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Another night of looting and lawlessness – and nobody knows what will happen next

On Pont Neuf, right in the very heart of Paris, a blend of people. Tourists, smart-dressed locals, and lots of police officers in riot gear.

The violence and destruction that has engulfed some of the capital’s suburbs may have not taken over central Paris, but the tentacles of disorder have reached the middle of the city.

As we stood on the bridge, we could see blue lights behind and in front of us, sirens echoing off the buildings.

Near a smart shopping centre, the riot police have arrived in numbers to chase down those who seem intent on causing damage. We can see people being arrested, searched and then put into the back of a van.


As I watch, I catch the eye of one of them – a teenager, probably 16 or 17 years old, dressed in black clothes from head to toe.

He looks completely untroubled by falling into the hands of the police, and returns my gaze with deliberate indifference.

My guess is that this isn’t the first time he’s seen the back of a police van.

A bin burns, billowing smoke into the air; the riot police run down a road to the accompaniment of a busker, who starts playing Careless Whisper as he sees them.

A man, standing with his girlfriend, starts shouting questions at them as they run past. It is a curious blend of the normal and the abnormal.

Because what is happening in France is volatile and unpredictable. Marseille, the country’s second biggest city, succumbed to a night of such looting and lawlessness that, a little after midnight, the government announced it would be sending reinforcements down to the south.

A hurried decision; surely a sign that, for all their words about determination and calls for calm, the government is still playing catch-up.

The interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, said that, despite hundreds of arrests, the intensity of the violence had gone down. That may have been true in some places but not everywhere.

In Marseille, for instance, there was an explosion so large that it created a mushroom cloud.

But in Nanterre, where this wave of violence first started, the streets did seem calmer. The frenzied destruction of Thursday night and the early hours of Friday morning seemed to have dissipated slightly.

Albeit there were still roads blocked by flames, youths throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and police armoured vehicles on the roads. Incredible to think that we could look at all that and think the situation might have improved.

Perhaps people are gradually growing weary of all this damage. Kylian Mbappe, France’s most famous footballer, who grew up in the Paris suburbs, released a thoughtful and eloquent statement asking for the violence to stop.

“It is your property you are destroying, your neighbourhoods, your cities…there are other peaceful and constructive ways to express yourself.”

Read more:
45,000 police deployed as unrest spreads across France
Kylian Mbappe calls for calm as riots continue across France
Killed teen’s name shared almost half a million times

It is a noble sentiment, and there are many who will welcome it, not least those whose cars have been burnt, or whose businesses looted. But there is no guarantee it will be followed.

Today is Nahel’s funeral, which will throw another spotlight upon his death and upon the wholly fractious relationship between his community and the police.

A couple of days ago, a march in his memory ended with tear gas, baton charges and fighting across the very place where Nahel’s life came to an end.

At that march, there were posters and T-shirts demanding “Justice for Nahel”. But there is another slogan emblazoned on walls around Nanterre and beyond that reads “Vengeance for Nahel”. And those are two very different concepts.

So how will his funeral play out, and how will the inevitable tensions express themselves? As with so many things over the past few days, we simply don’t know.

We, like the residents, the police, the government and the people of France, will simply have to wait and see what happens.


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