French police officer under investigation over teenager’s killing

Curfew announced in Calamart suburb of Paris to help restore order after unrest erupted earlier this week over the deadly police shooting of 17-year-old teenager Nahel.

People attend a march in tribute to Nahel
People attend a march in tribute to Nahel in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, France, on June 29, 2023 [Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

A police officer who fatally shot a 17-year-old in a Paris suburb has been placed under formal investigation for “voluntary homicide” after the deadly shooting sparked widespread outrage and two nights of riots.

Thousands of people took part in a memorial march on Thursday to demand justice for Nahel, who was shot dead on Tuesday by police during a traffic stop in Nanterre. The protest ended with police firing tear gas and several cars being set alight.

Nanterre Prosecutor Pascal Prache said on Thursday that his initial investigation led him to conclude “the conditions for the legal use of the weapon were not met” in the shooting.

Under French law, being placed under formal investigation means investigating judges have strong reason to suspect wrongdoing. But the process allows time for further investigation before a decision is made on whether to send the case to trial.

The police officer has been placed in provisional detention, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The shooting of the teenager was captured on video, and stirred up long-simmering tensions between police and young people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where the killing has been seen as an example of police violence. There has been growing concern in France over police tactics, particularly against young men from non-white minorities.

Protests have spread across France, with 150 people arrested overnight. The local authority of the Paris suburb of Clamart said it will impose a curfew from 9pm (19:00 GMT) until 6am (04:00 GMT) from Thursday until Monday.

Thousands of police deployed

After a morning crisis meeting, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the number of police officers deployed would more than quadruple, from 9,000 to 40,000. In the Paris region alone, the number of officers deployed would more than double to 5,000.

“The professionals of disorder must go home,” Darmanin said.

While there’s no need yet to declare a state of emergency – a measure taken to quell weeks of rioting in 2005 – he added: “The state’s response will be extremely firm.”

French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency security meeting Thursday about the violence.

“These acts are totally unjustifiable,” Macron said at the beginning of the meeting, which aimed at securing hot spots and planning for the coming days “so full peace can return”.

Despite a beefed-up police presence Wednesday night, violence resumed after dusk with protesters in Nanterre shooting fireworks and hurling stones at police, who fired repeated volleys of tear gas.

As demonstrations spread to other towns, police and firefighters struggled to contain protesters and extinguish numerous blazes. Schools, police stations, town halls and other public buildings were damaged from Toulouse in the south to Lille in the north, with most of the damage in the Paris suburbs, according to a spokesperson for the national police.

Masked protesters walk amid tear gas during clashes at a march in tribute to Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer during a traffic stop, in Nanterre, Paris suburb, France, June 29, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
Masked protesters walk amid tear gas during clashes at a march in tribute to Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer during a traffic stop, in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, France, June 29, 2023 [Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

‘Shocking’ reaction

Meanwhile on Thursday, a memorial march for the 17-year-old Nahel ended with riot police firing tear gas as several cars were set alight in Nanterre.

“It was shocking because there were families and young children, and people were here to be peaceful. Then we saw unrest and violence– some people were smashing up buildings,” said Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Nanterre.

“Many are saying the police handled the end of that commemoration the wrong way. And that’s the sort of thing that happens over and again, they say.”

Darmanin said 170 officers had been injured in the unrest so far, but none of the injuries were life-threatening. At least 90 public buildings were vandalised. The number of civilians injured was not immediately released.

The unrest has revived memories of riots in 2005 that convulsed France for three weeks and forced then-President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency.

That wave of violence erupted in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois and spread across the country following the death of two young people electrocuted in a power substation as they hid from police. Two officers were acquitted in a trial 10 years later.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies