The death of Nahel M., a 17-year-old shot dead at point-blank range by a French policeman during a traffic stop sparked utter chaos in the country with violent protests sweeping the streets nationwide.
But who was the boy whose death has become so emblematic in a country which the United Nations today declared must ‘seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement’?
Nahel’s mother, Mounia M., bought up her only child alone in a council flat in Nanterre, the place which once housed the biggest shanty town for Algerian immigrants.
‘Nahel was much loved within the Algerian community that is still very big in Nanterre, but he had lots of friends from other backgrounds,’ said a family friend.
‘He was a typical young lad – full of energy and always wanting to try out new things. He never knew his father, so life was not always stable or that easy for him.
‘Like all Arab Muslim boys of his age, he also had to put up with regular discrimination, especially from the police.’
Nahel’s (pictured) mother, Mounia M., bought up her only child alone in a council flat in Nanterre, the place which once housed the biggest shanty town for Algerian immigrant
Nahel’s mother, wearing a ‘Justice for Nahel’ T-shirt, raises her fist as she attends a march in the memory of her 17-year-old son who was killed by French Police in Nanterre, near Paris, France, 29 June 2023
French-Algerian Nahel was proud of his roots, his mother coming from a country that was colonised by France and remained so up until 1962 when it won a ferocious war of independence – one that spilled over onto mainland France.
Algerians complained of brutality and discrimination in every aspect of life.
Young Algerian men were frequently murdered by Paris police officers in crimes that have never reached court, and the bitterness surrounding that era prevails.
After school, Nahel got a job as a takeaway delivery boy, while also regularly playing rugby league for the Nanterre Pirates.
He had played for the club for the last three years as part of an ‘integration programme’ for teenagers struggling academically.
The programme, run the Ovale Citoyen society, was aimed at getting people from deprived areas into apprenticeships.
Ovale Citoyen president Jeff Puech said: ‘He was someone who had the will to fit in socially and professionally, not some kid who dealt in drugs or got fun out of juvenile crime.’
Mr Puech praised the teenager’s ‘exemplary attitude’ and rugby-playing skills.
Nahel was enrolled at college in nearby Suresnes, on a trainee electricians’ course, but his attendance record was poor.
There was no sign of a criminal record, but he had been the subject of at least five police checks since 2021, and was due at a juvenile court in September over his ‘failure to cooperate’ with officers.
He was also suspected of misusing a provisional driving licence.
Protesters throw fireworks at riot police during clashes in Nanterre, near Paris, France, 29 June 2023. Violence broke out after police fatally shot a 17-year-old during a traffic stop in Nanterre on 27 June 2023
Firefighters extinguish burning vehicles during clashes between protesters and police, after the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer during a traffic stop, in Nanterre, Paris suburb, France, June 28, 2023
The legal age for taking the wheel of a vehicle unaccompanied in France is 18, yet Nahel was driving a high-powered Mercedes AMG – one that was hired and registered in Poland.
Quite what he was doing in the car with two other unidentified companions will play a key part in the ongoing judicial investigation into the shooting.
Shortly after his death, an enraged paramedic told reporters he knew Nahel ‘like a little brother’.
‘He never lifted raised a hand to anyone and he was never violent,’ he told reporters.
Mounia simply remembers that he was ‘going to spend the day with friends’ on Tuesday.
She recalls him giving her a ‘big kiss’ before she went to work, and saying: ‘I love you mum’.
‘He gave me a big kiss and told me he loved me, I told him to be careful, we left the house at the same time and went to McDonalds, then I went to work like everyone.
‘He was everything to me, and that son of a b***h shot him,’ Mounia said. ‘I only had one, he was my best friend, my son, we were so close.’
‘I devoted everything to him. I’ve only got one son, I haven’t got 10 children. He was my life, my best friend.’
Referring to Floriant M., the 38-year-old policeman charged with murdering her son, Mounia said: ‘He didn’t have to kill my son, there were other ways to deal with him.
‘A bullet? So close to his chest? No, I can’t imagine that. No, there are other ways to get someone out of a car’.
Mounia added: ‘The policeman saw the head of an Arab, of a little kid, he wanted to take his life’.