PARIS — French police braced for more violent protests yesterday over the fatal shooting of a teen by a policeman that has left authorities scrambling to contain an escalating crisis.
According to an internal security note, the coming nights are expected “to be the theatre of urban violence” with “actions targeted at the forces of order and the symbols of the state”, a police source said.
One Paris suburb, Clamart, has already declared an overnight curfew, between 9:00pm (1900 GMT) and 6:00am from Thursday until next Monday.
France has been roiled by two nights of protests after a 17-year-old named Nahel was shot point-blank Tuesday during a traffic stop that was captured on video.
“I don’t blame the police, I blame one person: The one who took the life of my son,” Nahel’s mother, Mounia, told the France 5 channel in her first media interview since the shooting.
She said the 38-year-old officer responsible, who was detained and charged yesterday with voluntary manslaughter, “saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life.”
Longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France’s low-income and multiethnic suburbs are seen as fuelling the rioting.
A memorial march for Nahel, led by his mother, ended with riot police firing tear gas as several cars were set alight in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre where he lived and was killed.
Some 40,000 police have been mobilised to try to keep the peace yesterday, more than four times Wednesday’s numbers.
Cars, bins, schools and government offices were torched Wednesday night around Paris and in other cities, while some 150 people were arrested nationwide.
As part of measures to restore calm, Paris bus and tram services were halted after 9:00pm (1900 GMT) yesterday, the region’s president said.
President Emmanuel Macron has called for calm and said the protest violence was “unjustifiable”.
The riots are a fresh challenge for Macron who had been looking to move past some of the biggest demonstrations in a generation sparked by a controversial rise in the retirement age.
‘Bullet in the head’
Nahel was killed as he pulled away from police who tried to stop him for a traffic infraction.
A video, authenticated by AFP, showed two policemen standing by the side of the stationary car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver.
A voice is heard saying: “You are going to get a bullet in the head.”
The police officer then appears to fire as the car abruptly drives off.
Clashes first erupted as the video emerged, which contradicted police accounts that the teenager was driving at the officer.
“The first words he pronounced were to say sorry and the last words he said were to say sorry to the family,” the officer’s lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, told BFMTV late yesterday.
On Wednesday night, anger spread to Toulouse, Dijon and Lyon, as well as several towns in the Paris region.
In the southern city of Toulouse, several cars were torched and police and firefighters pelted with projectiles.
At France’s second-largest prison complex, Fresnes, protesters also attacked security at the entrance with fireworks.
The town hall of Mons-en-Baroeul outside the northern city of Lille was set on fire when some 50 hooded people stormed the building, the mayor told AFP.
Authorities in Lille stepped up measures yesterday aimed at preventing fresh violence, including a ban on gatherings and deploying drones.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, speaking in a town north of Paris where the mayor’s office had been set on fire, said “obviously all escalation has to be avoided”.
‘Ingredients for an explosion’
The government is desperate to avoid a repeat of 2005 urban riots, sparked by the death of two boys of African origin in a police chase, during which 6,000 people were arrested.
“There are all the ingredients for another explosion potentially,” one government adviser told AFP on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.
The head of the right-wing Republicans, Eric Ciotti, called for a state of emergency, which allows local authorities to create no-go areas, but a government source told AFP this option was not currently on the table.
Concern about the police using their weapons to stop drivers who refused to stop for traffic checks has been growing.
Last year, 13 people were killed after refusing to stop for police traffic checks, with a law change in 2017 that gave officers greater powers to use their weapons now under scrutiny.
“What I see on this video is the execution by police of a 17-year-old kid, in France, in 2023, in broad daylight,” said Greens party leader Marine Tondelier. — AFP