Video Producer: Vishnu Gopinath
Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Protests have swept France since a 17-year-old boy was shot in the chest by the police near Paris on Tuesday, 27 June. The incident reignited a debate on over-policing in marginalised communities, leading to protests and riots.
Hundreds of arrests have been made, with the French government banning demonstrations and issuing travel warnings in some cities.
Videos purportedly showing people setting fires to vehicles, smashing windows, and climbing onto buildings have been circulating on social media. Visuals of the riot police allegedly clashing with the demonstrators have also been widely shared.
Though officials told news agencies that the level of violence appeared to have declined, 719 were arrested on the fifth day (1 July) of the protests alone.
Meanwhile, as the demonstrations entered their fifth day, protestors reportedly rammed a car into the home of the mayor of a town south of Paris.
The mayor said that his wife and one of his children were injured in the attack. Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun wrote on Twitter that protesters "rammed a car" into his home before "setting a fire" while his family slept.
The violent situation even prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to hold an emergency meeting with ministers.
Why The Protests?
Algerian-origin teenager Nahel M was shot point-blank in the chest by the police in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, on Tuesday, 27 June, as he reportedly tried to drive away from a traffic stop.
According to AFP, footage of the incident showed two officers near Nahel's vehicle – with one pointing his weapon at the teen driver through the window.
AFP also reported that a person in the video could be heard saying, "You're going to be shot in the head." However, so far, it is unclear who made the threat.
In a statement, Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said that the police believe that the officer who shot the teenager acted illegally in using his weapon.
The officer has since been charged with voluntary homicide and placed in preliminary detention.
Who Was Nahel M?
Nahel, a takeaway delivery driver, was an only child brought up by his mother, Mounia, with whom he lived in Nanterre.
The teenager played rugby league and had represented the Pirates of Nanterre rugby club for the past three years. He was part of an integration programme for teenagers struggling in the school run by an association called Ovale Citoyen.
He was enrolled at a college in Suresnes, Paris, where he was training to be an electrician.
Although Nahel did not have a criminal record, he was known to the police, reported BBC.
"(The police officer) saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life."Mounia, Nahel's mother told France 5 TV
Mounia has said that she blames only the officer who fired the shot, not the whole police system. She added that she has friends who are officers who are with her "wholeheartedly."
Protests Continue in Major Cities
Protests have erupted all across France, however, cities like Marseille, Bordeaux, Lyon, Grenoble, Annecy, Toulouse, and Saint-Etienne have comparatively witnessed more violence.
Protesters have been photographed holding placards that read, "The Police Kill."
Hundreds of government buildings and stores have been vandalised and looted.
Over 45,000 cops, including specialised elite units, armoured vehicles and helicopters, patrolled the streets of three largest cities in France - Paris, Lyon and Marseille.
WION reported that in Nanterre, the Pablo Picasso estate experienced a third consecutive night of violent incidents. Cars were burnt, fireworks were hurled, and homemade grenades were also used in the area.
The French Government's Response
The French government authorities have deployed around 40,000 police and riot officers, including France's elite Raid Squad, to quell the protests. In Paris, as many as 5,000 security personnel were deployed.
Over 600 protestors and rioters have been arrested. Around 200 officers have been injured during the violent clashes.
Officers were given powers to quell riots, make arrests, and “restore republican order,” French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said in a statement.
Macron Appeals to Parents and Citizens
President Macron, on Friday, said that there had been "unacceptable exploitation of a death of an adolescent" in some parts of the country, appealing to parents to ensure that rioters are kept off the streets.
"It’s the responsibility of parents to keep them (the protestors and rioters) at home. It’s not the state’s job to act in their place.”French President Emmanuel Macron in a statement
“Platforms and networks are playing a major role in the events of recent days. We’ve seen them – Snapchat, TikTok and several others – serve as places where violent gatherings have been organised, but there’s also a form of mimicry of the violence, which for some young people leads them to lose touch with reality. You get the impression that for some of them, they are experiencing on the street the video games that have intoxicated them."
The French president, however, faced backlash as a video of him attending an Elton John concert went viral. Macron was seen tapping his foot and enjoying the music, even as protests engulfed the country.
Elton John and his husband David Furnish also shared a photo on Instagram, showing their meeting with the Macrons.