France in Turmoil as Officer Charged in Fatal Shooting, Macron Cracks Down on Social Media

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AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

France saw its third night of fiery riots on Thursday, ignited by a traffic stop that resulted in the death of a 17-year-old boy who has only been identified by his first name, Nahel. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested and the police officer who shot the teen has faced preliminary charges and has been detained.

Nahel’s mother, Mounia, told French media:

I don’t blame the police, I blame one person, the one who took my son’s life.

The tragic traffic stop happened Tuesday morning in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris. A bystander captured the incident on camera, revealing two officers positioned on the driver’s side of the vehicle. One of the officers discharged his firearm at the driver as the driver accelerated.

Nanterre’s prosecutor Pascal said that the officers initiated the stop due to Nahel’s youthful appearance and the fact that he was driving a Mercedes with Polish license plates in a bus lane. Allegedly, in an attempt to evade, Nahel ran a red light but found himself stuck in traffic.

On Thursday, Pranche reported that the officer claimed to have fired his weapon out of concern that the diver might run somebody over with the vehicle. Prosecutors believe that the officer used lethal force illegally. The officer has been placed into preliminary detention, facing an investigation for voluntary homicide.

The officer was taken before a magistrate on Thursday, where the prosecutor demanded that he remain in custody. Preliminary charges mean that there is a strong suspicion, but more investigation needs to be done before being taken to trial. Under French law, the name of the defendant has not been released.

The attorney for the detained officer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, told French media that his client is apologetic and “devastated.”

Lienard said:

He doesn’t get up in the morning to kill people. He really didn’t want to kill.

The teen’s grandmother shared with an Algerian television station that her family has roots in Algeria. On Thursday, Algeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry released a statement expressing “shock and horror” and saying that the family’s grief was widely shared in the North African country. Race has been alleged as a component of the fatal police interaction. Nahel’s mother said:

He saw a little, Arab-looking kid, he wanted to take his life. A police officer cannot take his gun and fire at our children, take our children’s lives.

The teen’s funeral is scheduled to be held on Saturday.

Mostly Fiery Protests

Thursday was the third consecutive night of rioting, and in anticipation, France deployed about 40,000 officers. Additionally, the elite police force known as RAID was dispatched to Bordeaux, Lyon, Roubaix, Marseille, and Lille to maintain control during the protests.

On Friday, the Interior Ministry disclosed that a total of 875 individuals were arrested nationwide and, unfortunately, 249 police officers and gendarmes sustained injuries. Rioters erected barricades, used arson, and shot fireworks at police. In response, police used tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades.

Nearly 200 government buildings were vandalized on Thursday night. This number includes 79 police and paramilitary stations, 34 town halls, and 28 schools. Looters hit stores along Rivoli Street, near the renowned Louvre museum, as well as at the Forum des Halles, the largest shopping mall in central Paris. The scale of the damage highlights the extent of the situation.

Forth Night, Fortnight?

Expecting a fourth night of unrest, public transportation has been suspended across France, beginning at 9 p.m. local time. Sales of large fireworks are also being banned, along with the sale and transportation of gasoline cans, acids, and other flammable liquids. 

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has held two emergency meetings in response to the civil unrest. After the second meeting on Friday, Macron pointed to youth, social media, and video games as being culprits in the situation, saying:

You get the impression that for some of them, they are experiencing on the street the video games that have intoxicated them.

As protests show little sign of being quelled, Macron said it was the parent’s responsibility to keep children home, saying, “It’s not the state’s job to act in their place.”

Macron announced that the French government is seeking to compel technology companies to create policies for the “removal of highly sensitive content.” Macron said that when “useful,” the French authorities will request the identities “of those who use these social networks to call for disorder or exacerbate the violence.”

Macron directly named and blamed some social media platforms, saying:

Platforms and networks are playing a major role in the events of recent days. We’ve seen them – Snapchat, TikTok, and several others – serve as places where violent gatherings have been organized, but there’s also a form of mimicry of the violence, which for some young people leads them to lose touch with reality.

Tiny Dancer

Macron has been criticized for attending an Elton John concert on Wednesday night as his country was set ablaze amid civil unrest. 

Protests and Preparations

With the 2024 Summer Olympics set to be held in Paris, the Olympic committee is monitoring the situation very closely. Disruptors have already infiltrated volunteer positions for the games in opposition to Macron’s pension law increasing age thresholds. In early June, anti-pension reform protesters occupied the Paris Olympic headquarters.

Additionally, the Tour de France cyclist sporting event begins in Spain on Saturday and will travel into the Southern region of France on day two of the 23-day route, finishing in Paris. 

Reports indicate that Macron will deploy more police officers throughout the country and that a state of emergency will not be implemented for the time being. Belgium has also seen protests and arson ahead of the two-day summit of the European Union.

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