- In 2017, former president of France, François Hollande
- In 2018 and 2019, France experienced a unique wave of protesters called the Gilet Jaunes. This group of protestors ranged far and wide in their grievances with some protesting tax raises and others asking for more The movement can largely be identified as anti-Macron and his reformist ideals, but some sympathizers did not wish for more mobilization.
- Earlier this year, protests took place in response to the government increasing the pension age from 62 to 64. While there were dissenting voices to the new proposition, the Prime Minister utilized a clause in the French constitution that allows for a law to be signed with out a vote. Turnout for the ensuing protests have reach as high as a million people
- On June 27, 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk left his home in a vehicle. While driving without a license, Nahel was stopped by police. Nahel failed to comply with French officers and tried to drive away. As Nahel was beginning to leave, police officers shot the teenager. Nahel succumbed to his wounds.
Over the past couple of weeks, France has seen numerous protestors take to the streets while calling for the justice of a 17-year-old teenager that was killed by police. This occurs while the people of France are already furious over the recent change to the pension age.
On June 27th, soon after leaving from his house, Nahel Merzouk was stopped and confronted by the police. During the traffic check, Nahel attempted to drive away, resulting in the French police shooting and ultimately killing the teen.
While many in the French government were quick to condemn the actions of the police officers, the public has remained furious and rioting ensued. For over a week, towns all across France have been flooded with rioters who have burned thousands of cars and have even set fire to a mayor’s house.
Government Response: Not Addressing the Issue
The government of France is faced with an unprecedented level of violence and rioting on the streets following the killing of Nahel Merzouk. The issue at hand appears to be two-fold. On the one hand, the response of the police by shooting and killing someone for failing to comply with a traffic stop is a disproportionate use of force. Secondly, as Nahel was of Algerian descent, the issue of discrimination and racism appear to be prevalent.
The UN has decided to weigh in on the events transpiring in France, citing their concerns of racism and excessive use of force by the French police. Accountability for the killing, appropriate sanctions and a remedy for systemic racism are among the recommendations made by UN. The French government have dismissed such claims, calling the systemic racism “unfounded.” Compounding this issue for the public are the attempts of finding blame elsewhere.
For instance, President Macron eludes to video games as an inspiration for violence in the streets. This wouldn’t be the first time that video games has been the scape goat for violence, but studies show there is no discernible link to video games and an increase in violent tendencies. Rather, low-income, mental health, and difficult home lives are better indicators for violent behavior.
Even still, the government of France is looking elsewhere to find the cause of all the violence. Blocking social media is being considered to quell organized violent protests. While social media can be a tool to organize violence, blocking peoples’ access is likely to incite more anger than to solve the problem.
The question remains, why are people angry? When compared to other European nations, France’s police force is identified as having a more harsh and authoritative response to the public. Exacerbating the issue are claims of institutionalized racism. Police officers are 20 times more likely to stop a person for a police check if they perceive the individual as a black or Arab male.
On the morning when Nahel left and was stopped by police he was driving illegally without a license. This was not Nahel’s first run-in with the police, yet he never carried a criminal record. In fact, by most accounts, Nahel was good person who was pursuing an apprenticeship to be an electrician and was a part of his local rugby team. His encounters with the police were car related, such as driving without a license or false plate numbers.
The minority and immigrant groups of France feel marginalized and targeted by their government. By choosing to direct the blame on the rioters, on social media, on video games, the French government has not adequately addressed the problem. Furthermore, with protests erupting over the past several months regarding the rise in pension age, France has been faced with numerous difficulties.
One step to mending the wounds and to settle things down would be a review of the law which allows for use of lethal force against civilians who are not following traffic laws. While it is important to keep the safety of the officers in mind, there appears to be a lack of appropriate discretion in the application for lethal force. A review of law enforcement procedures and training is needed to ensure that outdated or escalatory practices aren’t used.
Changing the police force won’t happen overnight and will be met with considerable pushback. Highlighting this difficulty is the GoFundMe for the officer convicted of killing Nahel, which raised over 1.5 million euros. While this amount of money is impressive in its own right, it was done by a far right figure in what amounts to an obstacle to justice for the victim’s family.
At the end of it all, the people of France want to be heard and, as is evident in the response from the government and ensuing riots, they do not feel that way. Minority groups in France feel like second rate citizens. Although many top officials were quick to side with Nahel’s family, the following protests have drove a wedge between the citizens and the government as damages reach in excess of a billion dollars.
Action is needed by the government of France. By revising the law, by having modern training tactics for the police force, by listening to the voices of the marginalized, the dust should begin to settle on a tense nation. While the French government cannot be expected to respond to all grievances laid before them, something more must be done. President Macron narrowly avoided a vote of no confidence in March. If little is done to change the way things presently operate more protesting and, consequently, violence is surely expected.
Joshua Perkins is a research assistant intern at Beyond the Horizon ISSG. He is also pursuing a degree in Homeland Security with an emphasis in International Relations through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.