France is facing a wave of violent unrest and widespread arrests following the fatal police shooting of a teenage boy of North African descent in a Paris suburb on Tuesday. The incident has sparked outrage and accusations of police brutality and racism in a country already tense over social and economic issues.
The boy, identified as Nahel M., was shot in the chest by a police officer during a traffic check in the town of Nanterre on Tuesday morning. A video of the shooting, which showed Nahel lying on the ground while the officer pointed his gun at him, circulated on social media and triggered angry protests in Nanterre and other cities across France.
The officer, who has not been named, was arrested and charged with voluntary homicide, a crime equivalent to manslaughter. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The killing of Nahel, a French citizen of Algerian and Moroccan descent, has reignited longstanding grievances about the treatment of ethnic minorities by the French police, who have been accused of racial profiling, excessive force and impunity. Many protesters compared Nahel’s death to that of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last year, sparking a global movement against racism and police violence.
For three consecutive nights, protesters have clashed with police, set fire to cars and buildings, and thrown stones and fireworks at security forces. Police have responded with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. More than 600 people have been arrested across France since Tuesday, and dozens of police officers and protesters have been injured.
French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned the killing as “inexplicable” and “inexcusable” and called for calm and respect. He also expressed his condolences to Nahel’s family and promised a transparent investigation into the shooting.
On Thursday, Nahel’s mother, Mounia, led a peaceful march of thousands of people in Nanterre to pay tribute to her son and demand justice. She said Nahel was her only child and her best friend.
The government has deployed 40,000 police officers across the country to prevent further violence and imposed a curfew in some Paris neighborhoods from 9 p.m. local time. The authorities have also suspended public transportation in some areas to deter rioters.
The unrest comes at a time when France is struggling with the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 110,000 people in the country. It also adds to the political pressure on Macron, who is facing a tough re-election campaign next year amid rising populism and discontent among voters.