French police kill teenager in traffic stop, as protesters spring into action

Protests in France after police killed teenager Nahel M
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French police shot 17-year-old Nahel M. in the chest at point-blank range on 27 June. The incident has sparked huge protests across France. Police initially reported that an officer had shot at the teenager because he was driving at him. However, this was contradicted by a video circulating on social media and authenticated by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The footage shows the two policemen standing by the side of a stationary car. One had a weapon pointed at the driver.

A voice says:

You are going to get a bullet in the head.

The police officer then appears to fire as the car drives off.

Nahel’s mother said:

On Tuesday he gave me a big kiss and said: ‘Mum, I love you,’ I told him: ‘I love you, take care.’ An hour later, what do they tell me? They’d shot my son. What will I do? He was my life, my best friend, my son. He was everything to me.

Read on...

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These protests are reminiscent of 2005 riots after the death of two Black boys during a police chase. They resulted in around 6,000 people arrested.

On the condition of anonymity, one government adviser told AFP:

There are all the ingredients for another explosion potentially.

Last year, 13 people were killed after refusing to stop for police traffic checks. A law change in 2017 gave officers greater powers to use their weapons, which are now under scrutiny.

Greens party leader Marine Tondelier said:

What I see on this video is the execution by police of a 17-year-old kid, in France, in 2023, in broad daylight.

Sociologist Dr. Crystal Fleming called Nahel’s killing “extrajudicial execution”:

Violence in Paris

People torched cars and bins in parts of Paris overnight, and protesters launched fireworks at riot police. For their part, the police fired flashball projectiles to try to disperse the angry crowds.

Two young protesters said:

We are sick of being treated like this. This is for Nahel, we are Nahel.

Meanwhile, they wheeled rubbish bins from a nearby estate to add to a burning barricade in the capital.

As the situation grew more volatile, president Macron called an early morning crisis meeting of his ministers. Macron had been looking to move past a half-year of protests that erupted over his deeply unpopular pension reform.

There had already been clashes the previous evening. While the night of 28 June began calmly, unrest erupted in other French cities, including Toulouse, Dijon, and Lyon. After midnight, violence hit the Paris region, where around 2,000 riot police had been deployed.

Journalist Jake Hanrahan shared footage of raging fires, and pointed out the common occurrence of deaths during traffic stops:

Nahel’s mother joined the protests:

Al-Jazeera English shared more footage of the protests:

‘Justice for Nahel’

In the region around the scene of Nahel’s killing, demonstrators dressed in black launched fireworks and firecrackers at security forces.

A thick column of smoke billowed above the area where AFP journalists saw more than a dozen cars and garbage cans set ablaze and barriers blocking off roads.

Graffiti sprayed on the walls of one building called for “justice for Nahel”, and said “police kill”.

In the working-class 18th and 19th districts of Northeastern Paris, police fired flashballs to disperse protesters burning rubbish. However, instead of leaving, the crowd responded by throwing bottles.

In the Essonne region south of the capital, a group set a bus on fire after forcing all the passengers off, according to police. Meanwhile, in the Paris suburb of Clamart people set a tram on fire.


Macron has said that the protests are “unjustifiable.” Earlier, however, he also said that Nahel’s death was “inexplicable and inexcusable”. So, which is it?

Macron’s response is typical from those who, thanks to footage of killings, are forced to acknowledge the horror, without allowing for criticism of a system that equips murder at traffic stops.

Macron’s attitude is underlined by coverage of the killing, too. The BBC published an article with the headline: “France shooting: Who was Nahel M, shot by police in Nanterre?” It noted:

His education was described as chaotic… His record of attendance of college was poor. He did not have a criminal record but he was known to police.

What would his criminal record matter? What type of record would he need to have in order to justify being killed in the street? Nahel was a child gunned down at a traffic stop. What is that but a police force completely out of control?

The actions of the police were not protecting anybody. And yet, it’s the actions of protesters in response to this tragedy that are framed as violent and “unjustifiable”. It’s sickening that the response to state violence is policed more than the actions of a bunch of thugs killing children during traffic stops.

Featured image via YouTube screenshot/Guardian News

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse 

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