This paper analyses clashes which took place between Belgian police and young people mainly from 'immigrant' backgrounds in Brussels during 1991. Four models were developed in the Belgian press for understanding the violence, but a deeper understanding of the public confrontations requires an alternative explanation which places local events in a wider context of power and state. The conflict should more properly be understood as the reaction of a relatively powerless community to its disadvantaged situation. The young people were acting not as victims but as active agents questioning dominant notions and policies concerning 'integration', challenging the ethnic labels applied to them and asserting a desire for citizenship rights. Despite these positive reactions the relationship between minorities and the state has not radically changed and violence could easily break out again as more recent events have demonstrated.