France is bracing for further protests after police shot dead a teenager, an incident which French President Emmanuel Macron said has “moved the entire nation”.
Clashes broke out between demonstrators and police overnight after an officer killed the 17-year-old in a Paris suburb, Nanterre.
The teenager, identified as Nael M, allegedly failed to comply with a police order to stop his car on Tuesday.
He was driving a rental car when police pulled him over for breaking several road rules, prosecutors said.
A video circulating on social media, authenticated by the French news agency AFP, shows two police officers trying to stop the vehicle, with one pointing his weapon at the driver through the window and firing at close range when he apparently continues to drive.
The car moved a few metres before crashing.
Emergency services tried to resuscitate the teenager at the scene but he died shortly afterwards.
The deadly police shooting was “inexplicable” and “unforgivable”, Macron said on Wednesday, as the government raced to ease tensions.
“A teenager was killed. That is inexplicable and unforgivable,” he said during a visit to the Mediterranean city Marseille, saying the case had “moved the entire nation”.
Local residents held a protest outside the police headquarters. Tensions soared later on Tuesday; demonstrators lit fires, set a car alight, destroyed bus stops and threw firecrackers towards police who responded with tear gas and dispersion grenades.
Thousands of police were deployed on Wednesday amid fear of further unrest.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Nanterre, said anger “boiled over” in the suburb.
“Many people are deeply shocked and upset at what has happened on their doorstep,” she said, adding that the video circulating on social media was fuelling feelings of rage.
“People here say this is cold-blooded murder. The French government have called the images shocking and distressing. The government is calling for calm, talking about an investigation.
“The problem is, we have seen incidents like this over the past year and a half – more than 13 people have been killed in traffic stops and checks. People are saying this is another example of police tactics in France which are often heavy-handed and deadly.”
“There is a sense that the French police have a culture of impunity and it is not being addressed.”
During the riots, 31 people were arrested, 25 police officers were injured, and 40 cars burned, officials said.
The French football star Kylian Mbappé, who grew up in the Parisian suburbs, was among those who were outraged by the latest killing.
“I feel bad for my France,” he tweeted, deploring the “unacceptable situation”.
“All my thoughts go out to Nael’s family and loved ones, this little angel who left far too soon.”
Actor Omar Sy called for “justice” to “honour the memory of this child”.
The officer accused of firing on the driver has been arrested on homicide charges, the Nanterre prosecutor’s office said.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin acknowledged that the images on social media were “extremely shocking”.
In a statement, lawyers rejected a reported statement by the police that officers’ lives were in danger because the driver had threatened to run them over.
Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer for the family, told local media that while all parties needed to wait for the result of the investigation, the images “clearly showed a policeman killing a young man in cold blood”.
“This is a long way from any kind of legitimate defence,” he said, adding the family had filed a complaint accusing the police of “lying” by initially claiming the car had tried to run down the officers.
After the record 13 deaths from police shootings in France during traffic stops last year, the killing of Nael is the second fatal shooting in such circumstances in 2023.
Three people were killed by police shooting after refusing to comply with a traffic stop in 2021 and two in 2020.
A Reuters news agency tally of fatal shootings in 2021 and 2022 shows the majority of victims were Black or of Arabic origin.
“As a mother from Nanterre, I have a feeling of insecurity for our children,” said Mornia Labssi, a local resident and anti-racism campaigner, who said she had spoken to the victim’s family, which she said was of Algerian origin.