The anti-police riots and politics of France’s immigrants

The chaos comes as France has already endured frequent political rioting and unrest in recent years.

Written by Hudson Crozier

What’s happening: Almost a week of rioting, looting, and arson in France has led to over 2,000 arrests, hundreds of injuries for police officers, a handful of deaths, the suspension of several transport services, nightly curfews, and a travel advisory from the United Kingdom. The police killing of 17-year-old French-Algerian Nahel Merzouk inspired the unrest, which has become the largest outbreak of urban violence in 18 years. French President Immanuel Macron has deployed the military to assist the tens of thousands of police officers who have responded.

The incident: Police pulled over Merzouk for a traffic stop in Paris, and a dispute broke out between them. One officer aimed a gun at Merzouk from the side of the car while shouting, and when he tried to drive away, the officer fatally shot him point-blank, video shows. The officer was arrested, charged with homicide, and apologized to Merzouk’s family.

What’s driving the violence: The killing has inflamed longstanding racial grievances and anti-police sentiment among immigrants, who account for 10 percent of France’s population and are largely Muslim and North African. These communities have poorly assimilated into French society, even after multiple generations. Mourners gave Merzouk an Islamic burial ceremony while rioters shouted “Allahu Akbar.” Merzouck’s grandmother and multiple Islamic leaders publicly called for peace but to no avail.

Unbridled rage: Rioters rammed a car into the house of a right-wing mayor in Paris, set the house on fire with his family inside, and threw fireworks at his wife and children. His wife and one of the children were injured as they fled. Police have also faced gunfire in the streets. Authorities say the rioters they’ve arrested are overwhelmingly young people with an average age of 17, some as young as 13. The chaos comes as France has already endured frequent political rioting and unrest in recent years.

Beyond the headlines: Many of these immigrants are in suburban housing projects known as cités. Unemployment, crime, and poverty are much higher in these areas and have become a contentious political issue. The right has grown highly popular (receiving over 40 percent of the popular vote in the last election), campaigning on the need to fix the unassimilated immigrant centers that have spawned some of France’s recent instances of Islamic terrorism.

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