French authorities called for calm Wednesday after riots erupted in the western city of Nantes following a deadly police shooting, highlighting simmering tensions in deprived urban areas.
Rioters set fire to some 30 cars and several buildings on Tuesday night after news spread that an officer had shot dead a 22-year-old man after stopping his car.
Youths threw molotov cocktails and clashed with police in the northwestern neighbourhood of Breil where the shooting happened before the unrest spread to two other poor districts.
Burned-out cars and splintered glass from smashed windows littered the streets on Wednesday morning.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb condemned the violence saying “all the necessary resources” were being mobilised to “calm the situation and prevent any further incidents”.
The young man’s car had been under surveillance as part of a drug-trafficking investigation, a police source said.
Officers approached him at around 8.30 pm and found he was not wearing a seatbelt or carrying an ID card.
“The driver reversed into a police officer while trying to flee,” the source said. “His colleague opened fire.”
The youngster was hit in the carotid artery and died in hospital two hours later.
– Contradictory accounts –
Some local residents have angrily contested the police account of the killing.
A woman who filmed the incident, who wished to remain anonymous, said “there were no police behind the car, he didn’t hit anyone. There was only the one gunshot.”
Another person who said they witnessed the arrest said the young man had handed over his ID documents.
A national watchdog which investigates claims of police wrongdoing is investigating to clarify “the facts and determine in what circumstances the policeman used his weapon,” Nantes prosecutor Pierre Sennes said.
The driver had been wanted by police in Creteil, near Paris, for robbery and other offences, Sennes said.
The officer who shot him has been placed under psychological evaluation, local authorities said.
– ‘Sweet guy’? –
French police have a long history of strained relations with youths in poor, immigrant-heavy suburbs — not least since the death of two teenagers, electrocuted while hiding from officers, sparked nationwide riots in 2005.
Injuries suffered by a young black man during his arrest by police last February — which saw him suffer severe anal injuries caused by a truncheon — sparked fresh unrest last year.
In January, the government vowed a crackdown on urban violence after shocking video footage emerged of a policewoman being beaten by a crowd in the Paris suburbs on New Year’s Eve.
Breil, the Nantes neighbourhood where Tuesday’s shooting occurred, is a socially mixed district home to a large housing estate with a history of gang violence.
Police had boosted their presence in the area after a series of violent incidents in recent days.
Malakoff and Dervallieres, the other two areas hit by rioting, have been plagued by drugs and poverty for years.
They fall into a category of problem neighbourhoods which are set to receive extra police help from September under reforms by President Emmanuel Macron.
Local residents on Wednesday expressed anger over the killing.
“It’s like this in every neighbourhood of France. The easiest thing for the police is to shoot. It’s unacceptable,” one woman said.
Another, who gave her name as Fabiola, added: “He wasn’t armed. We’re scared — this could happen to anyone.”
A young man who gave his name as Chris told local paper Ouest France that the victim was “a sweet guy” who “always had a smile on his face”.
“I knew him well. He was from Paris but he’d lived here for a while, he had family here. For us, he was a kid from the neighbourhood,” he said.
Nationally, French police have complained of coming under increasing strain in recent years, with a parliamentary report released Tuesday detailing high suicide rates within the force.