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In France, protests persist over the police killing of boy of Algerian descent

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

France is bracing for a weekend of unrest. People have been rioting over the killing of a 17-year-old youth of Algerian descent. The death during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb has revived grievances about policing and race relations. Anger has rippled across France, which has seen three nights of violence.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

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SHAPIRO: People have set cars and buildings on fire. Nearly a thousand people have been arrested, and 45,000 police have been mobilized. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from France. And, Eleanor, remind us of the tragic events leading to these protests.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yeah, Ari. Well, a young guy named Nahel M. - they're not giving his last name - in the suburb of the city of Nanterre was stopped at a routine traffic stop, and he got shot. And the police originally said that he tried to drive at them with his car, but a video quickly surfaced showing the police officer firing point-blank range into the car. So that changed everything. The policeman has now been arrested and has been charged with voluntary homicide. He's apologized to the family, but it has set off a huge wave of anger across France. We've had three nights of rioting - you know, as you said, cars and buildings set on fire. There have been 875 arrests, 250 police officers injured. Major events have been cancelled. This evening the interior minister called for a nationwide halt to all bus and tram service from 9 o'clock this evening.

SHAPIRO: What has the response been from President Emmanuel Macron and other government leaders?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Macron has unequivocally condemned the policeman's actions. Even France's hardline pro-law and order interior minister said he was stunned by the video. But Macron said it is not a reason to wreck public buildings like town halls and schools and police stations. Today Macron cut short a meeting at the EU in Brussels to return to Paris, where he held a crisis meeting. Here he is speaking.

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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: He says the social networks also bear responsibility. Some of the rioters are very young, Ari, as young as 14. Yet they're very well-organized. Macron said apps like TikTok and Snapchat have not only been helping them organize but have been instilling them with a sort of militaristic purpose. And he said these - a lot of these young people - it's as if they're living out their intoxication with video games in the real streets. He also called on parents to take responsibility for their kids and keep them home. The far right has been calling on Macron to declare a state of emergency. He's not done that, but tonight the French government announced 45,000 more police on the streets. And today the U.N. called on France to address deep issues of racism and discrimination in its law enforcement, though the French government has rejected those accusations and says they're unfounded.

SHAPIRO: What has the family of Nahel said about events?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Nahel's mother, Mounia, whose name is - last name is not given either - she actually did an interview on television. She says she doesn't blame the system, the law enforcement as a whole for her son's death. She says she blames one man. Here she is.

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MOUNIA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: She says, "I blame one man who saw a young Arab boy and wanted to kill him." Nahel's funeral will be held tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Thank you so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.