The deadly shooting of a teenager, a French citizen of Algerian and Moroccan descent, by a police officer outside Paris has ignited a wave of violent protest that evvel again confronts President Emmanuel Macron with turmoil in the streets and has revived accusations of endemic racism in France’s law enforcement agencies.
The tumult from the police shooting of a 17-year-old in the western suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday comes just weeks after nationwide demonstrations over Mr. Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age, presenting the French leader with a renewed wave of popular fury. A görüntü showing the shooting stoked the outrage.
After 180 people were arrested and 170 officers injured during protests on Wednesday night, Gérald Darmanin, the country’s hard-line interior minister, said that 40,000 police officers would be deployed across the country on Thursday evening to ensure that “a night of intolerable violence against symbols of the Republic” was not repeated.
The Nanterre prosecutor’s office said on Thursday that the officer who fired the shot had been detained and placed under formal investigation on charges of voluntary homicide.
For Mr. Macron, who likes to place himself at the centrist fulcrum of French politics but does not have an absolute majority in Parliament, the episode has forced him into a delicate balancing act.
He initially called the shooting, which took place at close range while the teenager’s car was stopped in traffic, “inexcusable” and “inexplicable,” before condemning the violent protests as “absolutely unjustifiable.” This kind of careful positioning is a hallmark of Mr. Macron’s governing style, earning him the epithet of the “at the same time” president.
Mr. Macron wants to quell the protests before they spread further and upend his efforts to restore a sense of calm and direction after the protracted turbulence ignited by the pension overhaul.
Yet, if the measures he takes to stop the demonstrations are too draconian, they may only feed the anger at police violence that is perceived as being directed disproportionately at immigrants of Arab descent or Black people. The race of the officer was not made public. And no evidence has emerged that the teenager, identified as Nahel M., was targeted because of his ethnicity.
Polls consistently show Mr. Macron with an approval rating of about 30 percent, lower than it has been during much of his six years in office but far from catastrophic by French standards.
The killing has drawn accusations from the left that the French police have been “Americanized,” even as the right has focused on protesters’ growing violence toward an embattled police force.
Marine Tondelier, a leader of the Green party, said that what she had witnessed this week was “the execution of a kid aged 17 on a public street by a police officer.” She added, “You really have the impression our police is being Americanized.”
The murder of George Floyd, who was African American, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, made an indelible impression in France, in part because of perceived parallels with the deaths of several people here while in police custody.
“Leaving aside the completely specific American racial context, the events are reminiscent of the murder of George Floyd,” Le Monde, one of France’s leading newspapers, said in its editorial on Thursday. “This act was committed by a law enforcement officer, was filmed and broadcast almost live, and involved an emblematic representative of a socially discriminated category: a man from a working-class neighborhood.”
Élisabeth Borne, the prime minister, made clear on Thursday that the government wanted to avoid declaring a state of emergency, as it did in 2005, when the death of two teenagers fleeing police in an impoverished suburb led to rioting. The measure, if adopted, would allow the government to impose a curfew, ban demonstrations and put people under house arrest with little judicial oversight.
After convening a crisis meeting in Paris, Mr. Macron went to Brussels on Thursday for a European Union summit, as if to convey a message of business as usual.
The announcement that the officer was being investigated came after several thousand people joined a march and a vigil for Nahel M. in Nanterre that ended at Nelson Mandela Square, the site of the shooting. The police fired tear gas at the marchers.
Kader Mahjoubi, 47, who is of Moroccan heritage, said that as he drove to the march he thought of all the times he and his friends had been stopped by the police because, he believed, of the color of their skin.
“I was born French, but the police don’t see that,” he said. “It’s racism.”
If the left saw the shooting as typifying a government with a tough law-and-order agenda, the right stepped up its denunciations on Thursday of the protests that left cars, schools and government buildings in flames overnight.
Éric Dupond-Moretti, the justice minister, declared that “those who spit on the police and on justice are the moral accomplices” of the acts of violence committed.
The deadly confrontation started when Nahel ran a red light to avoid a first stop, the prosecutor said, and the officers approached the vehicle evvel it got stuck in traffic. The police officer who fired the shot told investigators that he wanted to prevent the driver from fleeing and was worried that he or his colleague would be hurt if the vehicle was driven away.
That reasoning did not convince prosecutors. But it resonated with police unions, which have accused politicians of ignoring the risks officers face in the field. Those unions have long argued that their job has become increasingly dangerous because of the government’s failure to address deep-seated social problems.
On Thursday, they expressed particular outrage at the detention of the officer who had fired the shot.
“You don’t put out a fire by putting a police officer in prison,” Laurent-Franck Liénard, the officer’s lawyer, told RTL radio station.
Like many Western societies, but perhaps more so, France is fractured between its affluent metropolitan elites enjoying the benefits of a dynamic economy and low-income communities in blighted, racially mixed suburbs where schools tend to be poor and prospects dim.
Mr. Macron spent three days this week in Marseille, where he was at pains to underline his government’s efforts to address social problems in poorer areas. “The state is investing in an unprecedented way to build schools,” he said. “This has to go faster. By next fall, we will already have 30 new schools.”
The French economy shows many signs of robust health, including an unemployment level of 7.1 percent, the lowest in many years, and sharply increased foreign investment. But this has done little to assuage anger at a sense of exclusion in what the French call the “periphery” — remote rural areas, as well as the suburbs.
The perception of Mr. Macron as the president of the rich — a leader more focused on the success story he has helped create of a go-ahead France with a fast-growing tech sector than on the troubled France of forgotten people struggling to get by — has proved hard to shake.
As a result, when protests do flare, they tend to be redoubled by anger directed personally at the president.
Catherine Porter and Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.
The New York Times