NANTERRE, France—The mother of a 17 year old who was killed during a traffic stop in France led a protest Nov. 19 to call for justice after the police officer suspected in the fatal shooting of her son was released from custody pending further investigation.
The death of Nahel Merzouk in June touched off rioting around the country that highlighted anger over police violence, poverty and discrimination against people with immigrant backgrounds. Merzouk was of North African origin.
A few hundred people rallied Nov. 19 at the site where he was killed, Nelson Mandela Square in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Police vans lined nearby streets. Shouts briefly erupted when objects were thrown at police, but the gathering was overall peaceful.
The late teenager’s mother, Mounia, choked with emotion as she described missing her son. She led the group in chants of “Justice for Nahel.”
Those in the crowd included people who have experienced police violence, such as music producer Michel Zecler, as well as left-wing activists and mothers fearful that their children could experience the same fate as Merzouk.
Several described dismay at a far-right crowdfunding campaign that raised $1.6 million for the police officer before he got out of custody.
“We don’t understand his release,” Nanterre resident Nadia Essa said. “It’s a bad signal to young people.”
She said she refused to let her 17-year-old son, who has Moroccan roots, go out for weeks after Merzouk’s death. “We are no longer comforted when we pass by the police.”
Video of the day Merzouk died showed two motorcycle officers at the window of the car he was driving, one with his gun pointed at the teenager. As the car pulled forward, the officer fired.
The officer, who has been identified only as Florian M., was jailed two days later and given a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide. On Nov. 15, the Nanterre prosecutor’s office said magistrates concluded that his continued detention “no longer fulfills the legal criteria” under which he was held.
Preliminary charges in French law mean magistrates have strong reason to suspect wrongdoing but allow more time for further investigation. It is unclear whether or when the case will go to trial.
Protests over Merzouk’s death quickly morphed into rioting that spread to towns around France, driven by a mainly teenage backlash against a French state that many say routinely discriminates against them, and amplified by social networks.
The mayhem subsided after a massive police deployment, and left 100 million euros ($109 million) in damage to schools, stores and other public buildings, many of which have not been repaired. The government has promised a raft of measures in response to the summer events, mostly focused on tougher policing and prosecution.
“We all know someone in our families or entourage who has been touched by police violence, because you are Arab or Black,” Ibrahim Assebbane, a 22-year-old computer science student from Nanterre, said during Nov. 19 protest.
“The only time they heard us was when there were riots,” Assebbane said. “We don’t support that, but we understand,” where the anger was coming from. (AP)