France Police Shooting and Riots: What to Know

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Riots convulsing French cities after a police shooting moved into a third night on Thursday, after days of protesters burning cars, setting fire to buildings and vandalizing and lighting fireworks outside police stations.

About 180 people have been arrested and 170 officers injured, France’s interior minister said. The unrest was in response to the killing of a 17-year-old by a police officer in Nanterre, a suburb west of Paris, on Tuesday.

Here is what to know about the violence:

On Tuesday morning, a police officer shot and killed a 17-year-old boy, who has been identified only as Nahel M., while the teenager was driving. The prosecutor in Nanterre said Nahel had been driving in a bus lane and, when officers tried to stop him, drove through a red light to get away. He then got stuck in traffic and the officers approached the car.

The prosecutor said he was killed by a single shot that went through his left arm and chest.

Initial reports in the French news media, citing what were described as anonymous police sources, said that the teenager had driven into the two officers on the scene. But a video of the shooting that emerged shortly afterward appeared to contradict that account, showing that the officer who fired the shot was not in any immediate danger because the car was driving away.

The diverging accounts contributed to the violent unrest, which has affected more than a dozen cities.

On Thursday evening, the Nanterre prosecutor’s office announced that the officer had been placed under formal investigation on charges of voluntary homicide and detained.

Pascal Prache, the top prosecutor in Nanterre, said earlier in the day that the officer had not met the “legal conditions for the use of the weapon.”

With no sign of the protests dying down, the French prime minister rejected calls to declare a state of emergency in some areas. But anticipating further unrest, France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, said that 40,000 officers would be deployed across France on Thursday evening, more than four times as many as on Wednesday night.

Large crowds gathered on Thursday afternoon at a vigil march organized by the teenager’s family in Nanterre. Atop the cab of a flatbed truck, his mother, wearing a white T-shirt reading “Justice for Nahel,” led the crowd in chants.

Later, police broke up the march using tear gas. It was unclear what happened first — protesters setting fires or police setting off tear gas canisters.

The unrest immediately revived memories of 2005, when the deaths of two teenagers running from the police set off weeks of violent protests, with hundreds of young people from poorer suburbs of Paris setting fire to cars and buildings.

In subsequent years, several beatings by the police and deaths in custody led to protests and fueled widespread accusations of police brutality.

Catherine Porter contributed reporting from Nanterre, France.


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