The French government is considering “all options” including a nationwide state of emergency after another night of violence which saw hundreds of arrests and injured police officers, and thousands of fires, including many symbols of the state including town halls, schools, post offices, and buses destroyed.
Some 40,000 police officers were deployed across France on Thursday night in an attempt to forestall a third night of violence triggered by the death on Tuesday of a delivery driver at the hands of a police officer in a Paris suburb after he refused to comply with a traffic stop. Yet the enormous show of force by the French state failed to prevent even greater levels of destruction.
Per France’s Le Figaro reports there were 875 arrests overnight nationwide, which saw protest and violence spread to urban areas across the country and even to neighbouring Belgium, the home of the European Union. Figures that underline the considerable scale of the attacks reveal there were some 3,880 fires set overnight, 249 police officers injured — although none seriously — and 492 buildings damaged.
Among those buildings damaged were several town halls and schools burnt out, reports state. Le Parisien cites the Interior Ministry to report 80 police stations were damaged overnight, 34 town halls burnt or otherwise damaged, 28 schools, and 57 other state buildings nationwide. Attacks on symbols of the state appeared so targeted even individual post-boxes were attacked. President of the French Republican Party Eric Ciotti posted footage to social media that claimed to show a French mayor being attacked by a mob as his car was set on fire.
In Marseille, two off-duty police officers were recognised out of uniform and were “seriously injured” in what has been described as a “lynching”.
Looting of businesses including gas stations, tobacconists, and apparel stores has also been reported. In one Parisian suburb, a truck was used to ram down the doors of a shopping centre so looters could access the stores inside.
While French President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised for being absent during the riots — he even grabbed headlines for partying with Elton John on Wednesday night while French cities burnt — he has now left a European summit early to return to Paris and host an emergency government meeting. The government will leave nothing off the table to restore order, Macron’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said, eyeing a potential declaration of a state of emergency.
French media has made repeated comparisons of the present violence to the riots of 2005, which as stated were of such intensity have become the yardstick against which all urban unrest in the country has been compared since.
🇷 FLASH – Emmanuel #Macron a été aperçu au concert d’Elton John hier soir, alors que plusieurs villes de France s’embrasaient suite à la mort de Nahel. (Bianca Brandolini sur Instagram) #émeutes pic.twitter.com/9tSHbwllz4
— Mediavenir (@Mediavenir) June 29, 2023
— Anonyme Citoyen (@AnonymeCitoyen) June 29, 2023
Top French civil servant Michel Aubouin, an expert on urban violence and managing integration of migrants into society, has warned in an interview today that the emergence of social media, warm summer weather, and a “younger and more violent generation” now compared to 2005 means this unrest could turn out worse. French populist leader Eric Zemmour blamed the immigration policy of the 21st century, sayings he believes the country is now on the verge of a civil war.
The French writer-turned-politician described as “an ethnic, racial war… In 2005, only the suburbs were affected. Now, all of France is affected, from Paris to small towns. Why are they affected? Because for 20 years, we have distributed immigrants.”
Certainly, the events of Thursday night suggest further trouble may yet be in store as some acts on Thursday night imply a degree of planning for future violence. In the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, a backhoe tractor was stolen from a construction site and used in part of a campaign of destruction taking out 39 CCTV cameras in the city overnight. Meanwhile, a sporting goods store in Bordeaux was looted on Thursday night with the entire stock of rifles and ammunition taken.
— Mediavenir (@Mediavenir) June 30, 2023
On the other hand, beyond the police deployment other state action is being taken on a local level to prevent, or at least slow further violence. Some French municipalities have banned fireworks and even gasoline from being sold or transported in public. The mayor of the city of Drancy has instructed all parents to keep their children — “even young adults” — to stay at home overnight.
Public transport is being suspended in the Paris region from tonight for every evening until further notice. While this is said to be for the safety of riders and staff, perhaps the number of buses and trams burnt out in recent nights also impacts the decision.
Several cities, including Parisian suburbs, have announced curfews for Friday night.
As reported, this sudden explosion of violence was triggered by the Tuesday slaying of teenage delivery driver ‘Nahel M’ by a police officer in Nanterre, a Paris suburb. Said to be known to police for repeatedly driving without a driving licence or insurance, the teen was pulled over on Tuesday after officers spotted him breaking road laws.
This interaction with officers rapidly deteriorated, however, when the youth attempted to speed away in his car while talking to officers, an event which saw one of those police officers decide to fire his sidearm, killing Nahel. The officer who fired has now been arrested and is being held in prison, and France has come under criticism from the United Nations for “deep issues of racism and racial discrimination in law enforcement”.