Protests are sweeping France. Here’s what you need to know

France has been rocked by a wave of protests after a 17-year-old youth was shot by police near Paris Tuesday, sparking a ban on demonstrations in some cities, travel warnings and reigniting a debate on overpolicing in marginalized communities.

Scenes emerged of people setting fires to vehicles and climbing onto buildings with smashed windows, while riot police officers fiercely clashed with demonstrators.

The unrest prompted a crisis response from French President Emmanuel Macron, who held an emergency meeting with ministers as he attempts to bridge divisions and unite the country in his second term.

What sparked the protests?

A police officer shot dead the teenager, Nahel, who was of Algerian heritage, during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre earlier this week.

Footage of the incident captured by a passerby showed two officers standing on the driver’s side of the car, one of whom discharged his gun at the driver despite not appearing to face any immediate threat.

The officer said he fired his gun because he was scared the boy would run someone over with the car, Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said.

Prache said that it is believed the officer acted illegally in using his weapon. He is currently facing a formal investigation for voluntary homicide and has been placed in preliminary detention.

What’s happened since?

Protesters have been carrying signs that read,”the police kill” and hundreds of government buildings have been damaged as Nahel’s death taps into anger over racial bias in the country.

Successive nights of violence across France and its overseas territories have in turn prompted French officials launch a crackdown. More than 40,000 police officers have been mobilized to patrol cities across the country, nearly 1,000 people have been arrested and more than 200 police officers have been injured.

In Paris alone, 5,000 security personnel were deployed. Officers were given powers to quell riots, make arrests, and “restore republican order,” French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said.

Overseas French territories have also witnessed violent protests. A man was killed by a “stray bullet” in Cayenne, capital of French Guiana, by a “stray bullet” during riots on Thursday.

What led to the unrest?

Activists believe Nahel’s race was a factor in his killing, unraveling deep-rooted tensions over police discrimination against minoritized communities in France.

Secularism – known as “laïcité” in French – is a key foundation of French culture, as it seeks to uphold equality for all by erasing markers of difference, including race.

But many people of color in France say they are more likely to be victims of police brutality than White people. A 2017 study by the Rights Defenders, an independent human rights watchdog 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.

Accusations of brutality have long plagued French police. The Council of Europe criticized “excessive use of force by state agents” in a statement earlier this year during protests against Macron’s unpopular pension reforms.

Rights groups, like Amnesty International, have accused French police of ethnic profiling and have recommended deep, systemic reform to address the discrimination.

The UN called on France to address “deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement,” in the agency’s first comments since the killing.

In a statement on Friday, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged French authorities to “ensure use of force by police to address violent elements in demonstrations always respects the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination, precaution and accountability.”

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs later rebuffed the UN’s comments, saying: “France, and its police forces, fight with determination against racism and all forms of discrimination. There can be no doubt about this commitment.

“The use of force by the national police and gendarmerie is governed by the principles of absolute necessity and proportionality, strictly framed and controlled,” the ministry added.(CNN)

News Desk

News Desk staff at The Kashmir Radar. Posting unbiased news as we believe in pure journalism!

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