Updated Jun 29, 2023, 7:30am EDT

Insights: France gripped by protests following police killing of teen

Firefighters and french police operate during clashes between protesters and police, after the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer during a traffic stop, in Nanterre, Paris suburb, France, June 28, 2023. REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq
REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq

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The News

At least 150 people have been arrested in protests following the police shooting of a teenager in Nanterre, a Paris suburb.

The teen, nameed as Nahel M, is reportedly of Algerian descent. He was shot at close range by an officer after he refused to pull over for a traffic stop. Government buildings and other institutions, including schools, have been targeted by protesters.

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  • French police are among some of the most heavily armed in Europe. An increasing use of force by officers against demonstrators at recent protests has been described by policing expert Sebastian Roché as “an escalation doctrine.” The extensive police use of weapons during unrest has also been responsible for dozens of injuries since 2018. — Foreign Policy
  • In a Twitter thread, historian Emile Chabal outlines the social factors that led to the recent unrest. The police’s history of violent policing tactics, and targeting of ethnic minorities, has triggered conflicts in the past, Chabal notes, and in 2005 a similar case sparked 20 days of protest.
  • France officially operates as a “color-blind” society, and does not keep formal records on data surrounding race or religion. Officially, it only counts two classes of person — citizens and immigrants — and has been largely resistant to efforts to collect race-based data on its citizens. — The Atlantic
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Know More

The officer who shot Nahel initially claimed that the teen tried to run him over with his car, but there is no evidence of this in witness video from the scene that has circulated on social media. Prosecutors have placed the officer under a formal investigation for voluntary homicide, a process similar to being charged.

French President Emmanuel Macron decried the shooting as “unforgivable,” calling for calm from protesters.

In recent years, France has expanded firearm availability for police officers, and in 2017 broadened the legal framework under which police are able to discharge their weapons. French newspaper Le Monde notes that police shootings at moving vehicles peaked after the change.