Youths clash with French police and loot in 4th night of riots triggered by fatal police shooting
Young rioters clashed with police and looted stores overnight Friday in a fourth night of unrest in France triggered by the deadly police shooting of a teen, piling more pressure on President Emmanuel Macron after he appealed to parents to keep children off the streets and blamed social media for fueling violence.
While the situation appeared to be somewhat calmer compared to previous nights, turmoil gripped several cities across the country.
Protesters overturned garbage bins and used them to block off streets in Colombe, a Paris suburb near Nanterre, where the shooting occurred Tuesday. In the southern Mediterranean port city of Marseille, officers arrested nearly 90 people as groups of protesters lit cars on fire and broke store windows to take what was inside, police said. Looters broke into a gun shop and made off with weapons, and a man was later arrested with a hunting rifle, police said.
Buildings and businesses were also vandalized in the eastern city of Lyon, where a third of the roughly 30 arrests made were for theft, police said. Authorities reported fires in the streets after an unauthorized protest drew more than 1,000 people earlier in the evening.
By about 3 a.m., Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told cable news channel BFMTV that 471 arrests were made during the night.
The fatal shooting of the 17-year-old, who has only been identified by his first name, Nahel, was captured on video, stirring up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in housing projects and disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Nahel’s burial is scheduled for Saturday, according to Nanterre Mayor Patrick Jarry, who said France needs to “push for changes” in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Despite repeated government appeals for calm and stiffer policing, Friday saw brazen daylight violence, too. An Apple store was looted in the eastern city of Strasbourg, where police fired tear gas, and the windows of a fast-food outlet were smashed in a Paris-area shopping mall, where officers repelled people trying to break into a shuttered store, authorities said.
Violence was also erupting in some of France’s territories overseas.
Some 150 police officers were deployed Friday night on the small Indian Ocean island of Reunion, authorities said, after protesters set garbage bins ablaze, threw projectiles at police and damaged cars and buildings. In French Guiana, a 54-year-old was killed by a stray bullet Thursday night when rioters fired at police in the capital, Cayenne, authorities said.
In the face of the escalating crisis that hundreds of arrests and massive police deployments have failed to quell, Macron held off on declaring a state of emergency, an option that was used in similar circumstances in 2005.
Instead, his government ratcheted up its law enforcement response. Already massively beefed-up police forces were boosted by another 5,000 officers for Friday night, increasing the number to 45,000 overall, the interior minister said. Some were called back from vacation. The minister, Darmanin, said police made 917 arrests on Thursday alone and noted their young age — 17 on average. He said more than 300 police officers and firefighters have been injured.
It was unclear how many protesters have been injured in the clashes.
Darmanin on Friday ordered a nationwide nighttime shutdown of all public buses and trams, which have been among rioters’ targets. He also said he warned social networks not to allow themselves to be used as channels for calls to violence.
“They were very cooperative,” Darmanin said, adding that French authorities were providing the platforms with information in hopes of cooperation identifying people inciting violence.
“We will pursue every person who uses these social networks to commit violent acts,” he said.
Macron, too, zeroed in on social media platforms that have relayed dramatic images of vandalism and cars and buildings being torched, saying they were playing a “considerable role” in the violence. Singling out Snapchat and TikTok, he said they were being used to organize unrest and served as conduits for copycat violence.
Macron said his government would work with technology companies to establish procedures for “the removal of the most sensitive content,” adding that he expected “a spirit of responsibility” from them.
Snapchat spokesperson Rachel Racusen said the company has increased its moderation since Tuesday to detect and act on content related to the rioting.
The violence comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities are due to host 10,500 Olympians and millions of visitors for the summer Olympic Games. Organizers said they are closely monitoring the situation as preparations for the Olympics continue.
The police officer accused of killing Nahel was handed a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide, which means investigating magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing but need to investigate more before sending a case to trial. Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon wasn’t legally justified.
Prache said officers tried to pull Nahel over because he looked so young and was driving a Mercedes with Polish license plates in a bus lane. He allegedly ran a red light to avoid being stopped and then got stuck in traffic.
The officer said he feared he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car as Nahel attempted to flee, according to the prosecutor.
Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M., told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer but not at the police in general. “He saw a little Arab-looking kid, he wanted to take his life,” she said, adding that justice should be “very firm.”
“A police officer cannot take his gun and fire at our children, take our children’s lives,” she said.
Deadly use of firearms is less common in France than in the United States, although 13 people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year. This year, another three people, including Nahel, died under similar circumstances. The deaths have prompted demands for more accountability in France, which also saw racial justice protests after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.
Race was a taboo topic for decades in France, which is officially committed to a doctrine of colorblind universalism. In the wake of Nahel’s killing, French anti-racism activists renewed complaints about police behavior in general.
This week’s protests echoed the three weeks of rioting in 2005 that followed the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traoré and 17-year-old Zyed Benna, who were electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois.