Commencing on June 27, 2023, France witnessed a succession of civil disturbances subsequent to the tragic death of Nahel Merzouk. In Nanterre, residents initiated a protest outside the police headquarters on the same day, which eventually escalated into widespread rioting. Demonstrators set ablaze cars, vandalized bus stops, and launched fireworks towards law enforcement officers.
As of June 29, more than 150 individuals had been apprehended, 24 officers sustained injuries and 40 cars were set ablaze. Anticipating a potential escalation of the unrest, Gérald Darmanin, the Interior Minister of France, dispatched 1,200 riot police and gendarmes in and around Paris, subsequently augmenting their numbers by an additional 2,000.
What exactly happened?
Initially observed in the suburbs of Paris, large-scale protests subsequently extended to several other cities across France. The catalyst for these demonstrations was the tragic demise of 17-year-old Nahel. Hailing from Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris, Nahel was reportedly driving a vehicle without a license when he was intercepted by two police officers.
According to Le Monde, the attention of the police officers was drawn to a yellow Mercedes car and its young driver. They signaled the driver to halt at a traffic light, but instead, the driver disregarded the signal and ran the red light. Two passengers were present inside the vehicle alongside the driver.
Subsequently, the car pulled over by the side of the road. Based on a widely circulated video following Nahel’s tragic demise, it can be observed that at least one of the policemen had their firearm aimed at the car while engaging in a conversation. After the vehicle defied the officers’ orders and drove away, a gunshot was discharged, resulting in the boy’s fatal injury. The car then veered onto the pavement at the side of the road, while the other passengers fled the scene.
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Despite near-universal condemnation of the police’s fatal shooting of Nahel, following the riots, many individuals swiftly resorted to raising the recurring question regarding immigration into France.
According to François Rial, the riots present a significant threat to the reputation of France, as they have the potential to deter tourists due to their aversion to any form of risk. This concern holds true even if the unrest eventually diminishes.