French president urges parents to keep teens at home to quell rioting spreading across France
Jun 30, 2023, 6:46 AM
(AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)
NANTERRE, France (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is urging parents to keep teenagers at home to quell rioting spreading across France and says social media are fueling copycat violence.
After a second crisis meeting with senior ministers, Macron said Friday that social media are playing a “considerable role” in the spreading unrest triggered by the deadly police shooting of a 17-year-old.
He said he wants social media such as Snapchat and TikTok to remove sensitive content and said that violence is being organized online. Of young rioters, he said: “We sometimes have the feeling that some of them are living in the streets the video games that have intoxicated them.”
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
NANTERRE, France (AP) — Protesters erected barricades, lit fires and shot fireworks at police, who responded with tear gas and water cannons in French streets overnight as tensions grew over the deadly police shooting of a 17-year-old that has shocked the nation. More than 875 people were arrested and at least 200 police officers injured as the government struggled to restore order on a third night of unrest.
Armored police vehicles rammed through the charred remains of cars that had been flipped and set ablaze in the northwestern Paris suburb of Nanterre, where a police officer shot the teen identified only by his first name, Nahel. A relative of the teen said his family is of Algerian descent. Nahel will be buried Saturday, according to Nanterre Mayor Patrick Jarry, who said the country needs to “push for changes” in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“There’s a feeling of injustice in many residents’ minds, whether it’s about school achievement, getting a job, access to culture, housing and other life issues … I believe we are in that moment when we need to face the urgency (of the situation),” he said.
The unrest extended as far as Belgium’s capital, Brussels, where about a dozen people were detained during scuffles related to the shooting in France and several fires were brought under control.
In several Paris neighborhoods, groups of people hurled firecrackers at security forces. The police station in the city’s 12th district was attacked, while some shops were looted along Rivoli street, near the Louvre museum, and at the Forum des Halles, the largest shopping mall in central Paris.
In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, police sought to disperse violent groups in the city center, regional authorities said.
Similar incidents broke out in dozens of towns and cities across France.
Some 40,000 police officers were deployed to quell the protests. National police said a total of 875 people were detained overnight, including 408 in the Paris region alone.
Around 200 police officers were injured, according to a national police spokesperson. No information was available about injuries among the rest of the population.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Friday denounced what he called a night of “rare violence.” His office described the arrests as a sharp increase on previous operations as part of an overall government effort to be “extremely firm” with rioters.
The French government has stopped short of declaring a state of emergency — a measure taken to quell weeks of rioting around France that followed the accidental death of two boys fleeing police in 2005. Yet Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne suggested Friday the option is being considered.
President Emmanuel Macron left early from an EU summit in Brussels, where France plays a major role in European policymaking, to return to Paris and hold an emergency security meeting Friday.
The German government on Friday said it’s monitoring the unrest in France “with some concern” but that it was up to French authorities and the public there to tackle the issue.
The police officer accused of pulling the trigger Tuesday was handed a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide after prosecutor Pascal Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude “the conditions for the legal use of the weapon were not met.” Preliminary charges mean investigating magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing but need to investigate more before sending a case to trial.
The shooting, captured on video, shocked France and stirred up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in housing projects and other disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The detained police officer’s lawyer, speaking on French TV channel BFMTV, said the officer was sorry and “devastated.” The officer did what he thought was necessary in the moment, attorney Laurent-Franck Lienard told the news outlet.
“He doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people,” Lienard said of the officer, whose name has not been released under French practice in criminal cases. “He really didn’t want to kill.”
Prache, the Nanterre prosecutor, said officers tried to stop Nahel 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 who fired the shot said he feared he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car as Nahel attempted to flee, according to Prache.
Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M., told France 5 television that she is angry at the officer who killed her only child, 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.
Nahel’s grandmother, who was not identified by name, told Algerian television Ennahar TV that her family has roots in Algeria.
Algeria’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement Thursday that grief is widely shared in the North African country.
Anti-racism activists renewed complaints about police behavior.
“We have to go beyond saying that things need to calm down,” said Dominique Sopo, head of the campaign group SOS Racisme. “The issue here is how do we make it so that we have a police force that when they see Blacks and Arabs, don’t tend to shout at them, use racist terms against them and in some cases, shoot them in the head.”
Race was a taboo topic for decades in France, which is officially committed to a doctrine of colorblind universalism. But some increasingly vocal groups argue that this consensus conceals widespread discrimination and racism.
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, have died under similar circumstances. The deaths have prompted demands for more accountability in France, which also saw protests against racial injustice after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.
The protests in France’s suburbs echoed 2005, when the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traoré and 17-year-old Zyed Benna led to three weeks of riots, exposing anger and resentment in neglected housing projects. The boys were electrocuted after hiding from police in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois.
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office said it was concerned by the teen’s killing and the subsequent violence and urged that allegations of disproportionate use of force by authorities in quelling the unrest be swiftly investigated.
“This is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters.
Shamdasani said the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern in December about “the frequent use of identity checks, discriminatory stops, the application of criminal fixed fines imposed by the police or law enforcement agencies, that they said disproportionately targets members of certain minority groups.”
Corbet and Leicester reported from Paris. Associated Press journalists Jeffrey Schaeffer and Aurelien Morissard in Nanterre, Raf Casert in Brussels, Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.