Crowds gathered at town halls across France Monday in what French media are calling “anti-riot gatherings” to show solidarity with local governments targeted in six nights of unrest touched off by the police shooting of a 17-year-old.
The riots, which seemed to be easing overnight into Monday, were driven by a teenage backlash in the suburbs and urban housing projects against a French state that many young people with immigrant roots say routinely discriminates against them. In all, 99 town halls have been attacked in the violence, along with other public buildings, according to the Interior Ministry.
French President Emmanuel Macron was meeting Monday with mayors of 220 towns from across the country. Across France, 34 buildings were attacked overnight – many of them linked to the government -along with 297 vehicles.
There has been little in the way of organized protests beyond a march last week for Nahel, the teenager of Algerian descent who was killed on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Instead, the anger has manifested with young people targeting police and both sides using increasingly aggressive tactics.
The anger has descended into attacks against symbols of the state, widespread arson and nighttime looting. About 45,000 officers were deployed nationwide against violence that the mayor of Nanterre, Patrick Jarry, said hurt young people above all.
“We want justice for Nahel and that the calls for an end of the violence expressed by his grandmother and mother be respected,” said Jarry, speaking in front of his city hall, which escaped attack.
A car loaded with incendiaries struck the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of L’Hay-les-Roses over the weekend, an unusually personal attack that authorities said would be prosecuted as an attempted homicide. The attack prompted an outpouring of support for local governments in many towns where the city hall is often literally central to public life.
L’Hay-les-Roses Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured and criticized the government for doing too little, too late – and said blaming social media or parents was papering over a bigger problem.
“The base ingredients are still there. For several years now, all summer long, explosives go off that keep people from sleeping, that make them crazy,” he told BFM television on Monday. “We are powerless summer after summer.”
In all, according to the Interior Ministry, there were 157 arrests overnight out of a total of 3,354 since last Tuesday, and two law enforcement stations were attacked, among other damage.
The interior minister said the average age of those arrested was 17 and that children as young as 12 or 13 had been detained for attacking law enforcement and setting fires.
In the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where a fire also struck the town hall, residents over the weekend said anger had simmered for years and many said the government had done little to help them.
“Young people are afraid to die by the hands of police. They are hopeless. They are bored and they need something to distract them so they don’t hang out in the streets,” said Samba Seck, 39.
Macron has blamed social media for the spread of the unrest and called on parents to take responsibility for their teenagers.
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told France Inter radio that parents who abdicated that responsibility, “either through disinterest or deliberately,” would be prosecuted.
A 24-year-old firefighter died of a heart attack while responding to a blaze in an underground garage that spread to the apartment building above, according to Paris police.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, police said in a statement.
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