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France’s visitor warning riles local students

Thammy Pierre Louis, left, Erica Hudson, center, and Gzharia Lynch were among the students who took part in the event.

PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF

Thammy Pierre Louis, left, Erica Hudson, center, and Gzharia Lynch were among the students who took part in the event.

As they crammed into the elevator of the stout Back Bay building, the high school students and officials steeled themselves for a confrontation they compared to the storming of the Bastille.

When about a dozen of them emerged onto the seventh floor of the building on St. James Avenue, the emissaries from Codman Academy Charter Public School said they were seeking repentance from officials at the Consulate General of France, who had no idea they were coming.

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The students, all Francophiles who study French, were miffed by language on the website of France’s foreign ministry that warned visitors to Boston to avoid walking at night in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. They came to demand that the language be removed and to invite the consul general to visit their school to appreciate the finer parts of Dorchester.

“We want to prove that there’s nothing to be afraid of,” said Haley Malm, Codman Academy’s French teacher.

They ticked off the attractions of Boston’s largest neighborhood: Vietnamese baguette sandwiches and West Indian rotis, the John F. Kennedy Library, and a diversity that brings together people from nearly every part of the planet.

They were joined by recent mayoral candidate, longtime Dorchester resident, and president of the school’s board of trustees, Bill Walczak, who called the language on the foreign ministry’s website “a slap in the face to Dorchester.”

“I’ve lived there over 40 years, and I’ve never had a problem,” he said. “The notion that they smear an entire community is entirely unfair.”

Another Dorchester native, mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh, wasn’t there but still voiced support for their cause.

“I’d welcome the French foreign ministry to reach out and tour any of these neighborhoods with me to give them a chance to look beyond unfortunate headlines and to see firsthand the rich culture and diversity that we are so proud of here,” he said in a statement.

When the students reached the door of the consulate, they were greeted by a guard, who told them the consul general wasn’t there. They were not deterred. They asked for another official — any official — who might hear them read a letter they had prepared in French.

The guard told them to wait, shut the door, and disappeared. As the minutes passed, the students grew antsy.

Finally, the guard returned with Jérôme Henry, the deputy consul, who looked unnerved by the group crowded in the hallway. He said he would take their letter, but the students said they wanted to read it first, which one did.

A few minutes later, without answering the students’ questions, Henry took a folder with the letter and closed the door behind him. He did not invite the protesters in.

Officials from the consulate did not return calls from the Globe seeking comment.

The students said they couldn’t believe what happened. “I feel like he was really rude,” said 17-year-old Erica Hudson, a senior at the school. “I don’t think he’s going to do anything.”

Her friend Thammy Pierre Louis agreed. “I think the letter is just going to sit on his desk,” said Pierre Louis, also 17, and a senior.

Another student, Gzharia Lynch, an 18-year-old senior, said she thought Henry was startled by their unannounced arrival. “Hopefully, he’ll listen to what we have to say,” she said. “If he doesn’t, we’ll have to come back.”

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.
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