Streets full of violence, luxury shops looted, and thousands arrested: France is once again plagued with widespread civil unrest and vandalism. But this time it is not rising inflation or President Macron’s disapproved social policies that led people into streets, it is police brutality.
Since the law authorizing police to shoot drivers they consider a threat to other passengers in the vehicle was implemented by the French government in 2017, police brutality has been a growing phenomenon in France. Especially, the fact that the overwhelming majority of police violence victims were of black or North African descent caused racism accusations on French police. Moreover, a recent event has sparked the whole chaos in the country.
On the morning of June 27th, 2023, 17-year-old French-Algerian Nahel Merzouk was driving with two passengers at high speed in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris. Nahel, who was traveling on the bus route, was noticed by the police and indicated to stop, but the teenager did not obey. Thereby, one of the cops shot Nahel and caused his death.
As a video recording of Nahel’s killing went instantly viral on social media, angry protesters gathered in his hometown Nanterre, denouncing the homicide of the child victim. Even if the policeman in question was brought to court for manslaughter and the incident was immediately condemned by President Macron, the protests continued in the French capital’s “banlieue”s, where the lower-class migrant population is predominant. The protests, which have spread to other cities in France and become violent, turned into a riot in a matter of days.
Exploited by those with the intention of economic interest, the riot following the killing of Nahel have cost €1 billion in damage, in just a fortnight. Particularly in Paris, the riot could be barely suppressed after the victim’s family members were brought on French TV to denounce vandalism on the streets. The vandalism even got to a point where the world brands set up barricades in front of their shops on the famous shopping street Champs-Élysées, out of fear.
Still, it is apparent that the riots in France that have become chronic in recent years are not caused only by arbitrary plunder. Since the government buildings such as police stations and town halls have been specifically targeted in arson and vandalism attempts, this riot comes up more multi-layered than it seems and signifies an uprising against the French authority. Based on the reproach of Mounia Merzouk, the victim’s mother, who says the police officer “saw the face of an Arab, a little kid” and “wanted to take his life”, it appears that the conflict between the former citizens of the French colonies and the French state does not last, despite the integration efforts in the country.
Consequently, the Nahel Merzouk protests, stemming from the Non-French citizens’ ongoing deep distrust of the state, carry the same discontent and will to change as the past revolves in France over issues like terrorism, retirement age, and “yellow vests” that President Macron had to tackle. This chronic riot, caused by a chain reaction of problems and mostly attended by young people, will be certainly decisive in the 2027 French presidential election, in which Macron will not be a candidate even though he still hopes that his party comes out as the first again. Whilst the vandalism and violence of the recent protests have caused an increase in the support for the far-right politician Marine Le Pen, it will not be surprising to see the recurrence of the riot in France.
Edited by: Melisa Altıntaş & Yağmur Ece Nisanoğlu
(1): Nanterre : que dit la loi sur le refus d’obtempérer?, published in Public Sénat
(2): Tensions erupt in a Paris suburb after a 17-year-old delivery driver is killed in a police standoff, published in Associated Press
3): Unruhen in Frankreich - Aufwind für die Rechten?, published in Deutsche Welle
(4): Macron and the banlieues: A series of missed opportunities, published in Le Monde in English
(5): Macron'u bekleyen banliyö krizi: Polisin 17 yaşındaki Nahel'i öldürmesinin ardından başlayan isyan büyüyor, published in BBC News Türkçe
(6): These French Riots Are Different — and Far More Disturbing, published in Politico