Video on social media on Thursday appeared to show smoke from tear gas and burning cars in Nanterre, where thousands had gathered earlier to march in memory of the teenager, identified as Nahel M. Many wore T-shirts reading “Justice for Nahel .”
French authorities arrested more than 180 people from Wednesday night to Thursday morning during the overnight protests.
Protests erupt in Paris after police shoot and kill a teenager during a traffic stop
In northeastern Paris, protesters and police clashed for three hours, according to Le Monde. A kindergarten was damaged and police vehicles were burned in Neuilly-sur-Marne, in the greater Paris area. In Toulouse, in the south of the country, demonstrators shot fireworks at the police. And train services remained disrupted on Thursday Lillein northern France, after an “act of vandalism,” the operator said.
It was “the worst night of rioting in France’s multiracial suburbs for 18 years,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. In 2005, riots broke out after two boys were electrocuted while hiding from police at a power plant outside Paris. The riots prompted then-President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency.
The violence, if it continues, poses a political challenge to President Emmanuel Macron, Rahman said in an analysis. He said Macron would be under pressure to quell “fury” over the death of a teenager at the hands of police, but also “to crack down on rioters with curfews and mass arrests”.
Macron’s office held a crisis meeting Thursday with senior Interior Ministry officials to monitor the situation. The president is in Brussels and remains “in touch with his ministers and mayors,” a French government official said.
Police use ‘excessive force’ at France protests, rights groups say
The teenager was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop Tuesday morning. According to an account by Pascal Prache, prosecutor of Nanterre, two traffic officers on motorcycles observed a Mercedes driving fast in a bus lane. Along with the driver, there were at least two passengers in the car, police said.
Officers tried to get the driver to stop for a police check, but he drove off, Prache said. After chasing the car through the streets of Nanterre and seeing the driver breaking several traffic laws, officers pulled up alongside the car when it stopped on a major thoroughfare, Prache said.
During that stop, the two officers told investigators, they drew their firearms and pointed them at the teenager to prevent him from leaving again. One of the officers said he fired as the car was starting its engine, Prache said.
The driver received emergency care but was pronounced dead at 9:15 a.m., authorities said. One passenger was arrested and the other fled the scene. Police said they are looking for that passenger.
Prache said an autopsy found the teenager was killed by a single gunshot, with the bullet going through his left arm and chest.
Police unions rallied behind the officers. The Unite SGP-Police union said in a statement on Wednesday that it “gives its full support to the police officers involved [in this event] and to our colleagues involved [responding to] the urban violence derived from this tragedy”.
In photos: Roads, buildings burn after chaotic protests in France
Anger against law enforcement has risen in France, exacerbated by what rights groups have described as a harsh and sometimes violent response to protests over the government’s plan to raise the retirement age.
In that case, outrage grew after a video taken by a bystander and widely shared on social media appeared to contradict early accounts from police sources cited in French media, who claimed the driver had tried to hit officers with the vehicle. The video, which was verified by news agencies, shows an officer pointing a gun at a stationary car and pulling the trigger at close range as the vehicle begins to drive away.
The shooting renewed debate over a 2017 law that eased restrictions on when officers could fire their weapons.
Left-wing politicians, activists and a Le Monde editorial called for the law to be repealed or amended. The measure, passed in the wake of terror attacks in Paris and Nice, said officers could shoot at moving vehicles if they deemed them a mortal danger to themselves or others.
Since the law was passed, France has seen a fivefold increase in the number of people shot dead in their vehicles, according to Sebastian Roche, a research professor at the University of Grenoble-Alpes who studies police policies and the use of of weapons by the police.
He added that the shooting had stirred up so much emotion because of what he described as a legacy of police racism that police institutions often refuse to acknowledge. The media reported that the teenager was of North African origin.
“In France there is police discrimination,” he said. “But it is not accepted that it exists.”
Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer for the teenager’s family, accused the police officer who shot the teenager of making false statements and having “intent to kill”. The lawyer claimed the officer could be heard on the video telling the driver, “I’m going to put a bullet in your head.” The voices in the video are partially muffled by traffic noises, although the words “in your head” can be clearly heard.
Prache, the prosecutor, said the officers disputed some of the claims against them. The investigation will examine conflicting versions of events, he said.
The officer who fired said he did so because the teenager was driving dangerously, wanted to keep the car from driving away and was concerned for his own safety and that of his partner, Prache said. But he said the officer’s testimony and available evidence led investigators to conclude that “the legal conditions for the use of the weapon were not met.”
The teenager’s family will file a manslaughter charge against the officer, his lawyer said in a statement.
Darmanin, the interior minister, said he called for the officer who shot the teenager to be suspended, but that he has “confidence” in the police as a whole, according to Le Monde.
Police shootings are not common in France, but activists have accused the country’s police force of discrimination and racial profiling, which they say goes unpunished.
In 2016, the police action that led to the death of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black construction worker, drew national attention to cases of police brutality and racism, sparking an outcry.
Emily Rauhala, Victoria Bisset and Adela Suliman contributed to this report.