The French have taken to the streets again, in one of the most violent protests Europe has witnessed in recent years. Violence has gripped the country over the last 4 days, triggered by the deadly police shooting of a teenager of Algerian and Moroccan descent.
Police shot dead 17-year-old Nahel M. at a traffic stop last Thursday in Nanterre — a small working class town on the outskirts of Paris. Since then, nearly 40,000 police officers have been deployed across France in an attempt to squash the protests. By Sunday, there were 719 arrests made nationwide and more than 3,000 people detained.
Demanding justice and an end to systemic abuse within the law enforcement system, the protests have grown in intensity and scale, drawing attention both domestically and internationally. A burning car hit the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of l’Hay-les-Roses. Rioters have targeted several schools, police stations, town halls and stores through fires or vandalism in recent days.
France is no stranger to public unrest, there have been country-wide protests in 2023 itself over three separate occasions — but the intensity of the current upheaval comes as a shock to many.
According to the Financial Times, President Emmanuel Macron met with his top ministers on Sunday to mobilize the government response.
The current wave of protests has evoked memories of the 2005 riots, which shook France for three weeks and led to President Jacques Chirac declaring a state of emergency. The violence originated in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb of Paris, and quickly spread across the nation after two teenagers accidentally electrocuted themselves in a power substation while attempting to hide from the police. Although the trial took place a decade later, the court acquitted the two officers.
A spokesperson for the national police told Reuters that Tuesday’s killing marked the third fatal shooting during traffic stops in France thus far in 2023, a decrease from the record-breaking 13 incidents recorded last year. There were three such killings in 2021 and two in 2020. Notably, an analysis of these cases since 2017 reveals that the majority of the victims were individuals of Black or Arab origin.
On day five, the riots appear to be calming, especially as Nahel’s family members called for an end to the violence. His grandmother accused rioters of using Nahel’s death as an excuse and urged them to stop destroying public goods. Nahel’s mother, speaking to France 5 television following a march, expressed her sentiments, saying, “I have nothing against the police. I have something against one person, he who killed my son. He did not have to kill my son.”
According to the BBC, Macron has asked the interior ministry to keep a “massive” police presence on the streets regardless.
As France grapples with these ongoing protests, the poignant words of grieving families and the historical backdrop of past riots shed light on the deep-seated issues surrounding police brutality. The demands for justice and accountability persist, as the nation confronts the need to rebuild trust between citizens and those entrusted with their safety.