Why France has erupted into protests and violent unrest

Cars burn after a march for Nahel, Thursday, June 29, 2023 in Nanterre,
Cars burn after a march for Nahel in Nanterre. Credit: AP

France is in the midst of nightly, often violent, protests in numerous towns and cities across the country. This is why.

The unrest began after a police shooting in Paris during a routine traffic stop.

Nahel M, a 17-year-old delivery driver, was killed in the suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday, June 27, shortly after 9am.

Footage posted on social media shortly after the shooting showed police firing at the car as it began to speed off. The footage then cuts to the car after it crashed.

Footage of the police shooting circulated on social media

This video contains distressing images

Protests erupted in the wake of the teenager's death.

Beginning in Paris, unrest soon spread to other areas of France and, in some cases, led to violence.

Key figures have spoken out following the shooting, including football star Kylian Mbappe.

"I hurt for my France. Unacceptable situation. All my thoughts go to the family and loved ones of Nael, this little angel gone much too soon," the French international said.

Nahel was shot by police.

The protests in France’s suburbs echo those from 2005, when the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traoré and 17-year-old Zyed Benna led to three weeks of riots, exposing anger and resentment in neglected housing projects.

The boys were electrocuted after hiding from police in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois.

The mother of killed 17-year-old Nahel gestures during a march for her son. Credit: AP

Race has been a taboo topic for decades in France, which is officially committed to a doctrine of colourblind universalism.

But some increasingly vocal groups argue this consensus conceals widespread discrimination and racism.

Already this year three people, including Nahel, have died after fatal shootings during police traffic stops.

The deaths have prompted demands for more accountability in France.