Thousands of civilians recently took to the streets in France to protest against the killing of Nahel, a 17-year-old of North African descent. Nahel, driving a Mercedes, reportedly ignored the police's cue to pull over. In doing so, he endangered the lives of a pedestrian and a cyclist. The police eventually caught up with him and at one point used guns to deter him from starting off again. He was asked to turn off the ignition. When the car made to get away, one officer fired at close range through the driver's window. Nahel died from a single shot through his left arm and chest. Police and paramedics tried to revive him but he was declared dead at 9:15 am on 27 June.
It is important to note that he had a history of failing to comply with traffic stops. While it is undeniable that Nahel committed a crime by disobeying the orders of the police, was it enough to warrant him being shot? Thousands believe that systemic racism in law enforcement agencies played a role in Nahel's killing, with the incident sparking protests on the same day itself.
This incident served as a rallying call for many individuals of color, encouraging them to express their concerns and complaints. The initial protests following Nahel's death quickly escalated into widespread riots, with hundreds of protesters defying bans and taking to the streets. While the violence was committed by a limited number of protesters, the underlying anger and frustration among many young people of color were palpable. The killing of Nahel highlighted the systemic issues of police brutality and racial discrimination that continue to plague France, despite many such incidents in the past.
Details of The Riots:
The riots in France have seen a large number of protestors taking to the streets to voice their grievances. According to the interior minister, a total of 667 people were detained during the protests, with 307 of them being in the Paris region alone. Around 45,000 police officers were deployed to handle the unrest. These numbers highlight the widespread discontent and frustration among the protestors, as they come together to demand change.
The protestors have employed various strategies to ensure that their demands for social change and justice are met. In some instances, they have resorted to violent measures, such as torching cars, barricading streets, and throwing projectiles at the police. On the other hand, many protestors have chosen to take part in peaceful demonstrations, marches, and strikes to convey their message.
The demands made by the protestors include a wide range of issues in French society. They seek to challenge the existing social order and are demanding a more equitable society. The protestors are united in their desire for change and are bravely using their collective voice to push for a more inclusive and fair society. The riots in France serve as a stark reminder of the deep-rooted institutionalized issues within society that need to be addressed.
Actions and Statement by the French Government:
In response to the riots, the French government swiftly took action by deploying a significant number of security forces to restore law and order and maintain public safety. However, there have been concerns raised about the alleged excessive use of force during these protests.
In response to these riots, the UN asked France to address the issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement, with a spokesperson from the UNHRC urging French authorities to regulate the use of force by the police in demonstrations. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, was unfazed and replied with assurances regarding the country's fight against racism. Additionally, it also mentioned that the use of force by the police is "strictly governed".
Furthermore, the French government implemented measures to address the root causes of the riots. It made statements and engaged in communication efforts to reassure the public. President Macron held a crisis meeting after the third night of riots and emphasized the importance of reconciling the country and upholding the rule of law. The government aimed to respond to the riots with a three-stage approach based on empathy, firmness, and a moral jolt. Additionally, government officials, such as the French prime minister, expressed their support for affected communities and condemned the violence.
However, police unions have criticized the government, declaring that their work has become increasingly dangerous because of the government’s failure to address France’s underlying social problems. Thousands of police officers also protested against the same, demanding tougher laws for violence against officers and stricter sentences against convicted criminals.
History of Racism-based Police Violence in France
The history of racism-based police violence in France can be traced back to its legacy of colonialism. France, as a colonial power, implemented policies that enforced racial discrimination and subjugation in its colonies. This racial hierarchy was so deeply ingrained in French society that it persisted even after the end of colonial rule. The remnants of this colonial legacy continue to shape attitudes and behaviors towards marginalized communities in France even today, particularly those of African and Arab descent.
France is a colorblind state, meaning it collects no census or other data on the race of its citizens. This makes it excessively difficult to gather concrete evidence regarding racial disparity of any kind. However, multiple studies have thrown some light on this issue. In a 2017 study, the Rights Defenders, an independent human rights organization in France, found that young men perceived to be Black or Arab were 20 times more likely to be stopped by police than their peers. The Council of Europe has also criticized the “excessive use of force by state agents” in the past. Various Rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have accused French police of ethnic profiling and have recommended reforms at the grassroots level to address the discrimination.
Systemic racism within the law enforcement and criminal justice system in France has been a major factor contributing to racism-based police violence. Ethnic profiling, discriminatory practices, and excessive use of fore are significant issues that need to be resolved. Adding to the problem, French authorities have often denied allegations of racial discrimination. In order to bring about change, it is crucial for the country to acknowledge and confront the deep-rooted issues of racism and discrimination within law enforcement.
These riots are reminiscent of the protests that swept France in 2005 after 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna were killed by electrocution while trying to hide from the police. The riots lasted for about 3 weeks, with the authorities declaring a state of national emergency. Multiple other incidents have occurred in the past, such as the deaths of Lamien Dieng, Ali Ziri, Adama Traore, Cedric Chouviat and more .It is evident that the issue of police brutality, in particular racially - based police brutality, has been persisting in since a long time.
Involvement of the Youth
France riots acted as a rallying call for the youth of the country, with many students and teenagers campaigning against racism. The average age of the detainees, said to be around 17, further demonstrates the fervor and determination of the youth to fight for a better world. Another factor in this is that French youth, especially in the suburbs, are mostly of African descent. What happened to Nahel prompted a powerful reaction because it forced an entire community of young adults to put themselves in his shoes, wondering if they too, could be shot dead for an arguably minor offense simply because of their race.
The riots have certainly proven successful in bringing the plight of marginalized communities to light, with the French and international press reporting on the riots constantly. Even after the conclusion of the riots, the discussion continues. While the passion exhibited by the protestors to create a more equitable and fair society is commendable, the question of whether the riots have led to a long-term change in the system still remains.