Violence has erupted for a third consecutive night in France as Emmanuel Macron struggles to contain mounting anger after the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old boy of north African descent during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb.

The officer concerned was charged with voluntary homicide on Thursday and placed in provisional detention in the capital as an estimated 6,000 people marched through the streets of Nanterre in memory of the teenager, identified as Nahel M.

Carrying placards reading “Justice for Nahel” and led by his mother, protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” and “Police kill”. While it began peacefully, the afternoon march descended into violence, with police firing teargas at masked youths.

Despite government appeals for calm and vows that order would be restored, smoke from burning cars, bins and a local bank branch later billowed over the suburb’s streets, while as the night advanced violent skirmishes between rioters and police also broke out in Lille, Toulouse, Marseille and Montpellier.

In Vaulx-en-Velin, a suburb of Lyon, youths maintained a “constant and heavy barrage” of fireworks at police, local media reported, while a dozen cars were set alight in Sevran, north-east of Paris. At least 10 people were arrested in two Brussels neighbourhoods after rioting that police blamed on the shooting.

Several towns around Paris, including Clamart, Compiègne and Neuilly-sur-Marne imposed full or partial night-time curfews as a police intelligence report leaked to French media predicted “widespread urban violence over the coming nights”.

France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said 40,000 police would be deployed across France on Thursday, nearly four times as many as the previous night, including 5,000 in the greater Paris region where bus and tram services halted at 9pm. Several other towns shut public transport networks early for fear of violence.

Officer who fatally shot teenager in Paris placed under investigation – video

The French president had held a morning crisis meeting with senior ministers after a second night of unrest and rioting across France in which public buildings were set on fire and cars torched in cities from Lille to Toulouse, as well as in the Paris suburbs.

“The last few hours have been marked by scenes of violence against police stations but also schools and town halls, and thus institutions of the republic – and these scenes are wholly unjustifiable,” Macron said.

The government is haunted by the possibility of a repeat of the weeks of sustained violent protest sparked by the death of two young boys of African origin during a police chase in 2005.

That incident, in Clichy-sous-Bois outside Paris, triggered weeks of unrest with France declaring a state of national emergency as more than 9,000 vehicles and dozens of public buildings and businesses were set on fire.

Darmanin said 180 arrests had been made after Wednesday’s riots. “The response of the state must be extremely firm,” he said. Both he and the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, ruled out declaring a state of emergency for now.

On Thursday, Borne visited Garges-lès-Gonesse, north of Paris, where the mayor’s office was set on fire overnight amid rising public anger at police violence, particularly against young men from ethnic minorities, and allegations of systemic racism.

Pascal Prache, the local prosecutor, told journalists that investigating magistrates had placed the 38-year-old officer involved in the shooting under formal investigation for voluntary homicide, the equivalent in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions of being charged.

“On the basis of the evidence gathered, the public prosecutor considers that the legal conditions for using the weapon have not been met,” Prache said, adding later that the officer concerned had been remanded in custody.

The officer, who fired a single shot, said he had done so because he feared that he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car, according to Prache. The officers said they felt “threatened” as the car drove off.

Nahel was shot in the western Paris suburb on Tuesday as he drove away from police who tried to stop him. Prache said he had been pulled over for a range of traffic offences including speeding, jumping red lights and driving in a bus lane.

A partial image of a yellow car, with two police officers leaning towards the window on the far side. One officer holds a weapon
A screengrab of footage of the police traffic check that led to the death of 17-year-old Nahel M. Photograph: AP

Police initially said one officer had shot at the teenager – who was not old enough to drive unaccompanied in France – because he was driving his car at him. That version was quickly contradicted by a video circulating on social media.

The video, verified by French news agencies, shows two police officers beside a Mercedes AMG car, with one shooting at the driver at close range as he pulled away. The boy died shortly afterwards from his wounds, prosecutors said.

Late on Thursday, the officer’s lawyer said he had offered an apology to the teen’s family.

“The first words he pronounced were to say sorry and the last words he said were to say sorry to the family,” Laurent-Franck Lienard told BFMTV. “He is devastated, he doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people.”

Overnight on Wednesday protesters launched fireworks at police, set cars on fire and torched public buildings in the suburbs around Paris, but also in Toulouse in the south-west and towns across the north. There were also disturbances in Amiens, Dijon, St-Etienne, and outside Lyon.

Unrest across Paris

The use of lethal force by officers against Nahel has fed into a deep-rooted perception of police brutality in the ethnically diverse areas of France’s biggest cities.

“We are sick of being treated like this. This is for Nahel, we are Nahel,” two young men calling themselves “avengers” said as they wheeled rubbish bins from a nearby estate to add to a burning barricade. One said his family had lived in France for three generations but “they are never going to accept us”.

A fire burns in the background at the right of the image. Several figures distorted by the darkness stand to the left
About 2,000 riot police were deployed in and around Paris on Wednesday night. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

Macron had called for calm on Wednesday, telling reporters: “We have an adolescent who was killed. It is unexplainable and inexcusable. Nothing justifies the death of a young man.” His remarks were unusually frank in a country where senior politicians are often reluctant to criticise police, given voters’ security concerns.

Rights groups allege systemic racism within French law enforcement agencies, a charge Macron has previously denied. “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 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.”

Map of flashpoints across France

Tuesday’s killing was the third fatal shooting during traffic stops in France in 2023. There was a record 13 such shootings last year, three in 2021 and two in 2020, according to a Reuters tally, which shows the majority of victims since 2017 were Black or of Arab origin.

Two leading police unions fought back against the criticism, saying the detained police officer should be presumed innocent until found otherwise.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse


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