Young rioters clashed with police and looted stores across France Friday in a fourth day of violence triggered by the deadly police shooting of a teen, piling more pressure on President Emmanuel Macron after he appealed to parents to keep children off the streets and blamed social media for fuelling unrest.
Despite repeated government appeals for calm and stiffer policing after successive nights of unrest, Friday saw brazen daylight unrest, too. An Apple store was looted in the eastern city of Strasbourg, where police fired tear gas, and the windows of a fast-food outlet were smashed in a Paris-area shopping mall, where officers also repelled people trying to break into a shuttered store, authorities said.
The southern port city of Marseille, initially spared the violence that broke out first in the Paris region, was experiencing its second night of unrest. Even before nightfall, young people hurled projectiles, set fires, and looted some shops, police said. They made at least 50 arrests. On Friday evening, looters broke into a Marseille gun shop and made off with weapons, and a man was later arrested with a hunting rifle, police said. The previous night, two off-duty officers suffered serious injuries, including one who was stabbed, when they were set upon by about 20 people, police said.
Authorities in the city of Lyon reported more violence in its suburbs, where rioters set fires and pelted police, and in the city centre – including the attempted looting of shops – after an unauthorized protest against police violence that drew about 1,300 people Friday evening. Police made 21 arrests.
Violence was also erupting in some of France’s territories overseas. In French Guiana, a 54-year-old was killed by a stray bullet Thursday night when rioters fired at police in the capital, Cayenne, authorities said. On the small Indian Ocean island of Réunion, protesters have set garbage bins ablaze, thrown projectiles at police, and damaged cars and buildings, officials said in a statement. To maintain security, 150 officers will be deployed Friday night and through the weekend, officials said.
In the face of an escalating crisis that hundreds of arrests and massive police deployments have failed to quell, Mr. Macron held off on declaring a state of emergency, an option that was used in similar circumstances in 2005.
Instead, his government ratcheted up its law-enforcement response. Already massively beefed-up police forces were boosted by another 5,000 officers for Friday night, increasing the number to 45,000 overall, the interior minister said. Some were called back from vacation. The Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, said police made 917 arrests on Thursday alone and noted their young age – 17 on average. He said more than 300 police officers and firefighters have been injured.
Mr. Darmanin also ordered a nationwide nighttime shutdown of all public buses and trams, which were among the targets of three consecutive nights of urban unrest.
And he said he had delivered a warning to social networks that they can’t allow themselves to be used as channels for calls to violence.
“They were very co-operative. We’ll see tonight if they really are. We are going to give them as much information as possible” so that, in return, French authorities get the identities of people who incite violence, the minister explained.
“We will pursue every person who uses these social networks to commit violent acts,” he said. “And we will take all necessary measures if we become aware that social networks, whoever they are, don’t respect the law.”
Mr. Macron, too, zeroed in on social-media platforms that have relayed dramatic images of cars and buildings being torched and other acts of violence, saying they are playing a “considerable role” in the violence. Singling out Snapchat and TikTok, he said they were being used to organize unrest and serving as conduits for copycat violence.
Mr. Macron said his government would work with technology companies to establish procedures for “the removal of the most sensitive content,” adding that he expected “a spirit of responsibility” from them.
Snapchat spokesperson Rachel Racusen said the company has increased its moderation since Tuesday to detect and act on content related to the rioting in France.
“Violence has devastating consequences, and we have zero tolerance for content that promotes or incites hatred or violent behaviour on any part of Snapchat,” Ms. Racusen said.
The fatal shooting of the 17-year-old, who has only been identified by his first name, Nahel, was captured on video, shocking France and stirring up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in housing projects and disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Mr. Macron said a third of the individuals arrested Thursday night were “young people, sometimes very young,” and that “it’s the parents’ responsibility” to keep their children at home.
Since a police officer shot and killed the teenager Tuesday in the northwestern Paris suburb of Nanterre, rioters have erected barricades, lit fires and shot fireworks at police, who responded with tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades.
The unrest comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities rattled by violence are set to host 10,500 Olympians and millions of visitors for the summer Olympic Games. The Paris 2024 organizing committee said it was closely monitoring the situation and that preparations for the Olympics continued.
Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said officers tried to pull Nahel over because he looked so young and was driving a Mercedes with Polish licence plates in a bus lane. He allegedly ran a red light to avoid being stopped and then got stuck in traffic.
The police officer accused of pulling the trigger was handed a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide after Mr. Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon wasn’t legally justified. Preliminary charges mean investigating magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing but need to investigate more before sending a case to trial.
The officer said he feared he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car as Nahel attempted to flee, according to the prosecutor.
France’s national police agency said many of the people detained in multiple nights of unrest were from the Paris region. There were riots in dozens of towns and cities across France and in Belgium’s capital, Brussels, where about a dozen people were detained and several fires were brought under control.
In Paris neighbourhoods, people hurled firecrackers at security forces. The police station in the city’s 12th district was attacked, while shops were looted along Rivoli street, near the Louvre museum, and at the Forum des Halles, the largest shopping mall in central Paris.
Armoured police vehicles rammed through the charred remains of cars that had been flipped and set ablaze in Nanterre.
Mr. Darmanin ordered buses and trams to stop running at 9 p.m. He also banned the sale and carrying of powerful fireworks and banned sales of canisters of gasoline, acids and other chemicals and flammable liquids.
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,” Mr. Lienard said of the officer, whose name has not been released under French practice in criminal cases. “He really didn’t want to kill.”
Nahel’s mother, identified as Mounia M., told France 5 television that she was 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 the family’s grief was widely shared in the North African country.
Nahel’s burial is scheduled for Saturday, according to Nanterre Mayor Patrick Jarry, who said France needs to “push for changes” in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
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, died under similar circumstances. The deaths have prompted demands for more accountability in France, which also saw racial justice protests after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.
Race was a taboo topic for decades in France, which is officially committed to a doctrine of colourblind universalism. In the wake of Nahel’s killing, French anti-racism activists renewed complaints about police behaviour in general.
This week’s protests echoed the three weeks of rioting in 2005 that followed the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna, who were electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois, France.