France Unrest: New Wave of Overnight Rage Rocks France; Officer in Police Shooting Will Be Investigated

PARIS — French prosecutors on Thursday urged that a police officer be placed under a murder investigation after the deadly shooting of a 17-year-old driver set off violent riots in more than a dozen cities overnight, with protesters burning cars, lighting buildings on fire and setting off fireworks for the second day in a row.

President Emmanuel Macron convened a crisis meeting after the unrest. In comments broadcast by French television at the start of the meeting on Thursday, he called the violent protests “absolutely unjustifiable” and appealed for calm after the death of the teenager, who has been identified only as Nahel M.

Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said that 150 people had been arrested overnight after the wave of unrest, and that town halls, schools and police stations had been set on fire or attacked. He called it “a night of intolerable violence against symbols of the Republic.”

Police stations were vandalized or targeted with fireworks in cities including Trappes, near Paris, and Rouen, in the north. In Clamart, a Paris suburb, a tramway was briefly set ablaze.

Here is what to know:

  • The outburst of rage came after an officer fatally shot a 17-year-old driver during a traffic stop on Tuesday in Nanterre, west of Paris, but it was fueled by decades-long mistrust and anger against the police in France’s poorer urban centers. In Nanterre, groups of young people burned dozens of cars, set off waves of fireworks and threw rocks and other projectiles at riot police officers, who responded with tear gas.

  • At a news conference in Nanterre, the top prosecutor, Pascal Prache, said that the “legal conditions for the use of the weapon have not been met,” and that the authorities would place the officer who fired the shot under formal investigation. Prosecutors are asking that the officer be placed in detention, and he will be presented on Thursday to investigative judges, who will hand down charges.

  • The public outcry has been compounded by the way the episode came to light. Initial accounts, provided to the French news media by what were described as anonymous police sources, claimed that the driver had plowed into officers during the stop. But those reports were quickly contradicted by video of the shooting that showed that the officer who fired the shot did not appear to be in any immediate danger as the vehicle pulled away.

  • Lawyers for the 17-year-old killed in the shooting have said they will file several complaints against the two officers involved in the traffic stop. They plan to file one accusing the officer who fired the shot of murder, a second accusing the other officer of complicity, and a third accusing them of lying in their initial statements about the episode. The teenager’s family was also scheduled to lead a march in his memory in Nanterre in the afternoon.

  • Looming large over the explosion of anger is the memory of riots that shook France in 2005, when two teenagers running from the police were electrocuted after hiding in an electrical substation, setting off weeks of violent protests.

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