On June 27, 2023, 17 year old Nahel Merzouk was driving a car in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris, when two motorcycle cops stopped him. One of the passengers said that an officer threatened Nahel, “Don’t move or I’ll put a bullet in your head.” Both officers struck him through the open window of the car. Nahel accidentally hit the accelerator, and then one officer shot and killed him. Almost the entire episode was caught on video.
That video quickly went viral on social media and clashes broke out almost immediately in the predominantly immigrant neighborhoods in Nanterre and other suburbs of Paris and across France. On June 28th, despite politicians’ criticisms of the murder and calls for peace, the revolt spread to still more towns.
On the following day, the government declared that it was opening an investigation to determine whether the police officer who murdered Nahel had committed manslaughter. This too did not convince people to stop protesting.
Many protesters were marching in solidarity with the victim’s family. But their willingness to break laws and risk injury and imprisonment suggest that they were protesting something fundamental about French society.
As reported in Crimethinc,
“The jeunes de quartiers (as the media and politicians often refer to them—equivalent to ‘‘kids from the projects’’) have set fire to cars, motorcycles and scooters, and public buildings including local and national police stations, schools, municipal libraries, prefectures, and town halls. They have destroyed street furniture, looted supermarkets, and set fire to building sites.”
Night after night, for more than a week and from one end of the country to another, young people maintained a furious rebellion–the deployment of tens of thousands of police and resulted in thousands of arrests.
We thought that the author of the following account of these events, Heitor O’Dwyer de Macedo, eloquently captured very fundamental realities of French society by imagining the experiences and reactions of a young rioter so we sought his permission to translate and publish it in Hard Crackers. We are grateful that he agreed.
Heitor’s account provides a powerful way of thinking about murderous acts of police violence and routine instances of police harassment on the one hand and the quite savage dismantling of the public services on the other–both of which are part of the fabric of a social order maintained by the lords of government of the French republic.
“They say it’s a self-destructive act to have burned the Media Library, that I’m stupid. They say I’m for capitalism because I broke NIKE’s windows and took a dozen pairs.
I’m stupid because I’m burning down the Media Library, but if the Minister of the Interior, who certainly went to media libraries, in response to the indignation of the national youth, that of the poor, Arabs, blacks and well-meaning people, the indignation against the police who killed another kid, can’t find anything else to say other than that he’s going to put 45,000 policemen on the street (plus armored vehicles, heavy weapons and snipers), what’s the point of going to the media library?
If the Minister of Justice, who certainly also went to media libraries, faced with the manifestation of this general despair, only has the idea of putting the parents of young people in jail, what is the point of going to the media library?
If the President of the Republic who went to media libraries, good high schools, colleges, and universities, who certainly has several pairs of NIKEs without breaking a window, who chose these two ministers and keeps them; if this president who, faced with the anger of the poor for the increase in the price of gasoline, has found no answer but to wound, mutilate and kill the unarmed poor with heavy weapons, if the same, with his head of Tintin, in the face of the pain and anger of some young people and citizens because of the murder of a child, says that the rebellion is the consequence of video games and the understanding of this revolt by a footballer from the housing estates, what’s the point of going to the media library and all the others if it’s to say and do such crap?
Yes, the media library, like colleges and high schools, are places where you can learn things, acquire knowledge, love knowledge. But the government hates the thought. They had a publisher’s correspondent arrested in London on the pretext that he had been in a demonstration against the new law on the retirement age. It said the environmental movement is being radicalized because of a lecture about a book, not because life on this planet is being destroyed. So why learn?
The republican school as a social elevator? This has long since ceased to be true. I think of my father. He was in a lousy college in a lousy suburb where we still live. This story happened about forty years ago. The Minister of Culture at the time proposed that artists go to schools in ghetto neighborhoods of poor, Arab and black people. There was a writer who came. Unfortunately she was an idiot. She came into the classroom, sat down and said: ‘I write to meet death’. So Mamadou, he was a friend of my dad, he was quite a number, pulled out a switchblade and said to her: if you want, we can settle this right away. The woman screamed for help, screamed, screamed. Mamadou was expelled and the lady never came back. Mamadou always came to our home. He loved to hear my father tell stories. He never went back to school again. He was in the rackets. We understood that the day he arrived with a Mercedes. Dad loved him very much, so did we children. He brought us, at each visit, many gifts. He has been killed. Either by drug kingpins or by whores. We never really knew. My father always said that if he hadn’t been expelled from college, his life might have changed.
Because after the hysteric who wanted to die, another writer came. She was brave to come after what had happened. The day she arrived smiling, she said hello, and offered to tell a story. She talked for an hour and, my dad said that, you could hear a pin drop. At the end of her story she said that it was written by a man called Franz Kafka, and promised to tell why she chose him, but that first she would like the students to tell her, if it was possible, what they thought. My father, when he mentioned this moment, never stopped talking about it, I think it changed his life, always said:she smiled while making this proposal, she smiled often, it was not politeness, it was respect, a deep respect for all of us, we had the impression of being treated like Princes. And everyone spoke, it was a celebration of speaking. And she said she was very moved and that she was sure that we would do great things together. And at the end of the year she put together the texts we had written in a little book. And she introduced us to Faulkner, Malraux, Camus. She said that everyone can write, not everyone is a writer, but everyone can write. And she proved that to us.
My dad read all of Kafka, Faulkner and everything. I heard what they wrote all my childhood. These are the stories he told Mamadou.
One day, on his way home from work, he was stopped by cops who were very insulting. My father refused a strip search saying he knew his rights and asked to be taken to the police station. The cops, sneered,he knows his rights, the nigger, and they beat him, beat him. My father could never walk again. But, for my father, there were no demonstrations. It was and is routine. Routine of fear and suffering. Fear of being the target of hate. Suffering from helplessness, humiliation. For the assassination of little Nahel, without the video, in the face of the false reports of the police, filing a complaint would have been like pissing in a violin.
I followed my friends who broke the doors and windows of a hospital. The health minister said it was outrageous. The minister had gone to media libraries, university and everything, maybe he even read Kafka, but to close the hospital beds, to have hospital teams exhausted because always understaffed, emergencies and psychiatry deserted because of lack of staff and mean and miserable wages, what to call it? Not to mention, at the beginning of COVID, the government spokeswoman, she was very stupid, instead of treating people as adults, as Merkel did in Germany, and saying that the stock of masks had not been renewed, she claimed that wearing a mask was not necessary, and that putting on a mask was very complicated. And since she had diplomas, the spokeswoman should be convinced that everyone could buy the criminal lies of a moron. My friends didn’t have a father who read Kafka and the rest, they don’t read the newspaper, they don’t know that it’s the stupidity of this gang of delinquents who hold the country who decided to destroy the Public Service. When they arrive at the hospital because they have fallen off their bike, or even worse, and they wait five to six hours before seeing a doctor, for them, who are between 13 and 17 years old, this lousy welcome is the fault of the hospital and not the government.
“Do you want me to keep talking? But your diary can’t contain everything I can tell you, you’ll need a volume of the Pléiade on bible paper… If you want, we can return to the Media Library…”