France has a 5th night of rioting over teen’s killing by police amid signs of subsiding violence
Jul 2, 2023, 12:43 AM | Updated: 2:13 pm
(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
PARIS (AP) — Young rioters in France clashed with police into early Sunday and targeted a mayor’s home with a burning car, injuring members of his family, as the country saw a fifth night of unrest after the police killing of a teenager. However, overall violence appeared to lessen from previous nights.
Police made 719 more arrests, bringing the total number of people detained to more than 3,000 following a mass security deployment aimed at quelling France’s worst social upheaval in years.
The crisis posed a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership and exposed deep-seated discontent in low-income neighborhoods over discrimination and lack of opportunity.
The 17-year-old whose death Tuesday spawned the anger was laid to rest Saturday in a Muslim ceremony in Nanterre, a Paris suburb where emotions over his loss remain raw.
The grandmother of the teen, who has been identified publicly only by his first name, Nahel, called on Sunday for an end to the violence that has followed his death.
As night fell Saturday, a small crowd gathered on the Champs-Elysees to protest but met hundreds of officers with batons and shields guarding the avenue and its boutiques. In a less chic Paris neighborhood, protesters set off firecrackers and lit barricades on fire as police shot back with tear gas and stun grenades.
A burning car hit the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses. Several schools, police stations, town halls and stores have been targeted by fires or vandalism in recent days but such a personal attack on a mayor’s home is unusual.
Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured in the 1:30 a.m. attack while they were sleeping and he was in the town hall monitoring the violence. Jeanbrun, of the conservative opposition Republicans party, said the attack represented a new stage of “horror and ignominy” in the unrest.
Regional prosecutor Stephane Hardouin opened an investigation into attempted murder, telling French television that a preliminary investigation suggests the car was meant to ram the house and set it ablaze. He said a flame accelerant was found in a bottle in the car.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne went to l’Hay-les-Roses to meet Jeanbrun along with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and other officials, and promised that “we’re going to do everything to bring order back as soon as possible.”
Macron planned to hold a special security meeting Sunday evening with Borne, Darmanin and the justice minister.
Skirmishes erupted in the Mediterranean city of Marseille but appeared less intense than the night before, according to the Interior Ministry.
Nationwide arrests were lower than the night before. Darmanin attributed that to “the resolute action of security forces.”
The mass police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods and shop owners whose stores have been ransacked, but further frustrated those who see police behavior as the core of the crisis.
Nahel’s grandmother, identified only as Nadia, said in a telephone interview Sunday with French news broadcaster BFM TV: “People who are breaking things, I tell them: stop, stop.”
“Don’t break windows, buses … schools. We want to calm things down,” she added.
She said she was angry at the officer who killed her grandson but not at the police in general. “Thank goodness police are there,” she said.
The unrest prompted Macron to delay what would have been the first state visit to Germany by a French president in 23 years, starting Sunday evening.
Hundreds of police and firefighters have been injured in the violence, although authorities haven’t said how many protesters have been hurt. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet.
Macron has share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face prosecution.
While concerts at the national stadium and smaller events around the country were canceled because of the violence and some neighborhoods suffered serious damage, life in other parts of France went on as usual.
In the capital, tourists thronged to the Eiffel Tower, where workers set up a nearby clock counting down to next year’s Paris Olympics. A short walk from Nanterre, a shopping mall bustled Sunday with customers from all walks of life. Families who could afford it headed for summer vacation.
Hundreds of mourners stood on a road Saturday leading to a hilltop cemetery in Nanterre to pay tribute to Nahel as his white casket was carried from a mosque to his grave. His mother, dressed in white, walked inside the cemetery amid applause.
Many of the men were young and Arab or Black, coming to mourn a boy who could have been them. Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.
Video of the killing showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide.
Thirteen people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year, and three this year, prompting demands for more accountability. France also saw protests of police violence and racial injustice after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.
The reaction to the killing was a potent reminder of the persistent poverty, discriminatio n and limited job prospects in neighborhoods around France where many trace their roots to former French colonies.
On a public square in Nanterre, a young man of Senegalese descent said France would learn little from the latest unrest. Faiez Njai said of police: “They’re playing on our fears, saying that ‘If you don’t listen to us,’” — and then he pointed a finger at his temple and fired.
In 2005, France was shaken by weeks of riots prompted by the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois while fleeing police. Several buildings there were set on fire this week — including the town hall, a high school, library and a supermarket.
At the foot of a bridge near the Eiffel Tower where generations of couples have attached padlocks to symbolize lasting love, a Senegalese man selling cheap locks and keys shook his head when asked if Nahel’s killing and the ensuing violence would change anything.
“I doubt it,” he said, giving only his first name, Demba, for fear of retaliation. “The discrimination is too profound.”
A World War II monument in Nanterre commemorating Holocaust victims and members of the French resistance that was vandalized on the sidelines of a silent march Thursday to pay tribute to Nahel was still defaced Sunday with slogans including “Police scum,” “Don’t forgive or forget,” and “Police, rapists, assassins.”
The European Jewish Congress denounced the vandalism as a “shameful act of disrespect for the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”
Anna reported from Nanterre. Jade le Deley in Clichy-sous-Bois, France; Angela Charlton in Paris; Jocelyn Noveck in New York; and Helena Alves in Paris contributed.