Police clashed with protesters overnight just hours after French President Emmanuel Macron called the shooting death of a 17-year-old delivery driver by police “inexcusable” and pleaded for calm while justice takes its course.
It was the second night of violence in the Paris suburb of Nanterre even as the government heightened the police presence in Paris and other big cities Wednesday after the killing triggered a night of scattered violence.
Fires could be seen burning at some intersections in the suburb and protesters shot fireworks at police, video from the suburb showed.
The death of 17-year-old Nael during a traffic check Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre elicited nationwide concern and widespread messages of indignation and condolences. French soccer star Kylian Mbappe tweeted: “I hurt for my France”. Nael's surname has not been released by authorities or by his family.
Nael's mother called for a silent march Thursday in his honour on the square where he was killed, while French activists renewed calls to tackle what they see as systemic police abuse. Government officials condemned the killing and sought to distance themselves from the police officer's actions.
“Nothing justifies the death of a young person,” Macron told reporters in Marseille, calling what happened “inexplicable and inexcusable.”
Videos of the incident shared online show two police officers leaning into the driver-side window of a yellow car before the vehicle pulls away as one officer fires into the window. The car is later seen crashed into a post nearby.
The victim, who was driving the car, was wounded by a gunshot and died at the scene, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. A passenger in the car was briefly detained and released, and police are searching for another passenger who fled.
Anger over the killing spawned unrest in multiple towns around Paris. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 31 people were arrested, 24 police officers injured and 40 cars burned in overnight unrest.
The police officer suspected of firing on Nael remains in custody and faces potential manslaughter charges, according to the Nanterre prosecutor's office.
The Nanterre neighbourhood where Nael lived remained on edge Wednesday, with police on guard around the regional administration and burned car wreckage and overturned garbage bins still visible in some areas. Bouquets of orange and yellow roses were tied to the post where the car crashed after the shooting, on Nanterre's Nelson Mandela Square.
Speaking to Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said, “the shocking images broadcast yesterday show an intervention that clearly appears as not complying with the rules of engagement of our police forces.”
Deadly use of firearms is less common in France than in the United States. Tuesday’s death unleashed anger in Nanterre and other towns, including around housing projects where many residents struggle with poverty and discrimination and feel police abuse is under-punished.
Several people have died or sustained injuries at the hands of French police in recent years, prompting demands for more accountability. France also saw protests against racial profiling and other injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.
Macron called for calm and for respect for Nael's loved ones. Asked about police abuses, he said justice should be allowed to run its course.
Interior Minister Darmanin said 1,200 police were deployed overnight and 2,000 would be out in force Wednesday in the Paris region and around other big cities to “maintain order.”
A lawyer for Nael's family, Yassine Bouzrou, told The Associated Press they want the police officer pursued for murder instead of manslaughter, and want the investigation handed to a different region because they fear Nanterre investigators won't be impartial.
The lawyers rejected a reported statement by the police officers that they believed their lives were in danger because the driver had threatened to run them over.
Mbappe, who grew up in the Paris suburb of Bondy, was among those who were shocked by what happened.
“I hurt for my France. Unacceptable situation. All my thoughts go to the family and loved ones of Nael, this little angel gone much too soon,” he tweeted.