French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday announced measures including more police and urged parents to keep minors off the streets as he battled to contain nightly riots over a teenager’s fatal shooting by an officer in a traffic stop.
There had been “unacceptable exploitation of a death of an adolescent” in some quarters to justify the violence, Macron said after rushing back from an EU summit to chair a second crisis meeting in two days.
Stopping short of announcing a state of emergency as urged by the right, Macron attempted to strike a balance between political pressure for a harsh response and fears of triggering a still stronger backlash.
“Additional means” would be mobilised by the interior ministry to tackle the rioting, Macron said — without specifying how many more officers might be involved than the 40,000 deployed nationwide on Thursday.
That force failed to prevent damage to a total of 492 structures, 2,000 vehicles being burned and 3,880 fires started nationwide, according to government figures he had earlier read out as the meeting got started.
Latest interior ministry figures on Friday detailed 875 arrests overnight, while 249 police officers were injured — none of them seriously.
Police sources said Thursday night was marked by pillaging of shops, reportedly including flagship branches of Nike and Zara in Paris.
The unrest has come in response to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Nahel, whose death has revived longstanding grievances about policing and racial profiling in France’s low-income and multi-ethnic suburbs.
Macron also said that the government “calls on parents to take responsibility” for the youngest of the rioters, one-third of whom were “young or very young”.
“It’s up to parents to keep them at home… it’s not up to the Republic to take their place,” Macron said.
Meanwhile he vowed to work with social networks to curb “copycat violence” spread through services like TikTok and Snapchat.
France has been rocked by successive nights of protests since Nahel was shot point-blank on Tuesday during a traffic stop captured on video.
In her first media interview since the shooting, Nahel’s mother, Mounia, told France 5 television: “I don’t blame the police, I blame one person: the one who took the life of my son.”
She said the 38-year-old officer responsible, who was detained and charged with voluntary manslaughter on Thursday, “saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life”.
After a third night of car torching and shops being ransacked as well as hundreds of arrests, calls had grown from the conservative and far-right opposition to give authorities increased powers.
Declaring an emergency would allow local authorities to enact curfews, ban demonstrations, and give police more freedom in restraining suspected rioters and searching homes.
The hardening tone came after public buildings across the country were also targeted, including police stations, schools and town halls.
Around 40,000 police and gendarmes — along with elite Raid and GIGN units — were deployed in several cities overnight, with curfews issued in municipalities around Paris and bans on public gatherings in Lille and Tourcoing in the country’s north.
Despite the massive security deployment, violence and damage were reported in multiple areas.
The Paris region’s bus and tram lines remained “severely disrupted” on Friday, the RATP transport operator said, after a dozen vehicles were torched overnight in a depot and some routes were blocked or damaged.
Services will be closed from 9 pm each night until further notice “for the safety of our workers and passengers”, the IDFM regional transport authority said.
The government is desperate to avoid a repeat of 2005 urban riots, sparked by the death of two boys of African origin in a police chase, during which 6,000 people were arrested.
There have long been concerns over allegations of systemic racism in the French police, and the UN rights office said Friday that the killing of the teen of North African descent was “a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement”.
Nahel was killed as he pulled away from police who had stopped him for a traffic infraction.
A video, authenticated by AFP, showed two police officers standing by the side of the stationary car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver.
A voice is heard saying: “You are going to get a bullet in the head.”
The police officer then appears to fire as the car abruptly drives off.
The officer’s lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, told BFM television late Thursday that his client had apologised as he was taken into custody.
“The first words he pronounced were to say sorry, and the last words he said were to say sorry to the family,” Lienard said.