Funeral of Slain Teen Held in France amid Heightened Police Presence and Calmer Fifth Night of Unrest

by Lucas Garcia
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In a somber procession, mourners belonging to France’s Islamic community gathered in a mosque and made their way to a hillside cemetery on Saturday to lay to rest a 17-year-old teenager whose killing by the police has sparked days of rioting and looting throughout the country.

The severity of the crisis led President Emmanuel Macron to cancel an official trip to Germany in response to the ongoing unrest across France.

To prevent further violence on the fifth night of disturbances, the government deployed 45,000 police officers on the streets nationwide. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin acknowledged on social media that the night had been comparatively calmer, attributing it to the decisive actions of security forces. He reported that 427 arrests had been made during the night.

In other news, German conservatives are attempting to attract dissatisfied voters while curbing the influence of the far-right. A report has also revealed that Germany’s 5.5 million Muslims frequently experience structural racism in their daily lives. Despite the rise of a far-right party, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz maintains that right-wing populists will not gain the upper hand in Germany.

Since the teenager’s death on Tuesday, approximately 2,800 individuals have been arrested. Late on Saturday, Darmanin tweeted that 200 riot police officers had been deployed in the port city of Marseille, where tear gas was employed by the police as darkness fell, as seen on television footage.

On the Champs-Elysées near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, hundreds of police officers equipped with batons and shields stood watchfully, while several officers positioned themselves in front of the closed Cartier boutique. Despite social media posts calling for protests on the renowned boulevard, the visible police presence appeared to discourage any large gatherings.

Earlier in the day, at a hilltop cemetery in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager, identified only as Nahel, was killed, hundreds of individuals lined the road to pay their respects as mourners carried his white casket from a mosque to the burial site. Journalists were barred from attending the ceremony and, in some instances, even chased away. Some of the men present carried folded prayer rugs.

“Men first,” an official instructed dozens of women waiting to enter the cemetery. However, Nahel’s mother, dressed in white, was applauded as she walked inside and headed towards the grave. Many of the men in attendance were young Arabs or Blacks, grieving for a boy who could have been one of them.

Within the cemetery gate, the casket was raised above the crowd and carried toward the grave, followed by the men, some of whom were holding the hands of little boys. As they departed, several wiped tears from their eyes. There were no police officers in sight.

The ongoing unrest has had repercussions for Macron’s diplomatic engagements. According to the office of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Macron called on Saturday to request a postponement of what would have been the first state visit by a French president to Germany in 23 years. Macron had originally planned to fly to Germany on Sunday evening for visits to Berlin and two other German cities.

Macron’s office stated that he had spoken with Steinmeier and, “given the internal security situation, the president (Macron) expressed his desire to remain in France in the coming days.”

Nahel was shot during a traffic stop. A video showed two officers at the car window, one of whom had his gun aimed at the driver. As the teenager drove forward, the officer fired a shot through the windshield. Nahel’s mother expressed her anger towards the officer who killed her son but not towards the police in general during an interview with France 5 television earlier this week.

She stated, “He saw a young boy who looked Arab, and he wanted to take his life.”

Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.

Race has long been a taboo subject in France, a country officially committed to the ideology of colorblind universalism. Critics argue that this doctrine has concealed generations of systemic racism.

The officer accused of killing Nahel has been provisionally charged with voluntary homicide, indicating that investigating magistrates have strong suspicions of wrongdoing but require further investigation before proceeding to trial. Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache stated that his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon was not legally justified.

Hundreds of police officers and firefighters have been injured in the violence that erupted following the killing. The authorities have not released injury figures for protesters. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old individual died after being struck by a stray bullet.

The reaction to the killing serves as a powerful reminder of the persistent poverty, discrimination, unemployment, and lack of opportunities in neighborhoods across France, where many residents can trace their roots back to former French colonies, much like Nahel’s hometown.

“Nahel’s story is the spark that ignited the fuel. Desperate young people were waiting for it. We lack housing and jobs, and when we do have them, our wages are too low,” said Samba Seck, a 39-year-old transportation worker from the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.

Clichy-sous-Bois was the epicenter of weeks-long riots in 2005 that shook France following the deaths of two teenagers who were electrocuted in a power substation while attempting to flee from the police. One of the boys resided in the same housing project as Seck.

Like many residents of Clichy, Seck deplored the violence directed at his town, where a burned-out car remained beneath his apartment building, and the entrance to the town hall was set on fire during the recent riots.

“Young people are breaking everything, but we are already impoverished, we have nothing,” he remarked, adding that “young people fear dying at the hands of the police.”

Despite the escalating crisis, Macron refrained from declaring a state of emergency, an option that was utilized in 2005. However, the government has increased its law enforcement response by deploying a large number of police officers, including some who were called back from vacation.

France’s Justice Minister, Dupond-Moretti, issued a warning on Saturday that young people who share calls for violence on platforms like Snapchat could face legal consequences. Macron has blamed social media for fueling the violence.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire promised government assistance to affected shop owners, emphasizing the necessity of order and common rules within a nation.

Darmanin has implemented a nationwide nighttime shutdown of all public buses and trams, which have been targeted by rioters. He also cautioned social media platforms against becoming channels for incitement to violence.

The ongoing violence occurs just over a year before Paris and other French cities are scheduled to host the Summer Olympics, where athletes and millions of visitors are expected. The organizers of the Olympics are closely monitoring the situation as preparations for the event continue.

Last year, thirteen individuals who failed to comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police. This year, three more people, including Nahel, have died in similar circumstances. These deaths have spurred calls for greater accountability in France and have also led to racial justice protests, echoing the demonstrations that took place after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.

Reporting from Paris by Charlton. Contributions to this report were made by Jade le Deley in Clichy-sous-Bois, France; Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon; Jocelyn Noveck in New York; and Geir Moulson in Berlin, on behalf of Big Big News.

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