also fit a stereotypical image of the aggressive, oversexed, and violent North African immigrant. Would the BNA have intervened so quickly if the woman citing abuse had been North African? At times, protecting French women from Algerian men also offered an opportunity for coercion. By assisting vulnerable women, the BNA gained an opportunity to access intimate information about North Africans suspected of having false work contracts or nationalist sympathies.83
Monitoring relationships and sexual politics also allowed the BNA to police interracial marriage itself. Governed by the indigénat code, Algerian men could legally practice polygamy. French legal scholars and politicians obsessed over the potential for French women to be subjected to polygamous relationships in marrying North Africans. Indeed, legislation allowing French women to keep their nationality on marriage to a colonial subject in part framed the debate as protecting French women from the threat of such “backward” colonial customs.84 Records show that the BNA, too, fretted over suspicions of polygamy. For example, the head of the BNA wrote to the administrator of Fort-National in Algeria requesting an inquiry into the marital status of one Slimane Hamza. Hamza wished to marry a French woman in Paris, and the BNA had been directed to launch an investigation prior to the marriage to determine if Hamza already had a wife in Algeria.85 The letter suggests the request for an investigation came from the French woman herself, although without a letter from her in the archival trail we cannot know for sure. The BNA stepped in to act as the protector of this woman, shielding her from the potential deception of her Algerian husband, who might drag an unsuspecting French woman into polygamy. Although the BNA could act as a support network for French women in relationships with Algerian men, this example demonstrates a more complex relationship than simple acceptance.
The BNA policed standards of morality informed by colonial stereotypes and patriarchal notions of familial structure, and this impulse included a moral judgment of the women who came to the brigade for help. BNA inspectors aided women whom they perceived as being victimized by Algerian men but only if these women matched their idea of a “proper” French woman. Madame Lucienne Lepan came to the BNA seeking help in getting Hocine Allaoua to recognize paternity of her son. When questioned by a BNA officer, Allaoua retorted that he had known Lepan only “in passing, like many other women,” further implying that Lepan never lacked for willing partners and insinuating a flighty moral character.86 The BNA investigation revealed Lepan to be a divorcée with five children, all of whom lived with their father. Because Lepan failed to match the BNA's standard for female behavior, the inspector dropped her complaint. Policing both European women and Algerian male migrants, the BNA asserted itself in an intimate realm. Acting as a solicited resource or an unwelcome interloper, the BNA used its entrance into the domestic to impose norms on Parisian North Africans and the women they loved, married, or, in some cases, abused. In seeking to create a normalized standard of behavior for both women and colonial subjects, the BNA's coercion extended beyond the policing of politics or labor to policing propriety.
North Africans used the connection of the BNA officers to the French and colonial administration to their advantage. When families solicited searches for missing members, they voluntarily worked with this police unit to satisfy their own financial and familial needs. In the metropole, struggling to understand unemployment benefits, rules about pensions and inheritance, or even issues of marriage and recognizing children, North Africans had no way to familiarize themselves with French norms. Here the BNA and its inspectors could serve a purpose. Despite vehement protests against its very existence, the BNA offered services that no other bureaucratic department in the French system did. But one cannot help but wonder, as many North African advocates did, if the services would have been better off separated from a police force. If the BNA officers did have a unique understanding of Arabic and Amazigh and modes of life in North Africa, they also brought with them the targeted mission of protecting “child-like” North Africans.
The BNA policed North Africans in Paris by entering the intimate spaces of everyday life, seeding itself in the homes, cafés, and corner conversations of North African neighborhoods. The racialized “Muslims” of North Africa, marked by colonial policy and police practice as “others,” could be controlled differently than other populations. The triangular exchanges among North African families, BNA officers, and SAINA bureaucrats demonstrate a subtle give-and-take of power. This mediated repression belies a top-down power structure, which might be expected from a repressive colonial police force with a demonstrated record of violence. Yet the BNA, backed by the state and seemingly immune to charges of discrimination, always held the upper hand in this exchange. North Africans' choice to selectively engage with the BNA demonstrates a subversive use of colonial institutions, a way of deploying the limited options available to them. The BNA's incursion into the familial, neighborly, and romantic relationships of North Africans set new precedents for policing colonial populations, just as agitation for independence began to increase in the period after World War II. The model first pioneered by the BNA, a mixture of collective violence and individual-level coercion through aid, would continue to shape police practice even after the end of empire.
The End of the BNA
As Paris attempted to sort through the chaos of Occupation in 1945, the Municipal Council quietly shut down the BNA. After twenty years of policing the North African neighborhoods of Paris, the famous, or perhaps infamous, brigade disbanded. The dramatic national regime change of Vichy had a minimal impact on BNA officers, who continued their daily policing practices essentially unchanged.87 After Occupation, certain aspects of BNA practice came under scrutiny, including its policing of North African Jews. Although the ensuing Epuration trials condemned few BNA officers, they drew attention to the brigade's discriminatory nature. In the wake of the mass murder of Jews during World War II, the French government grew committed to a race-blind policy. During debates about re-creating the brigade in 1955, officials noted that establishing a repressive brigade “founded on the territorial origin or ethnicity of French citizens” was not possible given France's dedication to race-blind governance.88 Things became further complicated when Algerians gained citizenship after World War II, meaning that the BNA would have policed a section of French citizens, as based on race or colonial origin. Given the increasing turmoil in the French colonies, the French government needed to avoid overtly colonial and racially focused institutions like the BNA, which might fuel a growing fire for independence.89 An internal memorandum states that the Prefecture of Police also shut down the BNA due to continued hostility from the Parisian North Africans themselves.90 Though the catalyst of the Liberation provoked the end of the BNA, multiple factors led to its downfall, including the advocacy and agency of North Africans.
The BNA operated within the well-established tradition of colonial paternalism, attempting to shape North Africans with both force and assistance. The brigade enacted a colonial civilizing mission, helping North Africans but also directing them to become productive subjects of the French state. The BNA normalized practices of discriminatory policing that proved untenable in the political climate of Liberation. However, after the BNA disbanded, its members continued to serve in the Parisian police force. As shown by histories of the policing of Algerians during the Algerian War of Independence, many of the methods of targeted policing piloted by the BNA informed the practices and techniques of later police units.91 These methods of control included not just police violence and political monitoring but also attempts to win the “hearts and minds” of Algerians through aid initiatives similar in practice to SAINA.92 These later policies also centered on the ability of the police to enter the private, familial world of Algerian migrants, using aid programs to influence behavioral norms. Though violence played a key role in the BNA's attempts to regulate Parisian North Africans, its dependence on the local population limited the role of coercion and also allowed North Africans to advocate for their own needs. A delicate balance existed in the relationship of the BNA and North Africans, based on mutual necessity but also a degree of continual enmity.
On an individual level, the BNA officers surely represented a range of opinions and motivations. Did they see themselves as advocates of the North African community? As loyal public servants? As kind guardians of North Africans unready for the bustle and vice of urban life? Maybe they simply saw North Africans as enemies, potential criminals, or dangerous nationalists. Did the North African officers feel differently than their European comrades in arms? While we can never do more than speculate, the mixture of seemingly sincere aid and rather violent repression suggests that the BNA operated under a combination of all these motivations. North Africans' reaction to the BNA surely varied as much. BNA officers laughed and drank with North Africans in the cafés of friendly shopkeepers. Some North Africans came to the BNA in a state of confusion and left with reassurance that their bureaucratic puzzle would be solved. Yet others, including politically active nationalist sympathizers, saw a darker side of the BNA officers. Throughout their daily exchanges, police officers and North Africans navigated a complex relationship of coercion and benefit, one that granted a limited possibility for resistance for North Africans. Implementing control through personal interactions, the BNA perpetuated a colonial model of policing that expanded the realm of police intervention into the everyday life of North African migrants, a practice that would persist long after the doors closed at 6 Rue Lecomte.
The author thanks Herrick Chapman, the Institute of French Studies Graduate Research Seminar, and the anonymous reviewers of French Historical Studies for their insightful feedback.
The BNA was in fact known by many names over the years, but for the sake of simplicity, this article uses Brigade Nord-Africaine (North African Brigade), or BNA.
Archives de Paris (hereafter ADP), 3194W 4, Feb. 20, 1933.
Lewis, Boundaries of the Republic; Rosenberg, Policing Paris.
Rosenberg, Policing Paris, 154.
For example, Arnold, Police Power and Colonial Rule; and Anderson and Killingray, Policing the Empire.
Pierce and Rao, “Discipline and the Other Body.”
For more on the relationship between the police and urban space, see Deluermoz, Policiers dans la ville.
On colonial violence see, e.g., Pierce and Rao, Discipline and the Other Body.
For example, many BNA officers served in the Parisian police long after the BNA itself was disbanded (Blanchard, La police parisienne).
Paris, Archives de la Préfecture de Police (hereafter APP), HA 19, Aug. 1, 1928.
The Service des Affaires Indigènes Nord-Africaine (SAINA) collection was deposited with the Paris Archives in 2006, after being found in trash bags in the basement of the school that now inhabits 6 Rue Lecomte.
APP, DA 768, Godin, Jan. 1, 1924.
One note states that the BNA had identity cards for 810 Jews among more than 3,000 identity cards (APP, HA 88, June 1942).
Sidis is a derogatory term for North Africans, derived from an Arabic honorific.
APP, DA 768, Godin, Dec. 14, 1932.
Rosenberg, Policing Paris, 146. A commune mixte was an administrative unit in colonial Algeria, typically characterized by a large indigenous community and a small European settler population. Godin was a member of the Left Republican (républicain de gauche) party, a conservative political party that supported colonial expansion.
McMaster, Colonial Migrants and Racism, 162.
McMaster, Colonial Migrants and Racism, 162.
For example, the police de mœurs targeted a specific subset of crimes. See Berlière, La police des mœurs sous la IIIe République.
APP, DA 768, Godin, July 4, 1925.
APP, DA 768, Godin, Jan. 1, 1924.
APP, DA 768, Godin, Dec. 14, 1932; APP, HA 88, June 1942.
APP, HA 88, Mar. 31, 1925.
APP, DB 564, Godin, 1933.
An order from the Prefecture of Police in 1930 outlined the police positions of the BNA, including a principal inspector, a brigadier chief, two brigadiers, and thirty inspectors (APP, HA 88, Dec. 12, 1930).
APP, HA 88, Dec. 12, 1930.
APP, DA 768, Godin, Dec. 14, 1932.
Much of my information on staff comes from the 1945 Epuration trial records (APP KB series) and from case files that include officers' names. Unfortunately, no personnel files from the unit survive in today's archival record.
Rosenberg, Policing Paris, 158.
L'humanité, “Exploités et brimés.”
APP, KB 21.
APP, KB 108.
APP, HA 88. There is a slippage between “public order” and “colonial order” in the BNA's policing, since actions justified as protection of public order often focused on targets who challenged the colonial system without threatening violence or public disruption.
My research in the Archives Nationales d'Outre-Mer (ANOM), for example, shows that the police force of Algeria recruited heavily among local residents. However, the career trajectory of these indigenous men was limited, with the higher ranks of the police force reserved for Europeans (ANOM, ALG 1F).
APP, KB 82.
APP, DB 564, Godin, 1933.
Abdel-Hack, “L'affolement dans le Camp Impérialiste.” Bicot is an offensive term for North Africans. Here the paper uses a play on words to convey the idea of a culture of discrimination against North African immigrants.
Rosenberg, Policing Paris, 158–59.
Er Rachid, “Les rois de l'époque.”
APP, DA 768, May 20, 1947.
The professionalization of the French police did not preclude personal relationships between local officers and the residents of their district, but it did create a central chain of command and a system of accountability lacking in the BNA. On this process of professionalization, see Berlière, Le monde des polices en France.
ADP, DB 564, Godin, 1933.
Although the ENA at times drew crowds of nearly two thousand men to their meetings (e.g., APP, BA 2170, 1936), adherents of the ENA represented only a minority of North Africans living in Paris.
APP, BA 2170, Badin, Jan. 28, 1937.
APP, BA 2171, Oct. 27, 1934.
The indigénat legal code governed indigenous Algerians and was supposedly based on respect for local religious custom. In contrast, French and Algerian Jewish populations in Algeria were ruled by the universal French legal codes. These distinct legal regimes received much criticism from the ENA, which saw the indigénat as a form of discrimination and a means of tightening control over indigenous North Africans.
APP, BA 2170, Aug. 14, 1935.
Abderrahmane, “Les travailleurs nord-africains en France”; El Ancari, “La scandale continue.”
El Djazairi, “Comment on traite les chômeurs au bureau de la rue Lecomte.”
L'humanité, “A Clichy.”
Tilly, Politics of Collective Violence, outlines this idea of “varieties of violence” in social interaction.
North Africans, as French subjects, were not legally required to have formal identification, and BNA identity cards were voluntary. In practice, however, the BNA treated these IDs as mandatory and required North Africans to have a BNA ID card to access social programs.
El Djazairi, “Comment on traite les chômeurs au bureau de la rue Lecomte.” Chaouch is an Arabic term used to denote an office bureaucrat in colonial North Africa.
The police record contains no account of this incident, so their interpretation of events is unknown.
APP, BA 2172, Apr. 21, 1934.
APP, BA 2170, Sept. 17, 1934.
APP, BA 2170, May 22, 1936.
Another incident of violence: L'humanité, “Dans le dix-neuvième on brime les chômeurs coloniaux.”
APP, KB 16, Bech, Feb. 7, 1945.
APP, KB 78.
Juvénal, “Va-t-on rétablir la Brigade nord-africaine.”
APP, HA 7, Mar. 11, 1938.
Zalc, Melting shops.
APP, BA 2170, Jan. 9, 1936.
E.g., APP, BA 2172, Dec. 7, 1934.
APP, BA 2171, Jan. 7, 1935.
APP, BA 2171, Dec. 15, 1934.
ADP, 3194W 3, Nov. 15, 1935.
ADP, 3194W 5, July 26, 1934.
L'humanité, “Les procédés colonialistes envers les chômeurs nord-africains.”
ADP, 3194W 6, June 24, 1935. There was no clear resolution of the incident in the archival record.
ADP, 3194W 6, Nourredine, Sept. 20, 1940.
ADP, 3194W 1, 1931.
ADP, 3194W 1, 1931.
ADP, 3194 W1, Daie, Mar. 7, 1931.
See, e.g., McMaster, Colonial Migrants and Racism; and Sayad, Suffering of the Immigrant.
ADP, 3194 W 4, Chalon, Raymond, Nov. 18, 1933.
ADP, 3194W 6, Jan. 31, 1935.
Sayad, Suffering of the Immigrant.
ADP, 3194W 3, Apr.–May 1934.
For more on the relationship between race, reproduction, and gender in France and the colonies, see, e.g., Saada, Empire's Children; and Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power.
ADP, 3194W 3, Dec. 31, 1934.
In one case, they interrogated a hospitalized European woman about her longtime lover, accused of ignoring an interdit de séjour (ADP, 3194W 5, Aug. 1, 1934).
Camiscioli, Reproducing the French Race.
ADP, 3194W 7, Mar. 18, 1937.
ADP, 3194W 7, Aug. 30, 1941.
Kitson, Police and Politics in Marseille, makes a similar argument about the continuity of policing practices through the Popular Front and Vichy in Marseille.
APP, HA 88, Feb. 27, 1957.
APP, HA 88, Oct. 13, 1948.
APP, HA 88.
Blanchard, La police parisienne.
Lyons, Civilizing Mission in the Metropole.