France’s government announced an increased police presence in Paris and other major cities on Wednesday and called for calm after widespread violence erupted over the death of a 17-year-old delivery man who was shot dead during a police checkpoint.
The death sparked concern across the country and widespread messages of outrage and condolences, including from soccer star Kylian Mbappe.
It also sparked riots in several cities in Paris. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 31 people were arrested, 25 police officers were injured and 40 cars were burned during the overnight riots.
Tensions centered on the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where lawyers say 17-year-old Nael M. was killed Tuesday during a traffic checkpoint. The police officer suspected of shooting him has been detained and faces possible manslaughter charges, according to the Nanterre prosecutor’s office.
The Nanterre neighborhood where Nael lived was still tense Wednesday morning, with police officers on duty and the remains of burned-out cars and overturned rubbish bins still visible in some areas.
Nael’s mother called online for a silent march Thursday in her son’s honor near the site of his death.
Videos purportedly of the incident were «extremely shocking,» Darmanin said, promising a full investigation. The footage shows two police officers leaning on the driver’s side window of a yellow car, before the vehicle drives away when an officer fires into the window. The car is later seen crashing into a nearby pole.
“I call for calm and truth,” Darmanin said.
He said 1,200 police officers were deployed overnight and 2,000 would be out on Wednesday in the Paris region and other big cities to «maintain order.»
The lethal use of firearms is less common in France than in the United States. Tuesday’s death sparked anger in Nanterre and other cities, including around housing projects where many residents struggle with poverty and discrimination and feel police abuse goes badly punished.
An attorney for Nael’s family, Yassine Bouzrou, told The Associated Press that they want the police officer to be prosecuted for murder rather than manslaughter, and they want the investigation transferred to a different region because they fear investigators from Nanterre are not impartial.
The lawyers refuted an alleged police statement that their lives were in danger because the driver had threatened to run them over.
Mbappé, who grew up in the Paris suburb of Bondy, was among those left shocked by what happened.
“It hurts for my France. Unacceptable situation. All my thoughts are with Nael’s family and loved ones, this little angel is gone too soon,” she tweeted.
The government will hold a security meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss next steps, Darmanin said.
The victim suffered a gunshot wound and died at the scene, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. A passenger in the car was briefly detained and released, and police are searching for another passenger who fled.
Several people have been killed or injured at the hands of French police in recent years, prompting demands for greater accountability. France also saw protests against racial discrimination and other injustices in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.