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Nahel was hit by a single gunshot that went through his left arm and thorax, Nanterre prosecutor Prache said. Image Credit: Twitter

Dubai: The ongoing unrest in France has echoes of riots that broke out for weeks in 2005 after two boys died in an electricity substation following a police chase and throws a spotlight on policing and long-simmering tensions in the country’s poorer suburbs.

The latest 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.

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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.

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. Based on an initial investigation, Prache said, he concluded that “the conditions for the legal use of the weapon were not met.”

A photo shows burning cars in the street at the end of a commemoration march for a teenage driver shot dead by a policeman, in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre, on June 29, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

What actually happened

Three persons were in the car when police tried to stop it Tuesday, the prosecutor said. Nahel managed to avoid a traffic stop by running a red light. He was later got stuck in a traffic jam.

Both officers involved said they drew their guns to prevent him from starting the car again.

The officer who fired a single shot said he wanted to prevent the car from leaving and because he feared someone may be hit by the car, including himself or his colleague, according to Prache.

Both officers said they felt “threatened” by seeing the car drive off, he added.

Nahel was hit by single gunshot

The teenager, who was too young to hold a full license in France, was driving illegally, a source familiar with the investigation told Reuters.

A protester at the commemoration march for the teenage driver. Image Credit: AFP

Two magistrates have been named to lead the investigation, Prache said. Under the French legal system, which differs from the US and British systems, magistrates are often assigned to lead investigations.

An autopsy showed that Nahel was hit by a single gunshot that went through his left arm and thorax, Nanterre prosecutor Prache said.

Third fatal shooting

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.

A series of high-profile football stars, celebrities and political leaders have expressed outrage over the killing.

“A bullet in the head...It’s always the same people for whom being in the wrong leads to death,” French national team player Mike Maignan wrote on Twitter.

Nahel’s surname has not been released by authorities or by his family. In earlier statements, lawyers for the family spelled the name Nael.

A commemoration march in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre, on June 29, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Scenes of violence in France’s suburban areas echo 2005, when the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traoré and 17-year-old Zyed Benna led to three weeks of nationwide riots, exposing anger and resentment in neglected, crime-ridden suburban housing projects.

Two officers were acquitted in a trial 10 years later.

The two boys entered a power substation to hide from police in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, and were electrocuted.

French activists renewed calls to tackle what they see as systemic police abuse, particularly in neighbourhoods like the one where Nahel lived, where many residents struggle with poverty and racial or class discrimination.

Bouquets of orange and yellow roses now mark the site of the shooting, on Nanterre’s Nelson Mandela Square.

Speaking to Parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said, “the shocking images broadcast yesterday show an intervention that appears clearly not to comply with the rules of engagement of our police forces.”

Deadly use of firearms is less common in France than in the United States, though 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.

The most recent government statistics available show that 17 people were killed after police and gendarmerie officers shot at them in 2021.

A lawyer for Nahel’s family, Yassine Bouzrou, told The Associated Press they want the police officer prosecuted for murder instead of manslaughter.