Paris has seen a series of fierce protests that erupted on Tuesday and continued through Wednesday, fuelled by outrage over the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old teenager of North African descent during a routine traffic stop.
As clashes between protesters and police escalated, at least 180 protesters were detained, and the unrest spread to other cities across France.
In response to mounting public anger, the French authorities officially launched a formal investigation on Thursday into the police officer responsible for the death of the teenager identified as Nahel M, charging him with voluntary homicide.
French President Emmanuel Macron, after an extraordinary cabinet meeting, released a statement condemning the violent incidents against state institutions while denouncing the killing as “inexcusable.”
Initial police reports had claimed that the officer fired at the teenager because he was driving his car toward him, but a video circulating on social media contradicted this narrative. The footage shows the officer aiming a gun at the driver, who then appears to pull away before a gunshot is heard, causing the car to crash. Prior to the gun shot, a voice in the video can be heard saying, “You are going to get a bullet in the head.”
Following the conflicting police report and the widely shared video footage, protesters flooded Nanterre, a western Paris suburb where Nahel was killed, engaging in acts of civil disobedience. They set cars and rubbish bins ablaze, destroyed bus shelters, and set off fireworks near a local police station.
The incident marks the third fatal shooting by French police during traffic stops this year. In 2022, a record-breaking 13 deaths occurred during such encounters, preceded by three in 2021 and two in 2020.
A Reuters analysis of police shootings since 2017 revealed that the majority of victims were either of Black or Arabic origin, echoing the circumstances surrounding Nahel M’s death.
Anticipating the potential for further escalation of the protests, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced the deployment of 40,000 police officers, with 5,000 specifically stationed in Paris, for Thursday evening.
In a similar incident in 2005, the deaths of two Black teenagers during a police chase had caused three-weeks long nationwide riots in France that compelled the government to declare a state of emergency. However, despite the public outcry, two officers involved in the incident were acquitted in a trial a decade later.