Anger and violence grow and spread every day in France. The riots that have followed the death of the teenager Nahel M., who was killed by a police officer during a police checkpoint in Nanterre, intensify every night and have multiplied throughout the French territory, reaching the center of Paris, as well as areas of Roubaix, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lyon, Lille and Marseille, in addition to the overseas departments (such as the island of La Reunion or Guyana) and even beyond the borders, with incidents registered in Brussels.
The shouts to the police of an ambulance driver in France after the death of the minor: “You are going to see how Nanterre wakes up”
Public buildings have been the main target of many of these riots, particularly town halls, police stations and schools. In addition, there was looting in shops in various cities, as well as fires and attacks against law enforcement. In total, 875 people were arrested between Thursday and Friday and at least 249 police officers were injured, according to data from the Interior Ministry.
The riots have sparked a wave of concert cancellations and hotel reservations, while the government has cut certain public transport services.
a difficult balance
The government feared a repeat of the escalation of riots in 2005, which led to the declaration of a state of emergency after the death of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, who were electrocuted during a police chase in Clichy-sous-Bois, near from Paris.
The riots then lasted 21 days and three people died. Determined not to make the same mistakes, President Emmanuel Macron has struck a very different tone from Jacques Chirac: the current president has described the events as “inexplicable” and “inexcusable” and has prevented Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin from play the role of defense attorney for law enforcement, as Nicolas Sarkozy did in 2005, when he held the same portfolio.
Macron seeks a difficult balance, between responding to the anger of a part of the citizenry provoked by police violence and, at the same time, resisting the pressure to which the Police unions submit, which insist on the “presumption of innocence ” of the officer who fired the fatal shot.
“The difficulty for Emmanuel Macron will be to maintain this position in the long term, because fresh out of the pension conflict he needs the support of law enforcement again to regain control of a situation that remains both very tense and very uncertain. ”, said the newspaper on Friday the world in his publisher. On the same day, the United Nations called on France to reflect on the “problems of racism and racial discrimination rooted among officials in charge of enforcing the law.”
The President of the Republic already had problems with the police unions in 2020, when he described as “unacceptably violent” the beating that some agents gave to the music producer Michel Zecler in Paris. A few months later, the arrival at the Ministry of the Interior of Gérald Darmanin to replace Christophe Castaner – widely criticized by police unions for questioning the use of force in some incidents – was interpreted as a desire to appease police groups.
But in this case, in addition to the seriousness of the facts and their consequences, the dissemination of the images that contradicted the first version given by the Police has contributed to the Government having distanced itself as much as possible from the police action. After the dissemination and verification of the video, the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, declared that the police action “did not comply with the rules of intervention of the forces of order”.
Along the same lines, this Thursday, the Nanterre prosecutor announced that the police officer who shot had been accused of voluntary manslaughter and had been placed in pretrial detention because “the legal conditions for the use of the weapon” were not met. During his arrest, the agent apologized to the family of Nahel M., his lawyer, Laurent-Franck Liénard, explained to the BFM-TV news network on Thursday.
Restore the order “without taboos”
Neither the apologies, nor the promises of speedy justice, nor the appeals for calm from the head of state, the prime minister and the mayor of Nanterre had any effect and the town of the banlieu Parisian lived again on Thursday a night of riots, like other French cities. The president, who described this violence as “unjustifiable”, left the European Union summit in Brussels early on Friday – canceling the last press conference – to chair an inter-ministerial crisis meeting in Paris.
The possibility of decreeing a state of emergency – claimed by various right-wing and extreme right-wing politicians – has been evoked on several occasions. According to sources at the Élysée Palace cited by Agence France-Presse, the president is willing to study all solutions to restore order “without taboos.” In the press conference after the crisis meeting, Macron chose to appeal to the parents of the participants in the riots, shortly before the prime minister announced the reinforcement of the police presence.
“It is important for everyone’s peace of mind that parental responsibility is fully exercised. I appeal to the sense of responsibility of mothers and fathers. It is not the role of the Republic to do it in their place”, said the head of state, after condemning “in the strongest possible terms all those who use this situation and this moment to try to create disorder and attack our institutions”.
The right closes ranks with the Police
The death of Nahel M, who will be buried this Saturday in Nanterre, where he lived, has shocked a large part of the country.
All the opposition forces have spoken in recent days about the events. The bloc of formations to the right of the Government has multiplied the declarations of support for the Police and has focused on denouncing the young people who participate in the riots and on questioning the behavior of the victim. “The far left is fanning the fire and hoping to get revenge on the police. It is unbearable,” tweeted the president of the Republican Party, Eric Ciotti.
The far-right Marine Le Pen, for her part, denounced the loss of authority, in her opinion, of the security forces. “Police officers are no longer respected, they are no longer obeyed,” she said before adding that “a lack of discipline can have very serious consequences.” Le Pen has also requested that sectoral curfews be decreed where incidents have been recorded.
Among the forces of the left, the unanimous denunciation against the murder of Nahel M. has given way to divergences on the scope of police violence in France, on the intensity of the criticism of the Police as an institution and on the classification or justification of the violence. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France Insoumise, has called for the “refounding” of an “uncontrolled” police force. “The death penalty no longer exists in France. No policeman has the right to kill except in self-defense.” wrote on Twitter.
His speech was harsher than that expressed by socialists and communists, who have avoided general criticism of the police institution. The leader of the communists Fabien Roussel has also condemned the violence of the riots, unlike other members of the progressive coalition, who have not wanted to rule on this issue. “When you are on the left, you defend public services, they are not looted. Justice must be the order of the day: justice for Nahel, justice for our neighborhoods, justice for our country,” he said.