The French Riots: What Is The Rage All About?

French riots
Image Credits: @kathleen_brush on Twitter

The French riots and upheaval have become the talk of the town which was triggered by the point-blank police shooting of Nahel M, a 17-year-old boy of Algerian origin on 27th June, 2023. The incident occurred when two policemen stopped Nahel, who was allegedly driving without a license. A video that has been circulating widely on Twitter shows one of the officers pointing their gun at the car during their interaction. Following the vehicle’s refusal of the authorities’ instructions to stop, the boy was shot and killed.

A peaceful “White March” protest took place in Nahel’s hometown of Nanterre on June 28. Initially starting in suburban Paris, large-scale protests spread to several cities across France, despite the police officer involved being detained on charges of voluntary homicide. As dusk set in, a small crowd gathered on the Champs-Elysees to protest Nahel’s unarmed death and police violence. However, the avenue was heavily guarded by hundreds of officers equipped with batons and shields, protecting the iconic boutiques of Cartier and Dior. In another neighbourhood in northern Paris, protesters ignited barricades and set off firecrackers, while police responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

The racial tensions in society and the perception of the police using excessive force quickly spread like wildfire, fueling the French riots. The roots of this anger can be traced back to 2005 when riots erupted following the deaths of two young men who were chased by the police. Things came full circle, and these incidents left behind a lingering feeling of humiliation and exclusion that went beyond the marginalised suburbs, transforming the present French riots into a widespread outpouring of intense resentment.

The extent of the destruction is beyond words, with symbolic acts along with opportunistic behaviour taking place. Some actions are difficult to understand, like the attacks on medical personnel trying to help. However, despite the senseless damage they are creating in French cities and towns, the young people who are up in arms are expressing intense rage about the broad humiliation that affects the entire nation, not just the suburbs. No matter where they reside, many French people feel marginalised as a result of contemporary administration and decision-making, which has given rise to a sense of being viewed as less significant.

Macron’s governance cannot be considered completely incompetent. France has effectively managed emergencies such as Covid, energy crises, and inflation. However, the issue lies in the perception of the French citizens who feel that their voices and preferences are disregarded, their political and civic rights are not respected, and their humanity is not protected. Despite its experience, the present administration has given different sectors of French society grounds to feel that they are occasionally led efficiently but frequently with a sense of humiliating irresponsibility in the face of huge and violent protests. Additionally, too many incidents of individuals being hurt or murdered by the police have occurred; figures show a fourfold rise in police killings since 2010 and this has fueled cycles of protest and repression.

We shouldn’t diminish the hardships and injustices faced by some in French society. However, the reality is that everyone in France has felt some form of humiliation, which is what fuels these waves of violent and regular French riots. This prevalent opinion goes beyond those on the far right of the political spectrum who favour severe enforcement and penalties.


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