Why are there riots in Paris?

Police in France arrested 150 people overnight as unrest spread across the country over the killing of a 17-year-old boy at a traffic stop.

The violence also sparked sharp reactions from French President Emmanuel Macron, who condemned it as “unjustifiable” at the start of a crisis meeting with senior ministers.

According to the Interior Ministry, dozens of police officers were injured in the clashes. “A night of unbearable violence against symbols of the Republic: town halls, schools and police stations are set on fire or attacked. 150 arrests,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on his Twitter account.

The videotaped killing of a 17-year-old – known only as Nael M – on Tuesday during a traffic stop in Nanterre shocked the country and sparked long-simmering tensions between young people and police in housing projects and other deprived neighborhoods across France.

The alleged clip of the incident showed two police officers leaning against the driver’s window of a yellow car. An officer shot in the window before the vehicle stopped. The car then hit a nearby post.

The victim, who was driving the car, sustained a gunshot wound and died at the scene, prosecutors said in a statement.

Police forces clashed with youths in Nanterre near Paris on Thursday, June 29, 2023


A passenger in the car was briefly arrested and released, and police are searching for another passenger who escaped.

Clashes erupted for the first time in Nanterre, a town west of Paris and nearby, on Tuesday evening. Violence erupted again after dark on Wednesday as police and firefighters struggled to contain protesters and put out numerous fires.

Fires could be seen burning at some intersections in the suburb and protesters shot firecrackers at police. Video from the suburb showed national police reporting skirmishes in several cities overnight, from Toulouse in the south to Lille in the north.

Seven burned-out vehicles are seen outside the municipal police building after violence in Neuilly-sur-Marne June 29, 2023

(AFP via Getty Images)

A prison in Fresnes was also attacked by rioters, according to AFP, with the news outlet reporting that at least 20 men attacked the prison entrance with firecrackers and projectiles.

Around 2,000 riot police are stationed in Paris and the suburbs, Mr Darmanin said.

Several vehicles were set on fire in Nanterre and protesters fired firecrackers and threw stones at police, who repeatedly fired volleys of tear gas. Flames erupted from three floors of a building and a fire was reported at a power station. A fire damaged the town hall of the Parisian suburb of L’Ile-Saint-Denis, not far from the French national stadium and the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

French soccer star Kylian Mbappe tweeted: “My France hurts me.”

Smoke billows from a bonfire in a residential area during clashes in Toulouse, southwestern France, on June 28, 2023

(AFP via Getty Images)

Nael’s mother called for a silent march in his honor on Thursday at the square where he was killed.

French activists reiterated calls for action to be taken against what they see as systematic police abuse, particularly in neighborhoods like the one where Nael lived, where many residents struggle with poverty and racial or class discrimination.

Government officials, including the President, had previously condemned the teenager’s killing.


Mr Macron previously described the death as “inexplicable and inexcusable” and said “nothing justifies” killing a young person. However, he called for calm and said the judiciary would do its job.

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Mr Macron said he shared Nael’s family’s pain while urging “calm and respect”. However, he appeared to tone down his language towards the police as he expressed his gratitude to the forces of law and order who are “protecting us”.

The police officer accused of murder is in custody on suspicion of manslaughter and could be brought to court as early as Thursday, according to Nanterre prosecutors.

Smoke rises from a car set on fire during protests in Nanterre, west of Paris, in the early hours of June 29, 2023

(AFP via Getty Images)

Bouquets of orange and yellow roses now mark the scene of the shooting, in Nanterre’s Nelson Mandela Square.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told Parliament: “The shocking images broadcast yesterday show an intervention that clearly does not comply with the rules of engagement of our police forces.”

The fatal use of firearms is less common in France than in the United States, although several people have been killed or injured by French police in recent years, prompting calls for more accountability. Protests against racial profiling and other injustices also erupted in France following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.

When asked about police abuses, Macron said justice should be allowed to run free.

A lawyer for Nael’s family, Yassine Bouzrou, told him Associated Press They want the cop to be charged with murder instead of manslaughter.

Additional coverage from the news

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