Protests in France triggered by the murder of a teenager at the hands of a policeman seemed to be finally subsiding after six nights of unrest. Nahel Merzouk, a 16-year old teenager of Algerian descent, was shot dead on Thursday June 27th when officers stopped him for committing a traffic violation in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. A video circulating on social media showed how an officer shot him through the car window at point-blank range as the young man started the vehicle. The officer is in custody on charges of voluntary manslaughter because the prosecution determined that the situation did not even warrant him drawing his weapon.
President Emmanuel Macron blamed social media for inciting the protests and called on families to take responsibility for their children. On Monday July 3rd, 157 people were arrested, adding to the 3,200 arrests accumulated since the beginning of the riots, according to the Interior Ministry. The night from Sunday to Monday was relatively calmer but Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin confirmed that an “unprecedented” level of arrests had been reached.
According to CNN, the protests began in Nanterre but thereafter the unrest spread to other areas around the capital: Bezons, Gennevilliers, Garges-lès-Gonesse, Asnières-sur-Seine, Montreuil, Neuilly-sur-Marne, Clamart and Meudon. The US outlet reports that elite RAID police have been deployed to key tourist cities Marseille and Bordeaux in the south, as well as the northern cities of Lille and Roubaix. Tourism in central Paris appears to remain unaffected.
Some countries, however, have began to issue warnings. Travelers are being requested to monitor the news. On June 29th, the US State Department issued a security alert. “These demonstrations, along with spontaneous protests, are expected to continue and may turn violent,” it said. “US citizens should avoid mass gatherings and areas of significant police activity as they can turn violent and result in clashes. “Some cities are imposing curfews. It is a good practice to notify friends or family of your whereabouts. Note that public transportation is being affected.”
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office also issued similar warnings. “The protests may lead to disruptions to road travel or targeting of parked cars in areas where protests take place. Check the latest advice with operators when traveling and follow the advice of the authorities.”
For its part, China’s foreign ministry has taken similar measures with its citizens highlighting the need to remain vigilant. A bus carrying a Chinese tour group in the southern city of Marseille had its windows smashed, as reported by CNN. China’s Consulate General in Marseille has urged French authorities to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens and property.
The Interior Ministry maintained that the average age of those arrested is 17, but there are children as young as 12 and 13; 60 percent of those arrested have no criminal record. “We must ask ourselves about the responsibility of families,” said Darmanin, adding that parents of young people who allowed their children to participate in the riots, or who were indifferent to it, could be prosecuted.
On Friday June 30th, the Ministry of the Interior took the decision to close all bus and tram services nationwide by 9 p.m. The day before some services in and around Paris were suspended as a direct result of the violence, as reported by CNN. Several buses were torched in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers. The Nanterre train station was closed.
Some 45,000 officers were deployed throughout the country to control the riots, which local media attributed to anger over discrimination against people of Arab or African origin living in poor suburban neighborhoods.
Damages from Sunday to Monday included 297 burned vehicles and fires in 34 buildings. In the first five nights the government counted 5,000 vehicles and 10,000 garbage dumps burned, 1,000 properties damaged, many of them governmental, 250 attacks on police stations and more than 700 officers injured. No figures were provided for civilian injuries.
Losses from the riots are estimated at more than one billion euros, not counting losses in the tourism sector, said the president of the Mouvement des Entreprises de France, Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, in declarations to the French daily Le Parisien. The Association of Mayors of France held demonstrations outside several town halls.
As of Monday July 3rd, the initiative to collect money in support of the family of Florian M. the policeman who killed Nahel, had accumulated more than 1 million euros in just two days. The initiative on the GoFundMe network was opened by Jean Messiha, former spokesman of the far-right politician Éric Zemmour. The initiative drew criticism from leftist parties.
3,200 people were arrested in 2005, after three weeks of protests also catalyzed by accusations against the police of racism and excessive use of force. This time the same number was reached in just six days.