Paris: French police on Tuesday killed a teenager who attempted to flee a traffic check outside Paris, prompting shock and questions over the readiness of security forces to resort to violence.
The 17-year-old was driving in a rental car in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre early Tuesday when police pulled him over for breaking several road rules, prosecutors said.
A video circulating on social media, authenticated by AFP, shows two police officers trying to stop the vehicle, with one pointing his weapon at the driver through the window and firing at point blank when he drives off.
The car moved a few dozen metres before crashing.
Emergency services tried to resuscitate him at the scene but he died shortly afterwards.
The officer accused of firing on the driver has been detained on homicide charges, the Nanterre prosecutors’ office said.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told parliament the two police officers were being questioned and acknowledged that the images posted on social media were “extremely shocking”.
He urged people to “respect the grief of the family and the presumption of innocence of the police”.
Paris police chief Laurent Nunez admitted in an interview with BFM television that the action of the policeman “raises questions”, though he said it was possible the officer felt threatened.
The family’s lawyer Yassine Bouzrou told the same channel that while all parties needed to wait for the result of the investigation, the images “clearly showed a policeman killing a young man in cold blood”.
“This is a long way from any kind of legitimate defence” he said, adding the family had filed a complaint accusing the police of “lying” by initially claiming the car had tried to run down the officers.
Later on Tuesday evening, protesters in Nanterre lit fires, set a car alight, and destroyed bus stops as tensions soared between police and locals.
Nine people were arrested in the confrontations, authorities said.
‘No licence to kill’
Two other people were in the vehicle at the time. A first passenger fled, while the second, also a minor, was arrested and taken into custody.
Nanterre mayor Patrick Jarry said he was “shocked” by the video images and passed his “sincere condolences to the boy’s mother”.
“He hopes that the investigations opened (...) will make it possible to shed light as quickly as possible on the exact circumstances of this tragedy,” his office said.
“It’s so sad, he was so young,” said Samia Bough, 62, the teenager’s former neighbour, who came to lay a bouquet of yellow roses at the scene.
In 2022, a record 13 deaths were recorded after refusals to stop for traffic controls. Five police officers have been charged in these cases.
Authorities and police unions blame the 2022 figures on more dangerous driving behaviour, but researchers also point to a 2017 law modifying the conditions of the use of their weapon by the police.
Two weeks ago, a 19-year-old was killed by a police officer he had injured in the legs with his car in the western town of Angouleme.
The left reacted with anger, saying police had no right to kill people simply because they refused to stop.
“Yes, a refusal to stop is against the law. But death is not one of the sanctions provided for by the penal code,” tweeted the coordinator of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, Manuel Bompard.
“A refusal to stop does not provide a licence to kill,” said Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure.