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M alika looked out of her window on the tenth floor of a run-down tower-block in northern Marseille across at the Mediterranean Sea. On a nearby estate, visible from the window, a year-old was recently shot dead with a Kalashnikov machine-gun in a criminal turf-war.
It was the tenth criminal gang death in the Marseille area this year. Hundreds of women from the Marseille estates — including mothers who have lost family members in violent criminal disputes — have launched an appeal to the government to plough back the millions of euros confiscated each year from organised crime across the country into small local associations on impoverished housing estates.
Inspired by anti-mafia laws in Italy, where recovered assets are given back to local communities, the women argue that channeling the proceeds of white-collar corruption and crime back into educational projects run by local groups would help keep teenagers away from organised crime.
But the struggle comes with personal risk in neighbourhoods where arms and drugs have filled a void left by the state. The women are used to gently keeping the peace in neighbourhoods where school dropout rates are high and transport and public services are seen as lacking. Other homes in the block are boarded up, and some have been squatted as this tower is marked for imminent demolition.
The state is renovating what has become one of the poorest and most stigmatised neighbourhoods in France. Local boys, some younger than 15, sit all day on plastic chairs manning entrances to certain blocks to warn drug-dealers of police or rival gangs. The Mediterranean port, which is thriving as a major tourist destination, has been desperate to shake off its old stereotypes of drug-smuggling and gang wars as seen in the film, The French Connection.