NANTERRE, France — Crowds gathered at town halls across France Monday to show solidarity with local governments targeted in six nights of violence touched off by the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old in suburban Paris.
The unrest, which appeared to be easing on Sunday night, was driven by a mainly teenage backlash in the suburbs and urban housing projects against a French state that many young people with immigrant roots say routinely discriminates against them. In all, 99 town halls have been attacked in the violence, the Interior Ministry said, including a weekend attempt to ram the home of one mayor with an explosives-laden car.
There has been little in the way of organized protests beyond a march last week for Nahel, the 17-year-old of Algerian descent who was killed on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Instead, the anger has manifested in young people targeting police, with both sides using increasingly aggressive tactics.
Discrimination Strikes All Ages
The average age of the 3,354 people arrested over the past week was 17, the interior minister said. But the problem of discrimination strikes all ages, according to Ahmed Djamai, a 58-year-old born in Nanterre who attended Monday’s solidarity gathering at the town hall.
Djamai said police stopped him not long ago and demanded a residence permit, even though he neither has nor needs one as a French citizen. He said the problem won’t go away even as the violence subsides.
“Our second, third and fourth-generation children face the same problem when they go out to get a job, when they go to prestigious universities,” he said. “They’re not accepted. So even now, the problem is social, but it’s also one of identity. It goes much deeper than that.”
Macron Meets With Mayors Amidst Unrest
French President Emmanuel Macron was meeting Tuesday with mayors of 220 towns from across the country. Across France, 34 buildings — many of them linked to the government — were attacked from Sunday into Monday, along with 297 vehicles.
Macron last week blamed social media for the spread of the unrest and called on parents to take responsibility for their teenagers. Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told France Inter radio that parents who abdicated that responsibility, “either through disinterest or deliberately,” would be prosecuted.
Violence Descends Into Attacks Against State Symbols
The anger has descended into attacks against symbols of the state, widespread arson and nighttime looting. About 45,000 officers were deployed nationwide overnight.
“We know all too well that this violence penalizes first and foremost the children, the people and the families of our neighborhoods and all of the residents of our city,” said Nanterre Mayor Patrick Jarry. “We want justice to be done for Nahel and for the appeal by the family and notably by his grandmother for an end to the violence and destruction to be heard and respected.”
A car packed with explosives struck the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses over the weekend, an unusually personal attack that authorities said would be prosecuted as an attempted homicide. The attack prompted an outpouring of support for local governments in many towns where the city hall is often literally central to public life.
L’Hay-les-Roses Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured and criticized the government for doing too little, too late — and said blaming social media or parents was papering over a bigger problem.
“The base ingredients are still there. For several years now, all summer long, explosives go off that keep people from sleeping, that make them crazy,” he told BFM television on Monday. “We are powerless summer after summer.”
Overnight Arrests and Damage Reports
In all, according to the Interior Ministry, there were 157 arrests overnight out of a total of 3,354 since last Tuesday, and two law enforcement stations were attacked, among other damage.
The interior minister said children as young as 12 or 13 had been detained for attacking law enforcement and setting fires.
In the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where a fire also struck the town hall, residents over the weekend said anger had simmered for years and many said the government had done little to help them.
“Young people are afraid to die by the hands of police. They are hopeless. They are bored and they need something to distract them so they don’t hang out in the streets,” said Samba Seck, 39.