Unrest Spreads to Multiple Towns as 17-Year-Old Driver’s Death Leads to 150 Arrests

by Gabriel Martinez
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Following the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy by the police, protests escalated in the suburbs of Paris, with cars and public buildings being set on fire. The unrest quickly spread to various cities and towns across France, despite heightened security measures and the president’s appeals for calm.

The incident, captured on video, shocked the nation and reignited longstanding tensions between the youth and the police in disadvantaged neighborhoods and housing projects throughout France.

The authorities and the family have not released the surname of the victim, although earlier statements from the family spelled the name as Nael.

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The clashes initially erupted on Tuesday night in Nanterre, the Paris suburb where the shooting occurred. The government deployed 2,000 police officers on Wednesday to maintain order, but the violence continued after nightfall.

Throughout the night, the police and firefighters struggled to contain the protesters and extinguish multiple fires that damaged schools, police stations, town halls, and other public buildings. The national police reported fires and skirmishes in several cities overnight, including Toulouse in the south and Lille in the north, although the main focus of the tensions remained in Nanterre and other Paris suburbs.

A total of 150 people were arrested across the country, with over half of them in the Paris region, according to an unnamed spokesperson for the national police, who cited police regulations preventing public identification.

The number of injuries has not been released at this time.

In response to the violence, President Emmanuel Macron convened an emergency security meeting on Thursday. He condemned the acts as unjustifiable and expressed the need for peace to be restored.

Nahel’s mother called for a silent march in honor of her son on the square where he was killed, emphasizing the importance of remembrance and respect.

In Nanterre, multiple vehicles were set on fire, while protesters launched fireworks and threw stones at the police, who responded with tear gas. A building caught fire, with flames engulfing three stories, and an electrical plant was also reported to be ablaze. The town hall of L’Ile-Saint-Denis, located near France’s national stadium and the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics, was damaged by fire.

The police officer responsible for the shooting is currently in custody on suspicion of manslaughter and may face preliminary charges as early as Thursday, as confirmed by the Nanterre prosecutor’s office.

Activists in France are renewing calls to address what they perceive as systemic police abuse, particularly in neighborhoods like the one where Nahel lived, where residents often face poverty, racial discrimination, and class inequality. Government officials have condemned the killing and distanced themselves from the actions of the police officer.

President Macron deemed the killing “inexplicable and inexcusable” and called for calm, stating that the death of a young person is unjustifiable.

Videos circulating online depict two police officers leaning into the driver-side window of a yellow car before the vehicle accelerates, and one officer fires shots through the window. The car later crashed into a nearby post.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The site of the shooting, located at Nelson Mandela Square in Nanterre, is now adorned with bouquets of orange and yellow roses.

Speaking in Parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne acknowledged that the footage of the incident showed an intervention that appeared to violate the rules of engagement for the police.

While deadly use of firearms is less common in France compared to the United States, there have been instances in recent years where French police have caused deaths or injuries, prompting calls for increased accountability. France also witnessed protests against racial profiling and other injustices following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.

When questioned about police abuses, President Macron asserted that justice should be allowed to take its course.

Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer representing Nahel’s family, stated that they are seeking murder charges against the police officer rather than manslaughter.

Prominent French soccer star Kylian Mbappé, who grew up in the Paris suburb of Bondy, expressed his sorrow over the incident, stating, “I am deeply saddened for my country.”

Reporting by Charlton in Paris. Contributions by Oleg Cetinic in Nanterre and Sylvie Corbet in Paris.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about protests

What sparked the protests in France?

The protests in France were sparked by the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old driver by the police. The incident, captured on video, shocked the country and led to widespread anger and unrest.

How did the protests spread to multiple towns?

Following the initial clashes in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, the unrest quickly spread to other French cities and towns. Despite increased security measures and calls for calm from the president, the protests continued and escalated, resulting in clashes, fires, and damage to public buildings.

How many people were arrested during the protests?

A total of 150 people were arrested across the country, with more than half of the arrests occurring in the Paris region. The authorities made efforts to maintain order, but the protests persisted, leading to numerous arrests.

What were the main demands of the protesters?

The protesters, driven by longstanding tensions between young people and the police in disadvantaged neighborhoods, called for an end to systemic police abuse. They demanded accountability and justice for the victim, highlighting issues of poverty, racial discrimination, and class inequality in these communities.

What action has been taken by the government?

In response to the violence, President Macron held an emergency security meeting and condemned the acts as unjustifiable. The police officer involved in the shooting was taken into custody on suspicion of manslaughter and may face preliminary charges. The government officials expressed condemnation for the killing and sought to distance themselves from the actions of the police officer.

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