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France: Protests against police brutality turn violent

September 23, 2023

In Paris, a police car and a bank were attacked by a group of people during protests against police brutality. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin described the incident as "unacceptable violence."

French anti-riot police officers stand guard during a "united march" against police brutality called by NGOs, unions and parties, in Paris
There was a heavy police presence in the French capital as Saturday's demonstrations beganImage: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across France on Saturday to protest against police violence and racism. The protests were sparked by ongoing anger over the police killing of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk in June.

However, numerous groups and initiatives with demands for immigration rights, affordable housing and economic justice also took part in the demonstrations. They denounced systemic racism, police violence and growing social inequalities.

Some 100 rallies took place nationwide. Unions said around 80,000 people joined the protest across France in response to a call by radical leftists, but police put the number at 31,800.

French activist Jean-Baptiste Redde, also known as Voltuan, holds a slogan during a march against police brutality
Most of the demonstrators protested peacefully, calling for an end to police violence and racismImage: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Violent incidents in Paris

A demonstration in Paris saw some clashes between protesters and police. 

A report from French news agency AFP said hundreds of people wearing black and in hoods broke away from the main march of several thousand people. They reportedly smashed the windows of a bank branch and attacked a police car with iron rods.

A video later published by the BFMTV channel showed a group of masked protesters running after the car, repeatedly kicking it, as one man smashes a window with a crowbar. An officer can be seen getting out and brandishing his service weapon, but does not fire it, before getting back in the vehicle.

A police officer removes his service weapon after his car is attacked by protesters in Paris
A police officer removes his service weapon after his car is attacked by protesters in ParisImage: Olivier Arandel/MAXPPP/dpa/picture alliance

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said three people had been arrested over the incident.

"We see where anti-police hatred leads," French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, denouncing "unacceptable violence" against the police.

Killing of Nahel Merzouk

The death of Nahel Merzouk by a police bullet led to days of massive riots in June and July. The unrest, which included arson and looting, erupted after video footage showed the young man did not try to run over the officers during a police check, as initially claimed.

Authorities eventually restored calm with a massive police presence. Since then, the government of President Emmanuel Macron has neither presented a concept to improve the situation in the socially isolated suburbs nor has the police behavior been critically analyzed.

According to a report by the Inspectorate General of the National Police (IGPN), a total of 38 people died and 66 were injured in police operations in 2022, compared to 37 deaths and 79 injuries in 2021.

dh/nm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)