The country erupted in riots last Tuesday after the fatal shooting of a French-Algerian teenager, Nahel M., during a traffic stop. So far, one firefighter died while trying to put out car fires. Thousands of cars have been torched. Hundreds of buildings have been burnt, and rockets were fired at a suburban Parisian mayor and his family. Over 3000 people have been arrested, and as of Sunday, the protests have begun to slow somewhat but have not totally stopped.
Here’s how the French riots started.
If you spent time in American cities in 2020, this probably sounds reminiscent of the George Floyd riots, though there are some key differences. Police originally claimed Nahel was trying to drive away, but footage verified by Agence France-Presse proved that he was not resisting arrest. He lived with his mother, who was raising him alone, and while he had dropped out of school, he held down a job as a delivery boy. Nahel was also enrolled in a sports program aimed at helping youths from migrant neighborhoods assimilate.
Let’s look at how the death of one teenager set off such massive riots, how the French leadership has reacted, and what lessons the rest of us can take away from this.
France has long been notorious for poorly assimilating immigrants. Like many other countries, while the political class has been eager to accept migrants, much of the regular population has not. This has led to inadequate funding of social services and tension within the lower-income areas.
A quick note about guns in France
Despite the presence of a large, angry, disenfranchised population within its borders, most French happily turned their weapons over to the police in 2022. Perhaps French citizens, on average, have had more faith in their elected officials to enforce gun control throughout the nation and so thought they could simply overlook the simmering anger within their country.
Worldwide, French officials have certainly been active in gun-control programs. In a speech given by M. Francois Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Security Council, he referenced Agenda 2030’s goal to end the illegal circulation of weapons by tracking and tracing all small arms.
However, as American 2nd Amendment enthusiasts know, gun-control laws only keep law-abiding citizens from obtaining weapons. Illegal weapons have been flowing into France for years, many from the former Soviet satellite nations. French police officers have been injured by shotguns in drive-by attacks. Footage has also been obtained over protesters wielding military-grade weapons.
The situation in Ukraine has not helped. Even in 2020, the Inspector General for the U.S. military opined that there was not enough oversight for the weaponry being sent to Ukraine. And this was before the $75 billion we’ve sent since 2022. Europe has had a massive influx of weapons over the past year, and they’ve gone to a country notorious for harboring black market arms dealers. What could possibly go wrong?
Andy Ngo’s Twitter page has footage of buildings exploding. It’s worth noting that explosives capable of demolishing buildings aren’t usually just lying around. Also, using construction equipment isn’t that easy. Obviously, many of the rioters are just pissed off and looking to vent their rage. . . but there are some people in those riots trained in actual destruction.
So, how’s President Macron been responding to this?
Well, he canceled a trip to Germany after public outrage ensued when footage emerged of him partying with Elton John the night after Nahel was killed.
Macron blamed video games for the explosion in violence, though as PCGamer humorously pointed out, his criticism came only a month after bragging about investing 350 million Euros in France’s gaming industry.
And maybe this should be our biggest takeaway. Governments have been using mass-shooting tragedies for years to strip citizens of their right to bear arms. After the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, New Zealanders voted almost unanimously to turn over their weapons. Likewise, in the U.S., every new mass shooting brings a new round of interest in heightened gun control.
Here’s the punchline.
But the French have already handed over their guns, and so it now looks as though the French government will capitalize on these mass riots to pass more restrictive internet laws.
These are quite the overreaches. I don’t allow my own children to use social media—but if other parents do, that’s their business, not mine. And I have lived in some very low-income, dangerous neighborhoods. When you shut down communications, you might hamper some criminal activity. But you will definitely hamper the ability of people in those neighborhoods to work, attend school, and do all the normal things people assume they can use the internet for in modern life.
This is NOT about the death of one teenager.
In the face of mass violence and destruction, it is really easy to get angry at large swaths of the population. However, many of the migrants in these low-income communities left their home countries to escape violence and are angry about the situation, as well. Nahel’s grandmother has been urging the protesters to stop. His mother has said that she only blames the one police officer that shot her son, not the French police in general. Widespread destruction will not help anything.
It’s telling that both Nahel and the officer that killed him have GoFundMe pages set up for them. The police officer’s page, so far, has six times as much money as the fund for Nahel’s mother. If these protesters were truly heartbroken about Nahel’s untimely death, these people would be supporting his grieving family, not burning France to the ground.
These protests are not about Nahel. They are about a large, discontented population venting its rage against another population foolish enough to think that somebody else would always be looking out for them.
Some people are trying to protect their communities.
Some French citizens are now trying to protect their communities. There is footage of citizens patrolling the streets armed with clubs, knives, and in some cases, katanas. I sure hope nothing bad happens to the katana-wielder. While he looks pretty cool, if he comes up against a protester with a Kalashnikov, he won’t stand a chance.
They really should not have handed in their firearms. Not because I think the law-abiding French should just open fire on rioters, but because firearms are a real deterrent. Their presence probably would have kept the riots from getting so out of hand in the first place.
Never let a good crisis go to waste.
These protests are also playing nicely into the hands of a government elite that looks to capitalize on every tragedy by exerting more control. As discussed by Russell Brand, Matt Taibbi, and Michael Shellenberger in their talk about dismantling the Censorship-Industrial Complex, the past few years have seen restrictions on our freedoms in ways that would have been unimaginable only five years ago. Covid may be over for now, but it seems as though establishment figures are constantly on the lookout for any new crisis, they can use to fundamentally change the ways in which the rest of us live.
We need to be aware of how decades of poor immigration policy are being exploited. We also need to be constantly aware of the people looking to capitalize on tragedies by taking more control.
And as Americans celebrate our independence this week, we need to appreciate the 2nd Amendment and our legacy of responsible gun ownership. No, a young man shouldn’t have died in a traffic stop; but these protests should never have gotten violent. A culture of responsible gun ownership, coupled with a legal system that holds law enforcement to a high standard, can prevent a great deal of tragedy.
What are your thoughts?
How are the rioters getting so well-armed? Do you think the French government was just waiting for an opportunity to crack down on social media and free speech? How do you see this situation ending? And do you think we could see similar riots here in the US?
Let’s discuss it in the comments section.
**By Marie Hawthorne