There was no significant police presence here. Young people patrolled the neighborhoods, chasing local journalists, and the mosque where the service was held was closed to the public.
Nahel M., of North African descent, was just 17 when police shot and killed him during a traffic stop in Nanterre earlier this week. His death sparked days of unrest across the country, in which thousands have been arrested or detained.
French President Emmanuel Macron has struggled to contain the unrest and on Saturday canceled a much-anticipated state visit to Germany, the country’s closest ally in the European Union. Authorities considered imposing night curfews and other measures to quell the unrest.
The government mobilized some 45,000 police in anticipation of further unrest and ordered local officials to suspend bus and tram services. Police arrested or detained more than 1,300 people on Friday night alone, according to the Interior Ministry.
How the murder of a teenager fits into France’s history of police brutality
Nahel’s family had hoped the funeral could be just that: a time of mourning and remembrance unmolested by media, violence and political fallout.
“The family expected discretion,” Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer representing the family, said in an interview.
But in Nanterre and other French suburbs, Nahel has become a symbol of the fears many here have of the police. French law enforcement often acts with impunity and discriminates against minority communities, residents say. Many in this suburb see Nahel, a French citizen of Algerian and Moroccan roots who loved motorcycles and rap.
Lawyers for Nahel’s family maintain that he had no criminal record. But the local prosecutor said he had a history of failing to comply with police at traffic stops. He was often on the road, working as a delivery man.
Still, “Nahel was not a highwayman,” Jean-François Puech, the founder of the Ovale Citoyen association, told the Sud Ouest newspaper earlier this week.
Earlier this year, Nahel attended events organized by the local sports association, according to Puech.
“For me, Nahel was the typical example of a neighborhood kid,” Puech said, adding that he “wanted to get away from it.”
Tensions have also spread abroad. On the island of Reunion, a French department in the Indian Ocean, authorities said dozens of people were detained over Friday night’s unrest.
Many events scheduled for this weekend, including the annual Marseille Pride march, were canceled or postponed.
Protesters say their anger has been fueled by what they see as an attempted police cover-up. Authorities have arrested the officer suspected of shooting the teenager and are investigating him for intentional homicide.
The initial police narrative suggested that the victim’s car had tried to ram them. But video footage contradicted police accounts, showing an officer appearing to fire as the car sped away.
“The video clearly shows that the policeman was not in danger and that he had no right to shoot,” Bouzrou said.
Speaking to French television station BFM, the arresting police officer’s lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said the officer had pointed the firearm at Nahel’s leg and accidentally pulled the trigger. trigger, hitting the victim’s chest as the car sped away.
“Obviously (the officer) didn’t want to kill the driver,” Lienard told BFM.
Macron was quick to condemn the shooting but has yet to fully address calls for more accountability, including demands for stricter rules on when police officers can use their weapons.
Investigators say the number of similar police shootings has risen sharply in recent years, after a law was passed in 2017 that relaxed conditions for police to shoot at moving vehicles if they are deemed to pose a potentially deadly threat.
Macron appeals to parents and blames social media for French protests
For Macron, the unrest is another political challenge in a year that has strained his parliamentary alliance and curtailed his political ambitions. The flare-up of tensions follows large-scale protests earlier this year over Macron’s unpopular push to raise France’s retirement age.
“Macron hoped to move the country after protests over pension reform. But these disturbances will undermine his ability to restart and once again damage the perception of France’s image in Europe and abroad.” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
Macron’s aborted state visit to Germany would have been the first by a French president in 23 years.
Unlike in 2005, when comparable unrest broke out in France, Macron “faces a more difficult and fragmented political environment,” Rahman said.
“Left and far-right opposition parties are trying to take advantage of the crisis to further weaken Macron and his government,” he said.
Adela Suliman in London, Kate Brady in Berlin, Ruby Mellen in Washington and Emily Rauhala in Brussels contributed to this report.