After a fatal police shot at a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, France is in an uproar. A motorcycle patrol stopped the youngster at the wheel of a car in Nanterre near Paris on Tuesday morning. When the young man suddenly drove off, the fatal shot fell.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said yesterday that the officer was taken into police custody. He is being investigated on suspicion of manslaughter. The 38-year-old is threatened with suspension. The fatal shot follows other similar incidents at police stops and sparked major riots and political outrage.

A video verified by broadcaster France Info shows the officer pointing his gun at the level of the driver’s door at the stationary car. The situation appears to be under control and there are no signs of hectic movement. When the 17-year-old suddenly drives off, the officer fires at the youngster at close range, fatally hitting him in the chest. The car then drove a few meters further and rammed a roadblock.

Police correct first statements

According to France Info, the two patrol officers initially stated that the youth had wanted to run them over. They later backed off from this version and said he hadn’t followed their orders and then suddenly accelerated – there was no longer any talk of an intention to kill.

President Emmanuel Macron responded to the 17-year-old’s death with compassion and clear words. “We have a youth who was killed, that cannot be explained and cannot be excused,” said Macron. “First of all, I would like to express the emotion of the whole nation here after what happened and the death of young Nahel and the family, all our solidarity and the sympathy of the whole nation.” He wanted the judiciary to do their work in peace and the truth to be revealed as soon as possible.

The riots, which began on Tuesday evening with a demonstration in front of the Nanterre police station, spread to neighboring towns during the night. Garbage cans, cars, an elementary school and the extension of a town hall were set on fire by angry people, and emergency services were shot at with exploding firecrackers. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets. According to the interior minister, 31 people were arrested and 24 of the 1,200 police officers deployed were injured. Around 40 cars burned out.

Protests also broke out again in other French cities on Wednesday evening. People gathered in Lille, Nantes, Toulouse and Lyon, among others, to protest, the newspaper Le Figaro reported. Occasionally, garbage cans and cars were set on fire. The police spoke of a tense but controlled situation.

Family announces murder charges

The teenager is said to have been known to the police for previous traffic offenses and resisting law enforcement officers. Interior Minister Darmanin described his death as a “drama”, but at the same time pointed out that resistance to state authority had resulted in the deaths of police officers in many cases. The boy’s family, through their lawyer, announced they would sue the gunman for murder and also for false testimony because his account of events was clearly contradicted by the video footage.

The fatal incident caused outrage, and in view of the video images, there are allegations of police violence. Time and time again, people in France die during vehicle checks if they don’t follow instructions. As the newspaper “L’Obs” reported, 13 people died in traffic controls in 2022 after resisting the police and trying to drive away. The victims often include young men with a migration background from the suburbs, where violent protests are not uncommon afterwards.

Condolences from the football star

Prominent French people with foreign roots took a stand. “I’m sorry for my France. An unacceptable situation. All my thoughts are with Nahel’s family and loved ones, this little angel who left far too soon,” tweeted soccer superstar Kylian Mbappé from champion Paris Saint-Germain. “My thoughts and prayers are with the family and loved ones of Nahel, who died this morning aged 17, shot by a police officer in Nanterre,” tweeted actor Omar Sy (“Pretty Best Friends”). “May a justice worthy of the name honor the memory of this child.”

Politicians from the left spectrum were outraged and emphasized that resistance to law enforcement officers does not justify the killing of a person. “The death penalty no longer exists in France. No police officer has the right to kill unless it is in self-defence,” tweeted left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The police bring the authority of the state into disrepute and must be reformed from the ground up.