French Police, Protesters Clash in Multiple Towns after 17-year-old Killed by Police

Youths clash with police in Nanterre, outside Paris, Thursday, June 29, 2023.

NANTERRE, France (AP) — Protesters angry after police shot a 17-year-old boy dead set cars and buildings ablaze in Paris suburbs and unrest spread to some other French cities and towns Wednesday night and Thursday morning, despite increased security efforts and the president’s calls for calm.

The killing of 17-year-old Nael Tuesday during a traffic check in Nanterre, captured on video, shocked the country and stirred up long-simmering tensions between young people and police in housing projects and other disadvantaged neighborhoods around France.

Nael’s surname has not been released by authorities or by his family.

Clashes first erupted Tuesday night in Nanterre, a town west of Paris, and nearby, and the government deployed 2,000 police to maintain order Wednesday. But violence resumed after night fell, and police and firefighters struggled to contain protesters and extinguish numerous blazes.

The national police service on Thursday reported fires or skirmishes in multiple cities overnight, from Toulouse in the south to Lille in the north, though the nexus of tensions was Nanterre and other Paris suburbs. Paris police announced 35 arrests and scores of others were reported around the country. The number of injured was not immediately released.

Multiple vehicles were set ablaze in Nanterre and protesters shot fireworks and threw stones at police, who fired repeated volleys of tear gas. Flames shot out of three stories of a building, and a blaze was reported at an electrical plant. Fire damaged the town hall of the Paris suburb of L’Ile-Saint-Denis, not far from France’s national stadium and the headquarters of the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The police officer accused of the killing is in custody on suspicion of manslaughter and could face preliminary charges as soon as Thursday, according to the Nanterre prosecutor’s office.

Nael’s mother called for a silent march Thursday in his honor on the square where he was killed.

French activists renewed calls to tackle what they see as systemic police abuse, particularly in neighborhoods like the one where Nael lived, where many residents struggle with poverty and racial or class discrimination. Government officials condemned the killing and sought to distance themselves from the police officer’s actions.

President Emmanuel Macron called the killing “inexplicable and inexcusable” and called for calm. “Nothing justifies the death of a young person,” he told reporters in Marseille,

Videos of the incident shared online show two police officers leaning into the driver-side window of a yellow car before the vehicle pulls away as one officer fires into the window. The videos show the car later crashed into a post nearby.

The victim, who was driving the car, was wounded by a gunshot and died at the scene, the prosecutor’s office said.

Bouquets of orange and yellow roses now mark the site of the shooting, on Nanterre’s Nelson Mandela Square.

Speaking to Parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said, “the shocking images broadcast yesterday show an intervention that appears clearly not to comply with the rules of engagement of our police forces.”

Deadly use of firearms is less common in France than in the United States, though several people have died or sustained injuries at the hands of French police in recent years, prompting demands for more accountability. France also saw protests against racial profiling and other injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.

Asked about police abuses, Macron said justice should be allowed to run its course.

A lawyer for Nael’s family, Yassine Bouzrou, told The Associated Press they want the police officer prosecuted for murder instead of manslaughter.

French soccer star Kylian Mbappe, who grew up in the Paris suburb of Bondy, was among many shocked by what happened.

“I hurt for my France,” he tweeted.