Thousands of protesters defied a ban to march in central Paris against police violence, a week after riots sparked by the killing of a teenager in a Parisian suburb caused unrest in the population.
Riots began in France on 27 June 2023 after the killing of Nahel Merzouk by a police officer in Nanterre. Merzouk was a 17-year-old French youth of Moroccan and Algerian descent who worked as a pizza delivery boy. He was driving a car and was stopped after being chased. He was known to the police for previous incidents in which he failed to stop the car when told to by the police.
He was shot at close range in the car. A video of the shooting was seen by many people. The traffic police officer said, “I’m going to lodge a bullet in your head.” What the video showed was not what the police said had happened. The police officer was arrested.
Emmanuel Macron said the incident was “inexcusable and unforgivable”. Merzouk’s mother called for a “revolt for my son” on TikTok. Many famous French people complained about what the police had done and some defended them.
In Nanterre rioters threw things at police, let off fireworks, and set cars, bus shelters, rubbish bins, and a school on fire on 27 June after they had seen the video. From 28 June to 3 July, there were riots all over Paris and in many other French cities. There were demonstrations in Belgium and most of the overseas departments of France. The two largest police unions released a statement declaring they were “at war” with “vermin” and “savage hordes”.
Buying fireworks for Bastille Day was banned as a result of the riots.
France saw a rise in police violence in the years before the killing. In 2017, a law was passed permitting police to shoot at a vehicle fleeing a traffic stop, if the driver was putting the passengers or passersby at risk.
This was the third fatal shooting that occurred during a traffic stop in France in 2023. In 2020, there were three deaths, followed by two in 2021, and 13 in 2022. The victims were often people of black or Maghrebi origin, leading to allegations of systemic racism within the French police. In May 2023, national representatives at the United Nations Human Rights Council criticized the country’s police force and urged the implementation of significant measures to address the excessive use of force in demonstrations.
The French government has frequently downplayed instances of police violence, sometimes even avoiding the use of the term itself, while police unions opposed repealing or revising the 2017 law. In 2022, approximately five officers were indicted for the shootings mentioned above.
Immigrants in France are poorer than people born in the country. More of them are unemployed. Black people in Paris are six times more likely to be stopped by the police than white people. Immigrant communities are concentrated in the banlieues, estates full of poor people. French law says that it is not allowed to collect information about people’s race. Racial tension in France seems to be worse than in other developed countries and commentators think that is why the riots happened.