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TOPSHOT – A protester walks by a burning car during clashes with police in Le Port, French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on June 30, 2023, three days after a 17-year-old boy was shot in the chest by police at point-blank range in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris. A third consecutive night of violence in France sparked by the killing of a teenager by a policeman during a traffic stop has left 249 police and gendarmes injured, the interior ministry announced on June 30, 2023. (Photo by Richard BOUHET / AFP) (Photo by RICHARD BOUHET/AFP via Getty Images)

A police killing in France

A police killing in France


The killing of a teenager by police has sparked riots across France. Why did it cause so much unrest?

Last week, a French teenager was killed by police during a traffic stop in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris. 

The driver, a 17-year-old named as Nahel M, died from bullet wounds in the chest. The officer who shot him has been charged with voluntary homicide. He says he aimed for the teenager’s leg in self-defence but his arm was jerked up by the sudden movement of the car. 

The following day, an estimated 6,000 people marched through the streets of Nanterre in Nahel’s memory. 

It soon turned violent and over the next few nights the riots spread around the country. Shops and supermarkets were looted, cars set on fire, and a suburban mayor’s home was attacked as rioters fired fireworks at his fleeing family.

Demonstrators targeted town halls, schools, and public buildings which were seen to represent the French state. Police responded with teargas and water cannons. 

Nahel grew up on a deprived estate and was of Algerian and Moroccan descent. Some people believe he was more likely to be shot and killed by police because of the colour of his skin. 

Although he was studying to become an electrician at a local college, his education has been described as chaotic.

The schools in the area have a large turnover, unemployment is high, many people live in subsidised housing and below the poverty line. 

“It’s only the tip of the iceberg” says Anne-Sophie Simpere, author of How the State attacks our freedom.

She told France 24 “there is huge anger from the youth” over “excessive use of force by the police in the suburban areas.”

In 2017 the threshold for French police to fire their weapons was lowered. The change came after an officer suffered serious burns and was put in an induced coma after a group of youths threw petrol bombs at his patrol car.

As a result of that incident, and following pressure from the powerful police unions, officers were allowed to shoot if a driver ignored an order to stop.

Last year, the law was linked to the deaths of 13 people in cases similar to Nahel’s.

Nahel’s family have called for the rioters to stop but even when they do, the government will continue to face questions about unkept promises to France’s poorest – and a broader failure to address racial inequality.

Today’s episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.