Riots have gripped the suburbs of Paris and quickly spread to other towns and cities across France following the death of a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, but how did the situation spiral so far out of control?
“What’s happening there is the consequence of a failure to integrate the country’s Muslim immigrant population,” Alan Mendoza, co-founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, told Fox News Digital.
“The France of legend is far removed from the daily realities of life in a ghettoized community that does not have the same opportunities to progress and succeed as the native population,” he said. “France’s forgotten communities are showing that they will stay forgotten no longer.”
“The simmering rage felt in the banlieues just needed a spark to explode and is now being taken advantage of by an anarchical strain of French society that has always welcomed disorder in the form of rioting and looting.”
In total, more than 2,000 arrests have been made over a five-day period of unrest around the country. French President Emmanuel Macron’s also postponed his scheduled visit to Germany as a result of the unrest. France’s minister of the interior said on Saturday that the average age of those arrested was 17.
Secretary-General of Unite SGP Police FO union Gregory Joron said police “haven’t seen such urban violence in 18 years in so many cities around France.”
Police pulled over the teenager, identified only as Nahel M., in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday morning. Nahel worked as a delivery driver, but he pulled over to speak with two police officers, who approached his vehicle to explain that he had broken traffic rules, a prosecutor said.
The exact spark for the incident remains unclear, partially due to the contradiction of police reports and video that circulated on social media. Police said that Nahel drove his car at one of the officers, while the video shows one of the officers pointing a weapon at him and saying, “You are going to get a bullet in the head,” according to France24.
Nahel drove a yellow Mercedes. Had two passengers in the car and no license on him at the time. He reportedly had been placed in detention for refusing to comply with a previous traffic stop and was scheduled to appear in juvenile court in September.
The officer then appears to shoot Nahel as the car suddenly pulls away, traveling only a short distance before crashing, with Nahel dying at the scene. Police took the offending officer into custody and opened an investigation into charges of voluntary manslaughter, with charges brought against him on Friday.
Reuters reported that in an interview with French television the police officer’s lawyer Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had aimed at the driver’s leg but was bumped when the car took off, causing him to shoot towards his chest. “Obviously (the officer) didn’t want to kill the driver,” he said according to the report.
Nahel, who was of Algerian and Moroccan descent, had no criminal record, according to a lawyer for his family. He played for a local rugby club and was part of a program aimed at helping people from deprived areas obtain apprenticeships. Nahel planned to become an electrician.
Macron has provided a mixed response to the crisis, initially describing the shooting as “inexplicable” and “unforgivable” but then decrying the protests and blaming everything from social media to video games for the increasing violence.
Macron argued that social media platforms, including TikTok, Snapchat and others, helped fuel the riots, especially after the personal information of the officer who shot Nahel ended up circulating on the platforms. He said his government would work with social media sites to take down “the most sensitive content” and identify users who “call for disorder or exacerbate the violence.” Macron also denied there was systemic racism within the country’s law enforcement services.
Nahel’s mother accused the police of responding violently to “an Arab face,” drawing attention to the underlying tension between what some observers say is a massive and underserved North African, mainly Muslim, immigrant population and the police.
While he had no criminal record, Nahel had been subject to five police checks since 2021 and had refused to comply with an order to stop. Most of the stops involved either driving without a license or insurance and using false number plates.
The video, and the contradictory police testimony that gave the impression of a cover-up, sparked anger among some French citizens and led to the first demonstrators. Protesters say Nahel’s death is a symptom of the underlying racism in France’s law enforcement agencies, the New York Times reported.
Protesters have violently clashed with police since the incident, with increasing numbers of arrests as demonstrators have hurled rocks and fireworks at police officers, set vehicles and trash on fire and defaced buildings.
The first protests occurred in Nanterre, but by the third day, they had spread to other towns and cities, including Paris proper, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille.
Rioters in Marseille robbed a gun store, taking hunting rifles but not taking any ammunition.
On Saturday, Macron canceled a trip to Germany to handle the crisis at home despite controversially attending an Elton John concert as the protests and violent clashes continued to grow.
He called an emergency meeting of the National Assembly to decide how to handle the protests, eventually deciding to deploy 45,000 officers and armored vehicles to try and tamp down on the protests. Initially, law enforcement agencies only deployed around 9,000 officers.
Following the emergency meeting on Thursday, Macron called the clashes “absolutely unjustifiable.”
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has pushed for a curfew on bus and tram traffic, starting at 9 p.m., to stem the movement of protesters. As of Saturday night some 2,000 arrests have been made with the police reporting that Saturday night was a little calmer with sporadic violence erupting across parts of the country including Marseille and Nice.
When asked on a TV News channel whether the government would declare a state of emergency, he said, “Quite simply, we’re not ruling out any hypothesis, and we’ll see after tonight what the president of the republic chooses.”