PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron battled to contain a mounting crisis on Thursday after riots spread across France overnight, set off by the deadly police shooting of a teenager of North African descent during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb.
Police made 180 arrests during a second night of unrest, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said, as public anger spilled onto the streets in towns and cities across the country.
Macron held a crisis meeting with senior ministers over the shooting and Darmanin announced afterwards that 40,000 policemen would be deployed across the country, including 5,000 in the Paris region, on Thursday evening to put on end to the unrest.
This is nearly four times the numbers that were mobilised on Wednesday evening.
“The response of the state must be extremely firm,” Darmanin said.
Both Darmanin and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne ruled out declaring a state of emergency for now.
The incident has fed longstanding complaints of police violence and systemic racism inside law enforcement agencies from rights groups and within the low-income, racially mixed suburbs that ring major cities in France.
The shooting of the 17-year-old, identified as Nahel, took place in Nanterre, on the western outskirts of Paris. The local prosecutor said investigative magistrates had placed the officer involved under formal investigation for voluntary homicide.
Under France’s legal system, being placed under formal investigation is akin to being charged in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.
“On the basis of the evidence gathered, the public prosecutor considers that the legal conditions for using the weapon have not been met,” Pascal Prache, the prosecutor, told a news conference.
Macron on Wednesday said the shooting was unforgivable. As he convened his emergency meeting he also condemned the unrest.
“The last few hours have been marked by scenes of violence against police stations but also schools and town halls, and thus institutions of the Republic and these scenes are wholly unjustifiable,” Macron said as he opened the emergency meeting.
A video shared on social media, verified by Reuters, shows two police officers beside a Mercedes AMG car, with one shooting at the teenage driver at close range as he pulled away. He died shortly afterwards from his wounds, the local prosecutor said.
The teenager, who was too young to hold a full license in France, was driving illegally, a source familiar with the investigation said. The Nanterre prosecutor said he was known to police for previously failing to comply with a traffic stop order.
Prosecutors say the boy failed on Tuesday to obey the officers’ orders.
Some 2,000 police fanned out across the Paris region last night. In Nanterre, a trail of overturned vehicles burned as protesters peppered police lines with fireworks.
Police also clashed with protesters in the northern city of Lille and in Toulouse in the southwest, and there was unrest in Amiens, Dijon as well as in numerous districts throughout the greater Paris region, the authorities said.
The unrest has revived memories of riots in 2005 that convulsed France for three weeks and forced then-president Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency.
That wave of violence erupted in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois and spread across the country following the death of two young people electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police.
Two officers were acquitted in a trial ten years later.
Tuesday’s killing was the third fatal shooting during traffic stops in France so far in 2023, down from a record 13 last year, a spokesperson for the national police said.
There were three such killings in 2021 and two in 2020, according to a Reuters tally, which shows the majority of victims since 2017 were Black or of Arab origin.