For the past week, France has been in an uproar in response to the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old Black boy, according to the France24 News. The public’s response to what they claim was a racially biased act of police brutality has stirred up tensions similar to that in the US when the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral.
Here’s seven things to know about the shooting of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk:
Nahel Merzouk, 17, was a French citizen of Moroccan descent. According to The New York Times, he was an only child raised by a single mother. His grandmother told French reporters he had aspirations of being a mechanic and also played rugby on the local Ovale Citoyen team. Merzouk had no prior criminal record, according to his family attorney.
On Tuesday morning, Merzouk was driving a yellow Mercedes when he was approached by the police. Surveillance cameras show the two officers pointing their firearms in the vehicle and Merzouk driving forward just before a single shot was fired. The Nanterre mayor’s office issued a statement alleging that Merzouk wouldn’t comply with the commands of the officers and authorities claimed the police were in grave danger.
However, an eyewitness video captures a voice saying, “You’re going to get a bullet to the head,” just seconds before Merzouk was shot at point-blank range. He died on the scene. The officers searched his vehicle for illegal and dangerous substances but came up short, per The Times.
The videos of the incident sparked outrage across the whole country. France saw protests consistently every night since the shooting.
Up to 45,000 police officers were deployed for crowd control and over 3,000 arrests of demonstrators were made over the weekend, per CNN. Not all demonstrations were peaceful, as some resulted in the injuries of 45 officers, damage of 74 buildings and arson of 577 vehicles, per CNN. The most recent incident was Sunday morning when the mayor of a Paris suburb was targeted after a car was driven into his home and set on fire, the report says.
The 38-year-old officer accused of firing the fatal shot has been taken into custody and handed a preliminary charge of voluntary manslaughter. Per France24 News, the second officer is being investigated for complicity in the shooting.
So far, the officers involved haven’t been named but Merzouk’s family attorney, Yassine Bouzrou, said he plans to file a legal complaint against the policemen for giving false testimonies that Nahel tried to run them over.
Merzouk’s grandmother, Nadia, issued a call for calm following nights of violent riots in response to the fatal shooting.
“Stop rioting, stop destroying. I say this to those who are rioting: do not smash windows, attack schools and buses. Stop. It’s mothers who take those buses.,” she said via CNN affiliate BFMTV. She slammed the minors who have done most of the rioting for using her grandson as an excuse to wreack havoc on the country.
A private ceremony was held for Merzouk Saturday, at the mosque in his hometown of Nanterre. Many people showed up to share their condolences and support but were turned away due to capacity, per Le Monde. When his coffin was taken out of the mosque and placed into the hearse, a crowd of over 200 people surrounded the car and followed it to the cemetery chanting “Justice for Nahel.”
French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to launch a procedure to “understand deeply” the cause of the unrest and called for everyone to have restraint and dignity despite the “legitimate emotion” that arose from the shooting, per CNN.
He also advised police forces to avoid “another drama” following the death of Merzouk and ordered police to have talks with the neighborhood while also being firm with the “thugs.” Macron is expected to meet with leaders of parliament and mayors of the country’s towns regarding the uprising, per The Guardian.