For nearly a week, Paris protests have embroiled the city. During the busy summer tourist season, some countries have issued a travel warning.
Trigger of the Riots: A Traffic Stop Turns Tragic
Riots in France erupted after a 17-year-old boy of Algerian descent, referred to as “Nahel M”, was shot and killed by police officers during a traffic stop. The incident, captured on video, contradicts initial police accounts of the event. The footage showed two police officers standing by the side of a stationary car, with one officer threatening Nahel M with a bullet to his head before firing as the car drove off. This has sparked intense debates around the state of French policing, including allegations of systemic racism in the force.
Paris police used tear gas to disperse crowds, social media shows. According to reports, as many as 990+ people were arrested on consecutive nights.
Here’s a live feed:
Nationwide Protests and Police Response
The death of Nahel M led to nationwide protests, resulting in severe disruptions, with the Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin calling it a night of “rare violence”. In response to the escalating situation, a massive security deployment was initiated, involving around 45,000 police and gendarmes, along with elite Raid and GIGN units.
Despite the measures, there were continued instances of violence, including the pillaging of shops and the targeting of public buildings outside of the Paris region. For instance, a police station in the city of Pau was attacked with a Molotov cocktail, and an elementary school and a district office were set on fire in Lille. The city of Marseille has seen activity in response to the Police shooting as well.
Travel Warnings and Disruptions
Due to the unpredictable nature of the riots, the UK Foreign Office advised British tourists traveling to France to monitor the media and avoid areas affected by the riots. Britons were also urged to get travel insurance. The potential disruptions to road travel, local transport, and further curfews imposed by local authorities were highlighted. In addition to this, Paris Aeroport reported road and rail disruptions from the capital to its airports.
“Elsewhere, the British government has warned travellers there may be disruptions to road travel and local transport provision may be reduced.
It also said some local governments in France may impose curfews.
“You should monitor the media, avoid areas where riots are taking place, check the latest advice with operators when travelling and follow the advice of the authorities,” the government website advises.” – ITV
The Canadian government also issued a warning:
“Since June 27, 2023, demonstrations in opposition to police violence have been taking place. Further demonstrations are planned in the commune of Nanterre, in Paris and in several other cities across the country, including Lyon and Toulouse. They have caused disruptions to services and transportation and have led to acts of vandalism, arson, and violent clashes between demonstrators and police. In certain cases, security forces have used tear gas and to disperse crowds.
Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time.” – Government of Canada
The United States has not yet issued such an advisory related to this unrest.
Government Response: A State of Emergency?
President Emmanuel Macron, who cut short a trip to Brussels to address the situation, condemned the ongoing violence, describing it as an “unacceptable situation”. Despite the severity of the situation, Macron stopped short of declaring a state of emergency. Instead, he announced that thousands more officers would be deployed to contain the violence, while the government aimed to avoid a repeat of the 2005 urban riots.
Prior to the latest protests, France has faced a great deal of unrest in the last few years dating back to the Yellow Vest Protests in 2017.
Unrelated, a jarring video of an explosion in the Latin Quarter last week also made news. According to reports, workers were attempting to fix a leaky gas valve in a building and nothing nefarious is suspected.
International Reactions and Legal Proceedings
The international community, including the UN, expressed concern over the situation. The UN Human Rights Office spokesperson stressed the need for France to address deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement while calling for an investigation into allegations of disproportionate use of force. However, France’s Foreign Ministry rejected these allegations of racism in the country’s police force.
In relation to the fatal shooting, the officer’s lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, has said his client expressed remorse for the incident, claiming he did what he thought was necessary at the moment. The prosecution, however, stated that the legal conditions for the use of the weapon by the police officer were not met.
Continued protests, formal and informal, have caused damage and pose a risk to tourists to France. The horrific actions of these two Parisian police officers have sparked unrest over what some have claimed to be a history of racial profiling by authorities. My family loves Paris but we aren’t insensitive to the concerns of the French people. We hope to return.
What do you think?