French police arrested at least 719 people during the fifth night of protests across the country on Saturday, even as the French interior minister indicated that the night was calmer than the previous ones. Earlier in the day, the funeral of 17-year-old Nahel M. was held in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager of Algerian descent once lived and was killed by police.
Nahel was shot at point-blank range by an officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday. A video showed two officers at the widow of Nahel's yellow Mercedes, one with his gun pointed at the teenager. As Nahel pulled forward, the officer fired through the windshield.
His death has triggered protests and riots across French cities. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that more than 700 shops, supermarkets, restaurants and bank branches had been "ransacked, looted and sometimes even burnt to the ground since Tuesday".
In the past five days, rioters have torched 2,000 vehicles and more than 200 police officers have been injured, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Saturday, adding that the average age of those arrested was 17.
French government dispatched 45,000 police personnel on Saturday to city streets across the country.
Darmanin tweeted at 3am on Sunday that "the night had been calmer than previous ones thanks to the resolution action by the police". On Sunday morning, the interior ministry put the arrests by police during the fifth night at 719.
French President Emmanuel Macron had to postpone a visit to Germany on July 2-4, the first such state visit to Berlin by a French president since 2000. He skipped the second day of the EU summit in Brussels on Friday to return to Paris to deal with the crisis.
Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, expressed her concern over the killing. "This is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement," she said on Friday.
Nahel's funeral was held on Saturday morning in Nanterre. Hundreds gathered in a mosque a few blocks from where he lived to pay their respects.
Nahel's mother said days ago that she was angry at the officer who shot her son, but not at the police in general. "He saw a little Arab-looking kid, he wanted to take his life," she said.
The death reignited the sensitive issue of racial discrimination and police brutality against people of color in France.
France does not provide data based on ethnicity. But a 2017 study by the Defender of Rights, a French human rights watchdog, said young men perceived as black or Arab were much more likely to be stopped by police than their peers.
Persistent poverty, racial discrimination, joblessness and lack of opportunities were serious issues in French communities where many residents trace their roots to former French colonies.
"Riots are not just rooted in France's struggle with structural racism and police violence, but the unequal economic opportunities for its minorities despite being established in French society for three, four generations," Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the Brussels-based European Centre for International Political Economy, told China Daily on Sunday.
He added that Macron will also lose progressive support if he does not recognize the class divide.