Young rioters clashed with police into early Sunday and targeted a mayor’s home with a burning car, injuring members of his family, as France saw a fifth night of unrest after the police killing of a teenager. Overall violence, however, appeared to lessen from previous nights.
Police made 719 arrests nationwide by early Sunday following a mass security deployment aimed at quelling France’s worst social upheaval in years.
The crisis posed a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership and exposed deep-seated discontent in low-income neighborhoods over discrimination and lack of opportunity.
The 17-year-old whose death Tuesday spawned the anger was laid to rest Saturday in a Muslim ceremony in Nanterre, a Paris suburb where emotions over his loss remain raw. He has been identified publicly only by his first name, Nahel.
As night fell Saturday, a small crowd gathered on the Champs-Elysees to protest his death and police violence but met hundreds of officers with batons and shields guarding the avenue and its boutiques. In a less chic Paris neighborhood, protesters set off firecrackers and lit barricades on fire as police shot back with tear gas and stun grenades.
A burning car hit the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of l’Hay-les-Roses. Several schools, police stations, town halls and stores have been targeted by fires or vandalism in recent days but such a personal attack on a mayor’s home is unusual.
Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured in the 1:30 a.m. attack while they were sleeping and he was in the town hall monitoring the violence.
Jeanbrun, of the conservative opposition Republicans party, said the attack represented a new stage of “horror and ignominy” in the unrest, and urged the government to impose a state of emergency.
Regional prosecutor Stephane Hardouin opened an investigation into attempted murder in the attack, telling French television that a preliminary investigation suggests the car was meant to ram the house and set it ablaze. He said a flame accelerant was found in a bottle in the car.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne went to l’Hay-les-Roses to meet Jeanbrun along with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and other officials, and promised that “we’re going to do everything to bring order back as soon as possible.”
Macron planned to hold a special security meeting Sunday evening with Borne, Darmanin and the justice minister.
Skirmishes erupted in the Mediterranean city of Marseille but appeared less intense than the night before, according to the Interior Ministry. A bolstered police contingent arrested 55 people there.
Nationwide arrests were lower than the night before. Darmanin attributed that to “the resolute action of security forces.”
More than 3,000 people have been detained overall since Nahel’s death. The mass police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods and shop owners whose stores have been ransacked — but it has further frustrated those who see police behavior as the core of France’s current crisis.
The unrest took a toll on Macron’s diplomatic standing. On Saturday, a day before he was scheduled to depart, he postponed what would have been the first state visit to Germany by a French president in 23 years.
Hundreds of police and firefighters have been injured in the violence, although authorities haven’t said how many protesters have been hurt. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet.
On Saturday, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti warned that young people who share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face prosecution. Macron has blamed social media for fueling violence.
While concerts at the national stadium and smaller events around the country were canceled because of the violence and some neighborhoods suffered serious damage, life in other parts of France went on as usual.
Fans tuned into the start of the Tour de France cycling race in neighboring Spain; Marseille hosted a championship in pétanque — a game involving rolling metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden or plastic one; and families who could afford it headed for summer vacation.
In the capital, tourists thronged to the Eiffel Tower, where workers set up a nearby clock counting down to next year’s Paris Olympics. A short walk from Nanterre, a shopping mall bustled Sunday with customers from all walks of life.
Hundreds of mourners stood on a road Saturday leading to a hilltop cemetery in Nanterre to pay tribute to Nahel as his white casket was carried from a mosque to his grave. His mother, dressed in white, walked inside the cemetery amid applause. 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 that she was angry at the officer who shot her son at a traffic stop, but not at the police in general.
“He saw a little Arab-looking kid. He wanted to take his life,” she said. Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.
Video of the killing showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide.
Thirteen people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year, and three this year, prompting demands for more accountability. France also saw protests of police violence and racial injustice after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.
The reaction to the killing was a potent reminder of the persistent poverty, discrimination and limited job prospects in neighborhoods around France where many trace their roots to former French colonies.
In 2005, France was shaken by weeks of riots prompted by the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois while fleeing police. Several buildings there were set on fire this week — including the town hall, a high school, library and a supermarket.
“I feel hate toward the police officer who killed Nahel. He wanted to kill him,” said 15-year-old Abdel Moucer, a Clichy resident. “In 2005 when Zyed and Bouna were killed, we had no video and no social media. Today we have all seen what happened.’’
But Moucer lamented the recent violence and the damage it has wrought on disadvantaged towns like his.
“I feel sad, I don’t know why they set the town hall on fire,” he said.
At the foot of a bridge near the Eiffel Tower where generations of couples have attached padlocks to symbolize lasting love, a Senegalese man selling cheap locks and keys shook his head when asked if Nahel’s killing and the ensuing violence would change anything.
“I doubt it,” he said, giving only his first name, Demba, for fear of retaliation. “The discrimination is too profound.”