PARIS (AP) — Young rioters clashed with police late Saturday and early Sunday and targeted a mayor’s home with a burning car as France faced a fifth night of unrest sparked by the murder of a teenager by the police, but the overall violence seemed to decrease compared to the previous nights.
On Sunday morning, police made 719 arrests across the country after a massive security deployment aimed at suppressing France’s worst social upheaval in years.
The rapidly spreading crisis poses a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership and reveals deep discontent in working-class neighborhoods over discrimination and lack of opportunity.
The 17-year-old whose death on Tuesday sparked anger, identified by his first name Nahel, was laid to rest on Saturday in a Muslim ceremony in his hometown of Nanterre, a Paris suburb where emotion over his loss remains strong .
As night fell on the French capital, a small crowd gathered on the Champs-Elysées to protest Nahel’s death and police brutality, but were met by hundreds of officers with batons and shields guarding the emblematic avenue and its Cartier and Dior boutiques. In a less upmarket neighborhood in northern Paris, protesters set off volleys of firecrackers and lit barricades on fire as police responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
A burning car hit the home of the mayor of the Parisian suburb of Hay-les-Roses overnight. Several schools, police stations, town halls and shops have been the target of fires or vandalism in recent days, but such a personal attack on the home of a mayor is unusual.
Skirmishes broke out in the Mediterranean city of Marseille but appeared less intense than the previous night, according to the Interior Ministry. A reinforced police contingent arrested 55 people there.
Nationwide arrests were slightly lower than the previous day, which Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin attributed to “the resolute action of the security forces”.
Some 2,800 people have been detained in total since Nahel’s death on Tuesday. The massive police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods and shopkeepers whose shops have been ransacked – but it has further frustrated those who see police behavior as the heart of France’s current crisis.
The unrest weighed on Macron’s diplomatic position. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s office said Macron phoned on Saturday to request the postponement of what would have been the first state visit by a French president to Germany in 23 years. Macron was due to visit Germany on Sunday.
Hundreds of French police and firefighters were injured in the violence that erupted after the killing, although authorities have not released the injury toll of protesters. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old man died after being hit by a stray bullet.
On Saturday, France’s Justice Minister Dupond-Moretti warned that young people who share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face legal action. Macron accused social media of fueling the violence.
The violence comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities will host Olympic athletes and millions of visitors for the Summer Olympics, whose organizers were monitoring the situation closely as preparations competition continues.
At a hilltop cemetery in Nanterre, hundreds of people lined the road on Saturday to pay their respects to Nahel as mourners carried his white coffin from a mosque to the burial site. Her mother, dressed in white, entered the cemetery to applause and walked to the grave. Many of the men were young and Arab or black, coming to mourn a boy who could have been them.
Nahel’s mother told France 5 television this week that she was angry with the policeman who shot her son at a traffic stop, but not with the police in general.
“He saw a little boy of Arab appearance. He wanted to kill himself,” she said. Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.
Video of the murder showed two officers at the car window, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager walked forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel received a preliminary charge of intentional homicide.
Thirteen people who failed to comply with roadside checks were fatally shot by French police last year, and three this year, prompting demands for more accountability. France has also seen protests against police brutality and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police.
The reaction to the murder was a powerful reminder of the lingering poverty, discrimination and limited job prospects in neighborhoods across France where many residents trace their roots to former French colonies – such as where Nahel grew up.
“Nahel’s story is the lighter that lit the gas. Desperate young people were waiting for him. We lack housing and jobs, and when we have (jobs), our salaries are too low,” said Samba Seck, a 39-year-old transport worker in Clichy-sous-Bois, a Paris suburb.
Clichy was the birthplace of weeks of riots in 2005 that rocked France, sparked by the death of two teenagers electrocuted at an electrical substation as they fled from police. One of the boys lived in the same housing estate as Seck.
New violence targeted his commune this week. As he spoke, the remains of a burnt-out car lay under his building and the entrance to the town hall was set on fire during Friday’s riots.
“Young people are breaking everything, but we are already poor, we have nothing,” he said. However, he said he understood the anger of the rioters, adding that “young people are afraid of dying at the hands of the police”.
Anna brought back from Nanterre. Jade le Deley in Clichy-sous-Bois, France; Jocelyne Noveck in New York; Hélène Alves in Paris; and Geir Moulson in Berlin, contributed to this report.