PARIS — Young rioters clashed with police into early Sunday and targeted a mayor’s home with a burning car as France saw a fifth night of unrest sparked by the police killing of a teenager, but overall violence appeared to lessen compared with previous nights.
Police made 719 arrests nationwide by early Sunday after a mass security deployment aimed at quelling France’s worst social upheaval in years.
The crisis posed a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership and exposed deep-seated discontent in low-income neighborhoods over discrimination and lack of opportunity.
The 17-year-old whose death Tuesday spawned the anger was laid to rest Saturday in a Muslim ceremony in Nanterre, a Paris suburb where emotions over his loss remain raw. He has been identified publicly only by his first name, Nahel.
As night fell Saturday over the French capital, a small crowd gathered on the Champs-Elysees to protest his death and police violence but met hundreds of officers with batons and shields guarding the avenue and its boutiques. In a less chic neighborhood of northern Paris, protesters set off firecrackers and lit barricades on fire as police shot back with tear gas and stun grenades.
A burning car hit the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of l’Hay-les-Roses. Several schools, police stations, town halls and stores have been targeted by fires or vandalism in recent days but such a personal attack on a mayor’s home is unusual.
Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured in the attack at 1:30 a.m. while the family was sleeping and he was in the town hall monitoring the violence.
Jeanbrun, of the conservative opposition Republicans party, said in a statement the attack represented a new stage of “horror and ignominy” in the unrest, and urged the government to impose a state of emergency.
Regional prosecutor Stephane Hardouin opened an investigation into attempted murder in the attack, telling French television that a preliminary investigation suggests the car was meant to ram the house and set it ablaze. He said a flame accelerant was found in a bottle in the car.
Skirmishes erupted in the Mediterranean city of Marseille but appeared less intense than the night before, according to the Interior Ministry. A bolstered police contingent arrested 55 people there.
Nationwide arrests were lower than the night before. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin attributed that to “the resolute action of security forces.”
More than 3,000 people have been detained overall since Nahel’s death. The mass police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods and shop owners whose stores have been ransacked — but it has further frustrated those who see police behavior as the core of France’s current crisis.
The unrest took a toll on Macron’s diplomatic standing. On Saturday, he postponed what would have been the first state visit to Germany by a French president in 23 years. Macron had been scheduled to fly to Germany on Sunday.
Hundreds of French police and firefighters have been injured in the violence, although authorities haven’t said how many protesters have been hurt. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet.
On Saturday, Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti warned that young people who share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face prosecution. Macron has blamed social media for fueling violence.
While concerts at the national stadium and smaller events around the country were canceled because of the violence and some neighborhoods suffered serious damage, life in other parts of France went on as usual.
Fans tuned into the start of the Tour de France cycling race in neighboring Spain; Marseille hosted a championship in pétanque — a game involving rolling metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden or plastic one; and families who could afford it headed for summer vacation. In the capital, tourists thronged to the Eiffel Tower, where workers set up a nearby clock counting down to next year’s Paris Olympics.
Hundreds of mourners stood along the road Saturday leading to a hilltop cemetery in Nanterre to pay tribute to Nahel as his white casket was carried from a mosque to the burial site. His mother, dressed in white, walked inside the cemetery amid applause. Many of the men were young and Arab or Black, coming to mourn a boy who could have been them.
This week, Nahel’s mother told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer who shot her son at a traffic stop, but not at the police in general.
“He saw a little Arab-looking kid. He wanted to take his life,” she said. Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.
Video of the killing showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide.
Thirteen people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year, and three this year, prompting demands for more accountability. France also saw protests against police violence and racial injustice after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.
The reaction to the killing was a potent reminder of the persistent poverty, discrimination and limited job prospects in neighborhoods around France where many trace their roots to former French colonies — such as where Nahel grew up.
In 2005, France was shaken by weeks of riots prompted by the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois while fleeing police. Clichy has seen new violence this week.
“Nahel’s story is the lighter that ignited the gas. Hopeless young people were waiting for it. We lack housing and jobs, and when we have (jobs), our wages are too low,” said Samba Seck, a 39-year-old transportation worker in Clichy.