A police shooting triggers riots and soul-searching across France

France has been rocked by its worst unrest in decades after police shot dead an unarmed 17-year-old driver at a traffic stop on Tuesday (27 June).

Bystander footage disproved initial police claims that the driver had rammed them. And local grief in Nanterre, a low-income Parisian suburb home to many migrants, soon escalated to widespread unrest, including:

  • The torching of trains, police stations, town halls, and schools
  • The looting of anything from luxury goods to toilet paper, and
  • Even slamming a burning vehicle into a mayor’s family home.

How did the French authorities respond?

  • President Macron said the teenager’s death was “inexplicable”
  • He deployed 45,000 extra police who’ve arrested 2,300 rioters, and
  • The officer behind the shooting is facing charges of voluntary manslaughter.

Most foreign governments have stayed silent, but:

  • 🇩🇿 Algeria has voiced “shock and resentment” at the teen’s killing, in a statement suggesting the young driver was an Algerian national
  • 🇷🇺 Russia’s foreign ministry has sought to capitalise on the events in France, saying before you try to treat us, heal yourself, and
  • 🇵🇱 Poland and 🇭🇺 Hungary linked the French riots to their own vetoing of a joint EU statement covering migration.

Meanwhile, the deceased teen’s grandmother yesterday (Sunday) pleaded with the rioters to stop the violence, which now seems to be subsiding.

Intrigue’s take: We’re all about geopolitics here. And this kind of internal unrest has real geopolitical implications, because:

  • It limits France’s bandwidth to shape the world around it (Macron had to leave an EU summit early, and delayed a visit to Germany)
  • It emboldens domestic voices with opposing views on France’s role in the world, and
  • It enables adversaries (like Russia above) to distract from or bolster their own narratives of purported cohesion and stability at home.

So it makes sense Macron wants an inquiry into the longer-term causes of this unrest. And it makes sense the world will await its findings with interest.

Also worth noting:

  • Riots erupted in broadly similar circumstances in 2005, lasting three weeks until President Chirac declared a state of emergency.
  • In 2018, the French ambassador to the US had an exchange with talk show host Trevor Noah on race relations in France.
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