Violent Protests Erupt in France Following Fatal Police Shooting, Resulting in Clashes and Looting

by Andrew Wright
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police shooting

In the fourth consecutive night of unrest in France, young protesters clashed with police and engaged in looting activities. The violent demonstrations were triggered by the tragic shooting of a teenager by the police, placing President Emmanuel Macron under increased pressure. Macron, in his appeal to parents, urged them to keep their children off the streets and pointed to social media as a contributor to the escalation of violence.

Although the situation was relatively calmer compared to previous nights, several cities across the country experienced turmoil. In Colombe, a Paris suburb near Nanterre where the shooting occurred, protesters overturned garbage bins and used them to block streets. In Marseille, a southern Mediterranean port city, nearly 90 individuals were arrested as protesters set cars on fire and vandalized store windows. Disturbingly, looters broke into a gun shop, stealing weapons. However, the police managed to apprehend a man with a hunting rifle.

Further instances of vandalism and looting took place in Lyon, an eastern city, where approximately one-third of the 30 arrests made were related to theft. A protest held earlier in the evening in Lyon drew over 1,000 people and resulted in fires in the streets. By 3 a.m., Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reported that a total of 471 arrests had been made throughout the night.

The fatal shooting of the 17-year-old, identified only as Nahel, was captured on video and intensified existing tensions between the police and young residents of housing projects and disadvantaged neighborhoods. Nahel’s burial is scheduled for Saturday, as stated by Nanterre Mayor Patrick Jarry, who emphasized the need for changes in these marginalized areas.

Despite repeated calls from the government for calm and increased police presence, acts of violence persisted during daylight hours. An Apple store was looted in Strasbourg, an eastern city, prompting the police to deploy tear gas. In a Paris-area shopping mall, individuals attempted to break into a closed store, but the officers managed to repel them. A fast-food outlet in the mall had its windows smashed.

Violent incidents also occurred in French territories overseas. On the small Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where protesters set garbage bins ablaze, damaged cars and buildings, and threw projectiles at the police, approximately 150 officers were deployed. In French Guiana, a stray bullet fired by rioters at police resulted in the death of a 54-year-old in the capital, Cayenne.

In response to the escalating crisis, President Macron decided against declaring a state of emergency, an option exercised during similar circumstances in 2005. Instead, the government intensified its law enforcement efforts. An additional 5,000 officers were deployed for Friday night, bringing the total number of officers to 45,000. Some officers were called back from their vacations. Minister Darmanin revealed that on Thursday alone, 917 arrests were made, noting that the average age of the arrestees was 17. He also mentioned that more than 300 police officers and firefighters had been injured.

To address the situation, Darmanin issued a nationwide nighttime shutdown of all public buses and trams, which had been targeted by the rioters. He also warned social media platforms against enabling the spread of calls for violence and expressed his appreciation for their cooperation. French authorities provided information to these platforms in the hope of identifying individuals inciting violence, with Darmanin emphasizing their commitment to pursuing anyone who exploits social media for violent acts.

President Macron focused on the role of social media platforms, such as Snapchat and TikTok, in organizing unrest and facilitating copycat violence. He called for collaboration with technology companies to establish procedures for the removal of sensitive content and urged them to act responsibly. Snapchat spokesperson Rachel Racusen confirmed that the company had increased moderation efforts to detect and respond to content related to the riots.

The ongoing violence raises concerns as France is scheduled to host the summer Olympic Games in just over a year, with Paris and other French cities welcoming thousands of athletes and millions of visitors. Organizers are closely monitoring the situation as they continue preparations.

Regarding the police officer responsible for Nahel’s death, he has been preliminarily charged with voluntary homicide, suggesting strong suspicion of wrongdoing by investigating magistrates. The prosecutor stated that the officer’s use of his weapon was not legally justified. According to the prosecutor, the officers attempted to stop Nahel due to his young appearance and his driving of a Mercedes with Polish license plates in a bus lane. Nahel allegedly ran a red light in an attempt to evade the police but became stuck in traffic. The officer claimed that he fired his weapon out of fear that either he, his colleague, or someone else could be hit by the car as Nahel tried to escape.

Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M., expressed her anger towards the officer while maintaining her respect for the police in general. She accused the officer of targeting her son based on his Arab appearance and demanded justice with a firm approach. She emphasized that a police officer should never use a gun to take the life of a child.

France experiences fewer cases of deadly firearm use by the police compared to the United States, although there were 13 fatal shootings by French police last year involving individuals who did not comply with traffic stops. Three similar incidents, including Nahel’s, have occurred this year. These deaths have sparked demands for greater police accountability in France, paralleling the racial justice protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.

Race has been a sensitive topic in France for many years, as the country officially adheres to a doctrine of colorblind universalism. Anti-racism activists in France have renewed their criticism of police behavior following Nahel’s killing.

The reporting for this article was contributed by Corbet and Leicester in Paris, journalists Jeffrey Schaeffer and Aurelien Morissard in Nanterre, Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon, Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Angela Charlton in Paris.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about police shooting

What triggered the riots in France?

The riots in France were triggered by the fatal police shooting of a teenager.

How long have the protests been going on?

The protests and unrest have been occurring for four consecutive nights.

What were the main incidents during the riots?

The main incidents included clashes between young protesters and the police, looting of stores, vandalism of buildings, and setting cars on fire.

What measures did President Macron take to address the situation?

President Macron appealed to parents to keep their children off the streets and blamed social media for fueling the violence. He also increased the deployment of police forces and called for the removal of sensitive content from social media platforms.

Was anyone arrested during the riots?

Yes, during the night, a total of 471 arrests were made. Additionally, nearly 90 people were arrested in Marseille, and approximately 30 arrests were made in Lyon.

Has there been any previous history of such riots in France?

Yes, in 2005, France experienced three weeks of rioting following the deaths of two teenagers. These incidents also sparked protests and unrest in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

How has the government responded to the escalating crisis?

Instead of declaring a state of emergency, the government has increased law enforcement efforts by deploying additional police officers and implementing a nighttime shutdown of public buses and trams. They are also working with social media platforms to address the spread of violent content.

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