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France is engulfed by widespread protests after police fatally shot a teenager


Mourners gathered in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre to pay their respects to the 17-year-old boy who was shot by a police officer this week after being stopped for running a red light. Reporter Rebecca Rosman is in Nanterre. She joins us now. Hi, Rebecca.


PARKS: Good morning. So it has been four nights of protests and rioting across France. Thousands have been arrested, and now this funeral. Tell us what it's like there.

ROSMAN: Well, it's a closed funeral, but I did see some people filing into the cemetery earlier. It's a rainy and quiet morning here. And I have to say quiet feels a bit unusual for this suburb right now given all that has happened since Tuesday when the shooting took place. I spoke to one young woman. Her name is Shereen (ph), and she's only 19 years old. She told me she knew him.

SHEREEN: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: So what she's saying - you know, it's one thing when you see this kind of stuff on TV, but it's totally different when it happens in your own town. And she also described the boy as someone who was always smiling, never in a bad mood, just really a joy to be around.

PARKS: Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about him. What else has come out in the last few days?

ROSMAN: Yeah, he's being referred to in the media as Nahel M. No last name has been given. We know that he was of Algerian and Moroccan descent, and he was brought up by a single mother. His mom, Mounia, has told the media that they were extremely close. And he was working as a food delivery driver. He was also training to become an electrician. He was enrolled at a nearby university, but didn't regularly attend classes. And he didn't have a criminal record, but he was known to police for several traffic violations in the past. He was also part of an integration program for struggling teens looking to gain work experience. And the head of that program described Nahel as someone who really fit in and just wasn't the kind of kid to get in any trouble.

PARKS: A lot of people have been referring to this incident as France's essentially George Floyd moment. Is that an apt comparison?

ROSMAN: Yeah. First, just to remind people - George Floyd was the Black man killed by a white police officer in 2020, which set off a series of major protests across the U.S. What I've been hearing from a lot of activists in particular - they take some issue with that comparison actually 'cause they say it makes it sound like people in France are just waking up to issues like systemic racism and police brutality when this is something that they've been signaling for years, if not decades. But I think what they hope is that the greater public is becoming more attuned to what they see as a culture of impunity within the police force. And they hope that this will start a greater conversation.

PARKS: Any idea on whether these protests are expected to continue into the weekend and into next week?

ROSMAN: Yeah, I think we can definitely expect that. There were 1,300 arrests made last night alone. That's up from 900 arrests the previous evening. That being said, the government has deployed 45,000 police officers across the country to quell protests. And the government is warning young people especially to stay at home. The average age of the arrests made on Thursday night was only 17 years old. Some were as young as 13 years old. So the government has repeated calls for calm, but especially given that it's the weekend now, it's likely there will be more activity on the streets this evening.

PARKS: That's reporter Rebecca Rosman in France. Thank you so much, Rebecca.

ROSMAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WASHED OUT'S "MILES' LULLABY") 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.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Rebecca Rosman