ushed and visibly anguished, hundreds of mourners from France’s Islamic community formed a solemn procession from a mosque to a hillside cemetery on Saturday to bury a 17-year-old whose killing by police has triggered days of rioting and looting across the nation.
Underscoring the gravity of the crisis, President Emmanuel Macron scrapped an official trip to Germany after nights of unrest across France.
The government deployed 45,000 police to city streets across the nation to head off a fifth night of violence. Overnight, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted that the night had been calmer than previous ones, thanks to “the resolute action of security forces.” He put the night’s arrest toll at 427.
Some 2,800 people have been arrested overall since the teen’s death on Tuesday. Darmanin tweeted late Saturday that 200 riot police had been mobilized in the port city of Marseille, where TV showed footage of police using tear gas as night fell.
Near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, hundreds of police with batons and shields stood restlessly along the Champs-Elysées, several in front of the shuttered Cartier boutique. Posts on social media had called for protests on the grand boulevard but the police presence appeared to discourage any large gatherings.
Earlier in the day at a hilltop cemetery in Nanterre, the Paris suburb where the teen identified only as Nahel was killed, hundreds stood along the road to pay tribute as mourners carried his white casket from a mosque to the burial site. Journalists were barred from the ceremony and in some cases even chased away. Some of the men carried folded prayer rugs.
“Men first,” an official told dozens of women waiting to enter the cemetery. But Nahel’s mother, dressed in white, walked inside to applause and headed toward the grave. Many of the men were young and Arab or Black, coming to mourn a boy who could have been them.
Inside the cemetery gate, the casket was lifted above the crowd and carried toward the grave. The men followed, some holding little boys by the hand. As they left, some wiped their eyes. Police were nowhere to be seen.
The unrest was taking a toll on Macron’s diplomatic profile. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s office said Macron phoned Saturday to request a postponement of what would have been the first state visit by a French president to Germany in 23 years. Macron had been scheduled to fly to Germany on Sunday evening for the visit to Berlin and two other German cities.
Macron’s office said he spoke with Steinmeier and, “given the internal security situation, the president (Macron) said he wishes to stay in France over the coming days.”
Nahel was shot during a traffic stop. Video showed two officers at the window of the car, one with his gun pointed at the driver. As the teenager pulled forward, the officer fired once through the windshield. This week, Nahel’s mother told France 5 television that she was angry at the officer who shot her son, but not at the police in general.
“He saw a little Arab-looking kid, he wanted to take his life,” she said.
Nahel’s family has roots in Algeria.
Race was a taboo topic for decades in France, which is officially committed to a doctrine of colorblind universalism. Critics say that doctrine has masked generations of systemic racism.
The officer accused of killing Nahel was given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide, meaning that investigating magistrates strongly suspect wrongdoing, but need to investigate more before sending a case to trial. Nanterre prosecutor Pascal Prache said his initial investigation led him to conclude that the officer’s use of his weapon wasn’t legally justified.
Hundreds of police and firefighters have been injured in the violence that erupted after the killing. Authorities haven’t released injury tallies for protesters. In French Guiana, an overseas territory, a 54-year-old died after being hit by a stray bullet.
The reaction to the killing was a potent reminder of the persistent poverty, discrimination, unemployment and other lack of opportunity in neighborhoods around France where many residents trace their roots to former French colonies — like where Nahel grew up.
“Nahel’s story is the lighter that ignited the gas. Hopeless young people were waiting for it. We lack housing and jobs, and when we have (jobs), our wages are too low,” said Samba Seck, a 39-year-old transportation worker in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
Clichy was the birthplace of weeks of riots in 2005 that shook France, prompted by the deaths of two teenagers electrocuted in a power substation while fleeing from police. One of the boys lived in the same housing project as Seck.
Like many Clichy residents, he lamented the violence targeting his town, where the remains of a burned car stood beneath his apartment building, and the town hall entrance was set alight in rioting this week.
“Young people break everything, but we are already poor, we have nothing,” he said, adding that “young people are afraid to die at the hands of police.”
Despite the escalating crisis, Macron held off on declaring a state of emergency, an option used in 2005. But government ratcheted up its law enforcement response, with the mass deployment of police officers, including some who were called back from vacation.
France’s justice minister, Dupond-Moretti, on Saturday warned that young people who share calls for violence on Snapchat or other apps could face legal prosecution. Macron has blamed social media for fueling violence.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire promised government support for shop owners.
“There is no nation without order, without common rules,” he said.
Darmanin has ordered a nationwide nighttime shutdown of all public buses and trams, which have been among rioters’ targets. He also said he warned social networks not to allow themselves to be used as channels for calls to violence.
The violence comes just over a year before Paris and other French cities are due to host Olympic athletes and millions of visitors for the summer Olympics, whose organizers were closely monitoring the situation as preparations for the competition continue.
Thirteen people who didn’t comply with traffic stops were fatally shot by French police last year. This year, three more people, including Nahel, died under similar circumstances. The deaths have prompted demands for more accountability in France, which also saw racial justice protests after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minnesota.