How Unrest in France After Police-Involved Killing Compared With Riots After George Floyd’s Death

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Protests and riots erupted following the police-involved fatal shooting of 17-year-old French citizen Nahel Merzouk, who was of Moroccan and Algerian descent, on June 27 in France.

Lora Ries, director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation, says “certainly what happened in France takes us directly back to 2020” after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

” … and I can’t help but wonder: Has [the] U.S. exported this model, where if someone from a minority community is killed by the police, that these very violent mobs are going to regularly pop up and cause such destruction?” Ries asks.

“To be seen, I guess, in France. Unfortunately, the U.S. lived through many months of it in 2020. And a little bit different in terms of what minority group we’re talking about. In this French incident, as Ellie [Krasne-Cohen] explained, the gentleman was of North African descent, and the riots from 2020 that we dealt with in the U.S. was largely about the black community,” Ries says, adding:

However, given our immigration situation, mass migration to the U.S. right now, this is going to be an interesting situation to watch.

Ries and Ellie Krasne-Cohen, a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum and former Heritage Foundation employee who now lives in France, join today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to further discuss the deadly French shooting, and similarities and differences with how French and U.S. media covered the incident.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Samantha Aschieris: Joining today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” are Lora Ries, director of the Border Security and Immigration Center here at The Heritage Foundation, and Ellie Krasne, a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and founder of Krasne Strategies.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

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Lora Ries: Thank you for having me.

Ellie Krasne-Cohen: Thanks for having me.

Aschieris: A police-involved shooting of a 17-year-old boy of Algerian and Moroccan descent sparked riots and protests in France. Thousands were arrested and hundreds of police officers have been injured. Ellie, can you first walk us through what happened?

Krasne-Cohen: Yeah. Absolutely. So, I’ll take you through the tick-tock of the actual incident.

On June 27, the 17-year-old, Nahel Merzouk, was driving a yellow Mercedes—and I’ll talk a little bit later about why the yellow Mercedes part is relevant. He made a few traffic violations, the police tried to pull him over, he ignored that and continued driving.

Now, at this point, there are two police on motorcycles. They flash their lights a few times again. He ignores. They finally, after about 25, 30 minutes, reach an area called La Defense. If anybody watched “Emily in Paris,” that’s where her boyfriend Alfie lives. And this is far away from where the chase began.

Due to heavy traffic, Nahel stops the car. So, again, he doesn’t really stop of his own volition. Traffic forces the car to stop. The two police get off their motorbikes, and according to the police accounts, one goes behind the yellow Mercedes, the other to the driver’s side.

The police officer draws his gun. The police claim that they told Nahel to stop. I think we’re still waiting on confirmation from witnesses for that. This is when Nahel turns on the ignition and starts driving away. The officer discharges his weapon and soon, Nahel is declared dead at the hospital.

A couple things here. In France, you cannot get a driver’s license at the age of 17. So Nahel was driving without a license. He made several traffic violations.

Also, and while we don’t know where or how he got the car, something of note that French mainstream media has reported on is that in France, there is an issue with different people renting cars in Poland. They basically rent the car under a business’ name, so what we would call an LLC, and then they essentially sublet the cars illegally to their friends in France.

So, again, we don’t know yet that that was the situation with Nahel, but it is highly suspicious that a 17-year-old without a license was driving this yellow Mercedes with Polish license plates.

So with that, that is what happened, and now the justice system is going through the paces with the police officer to understand better what happened.

Aschieris: And from my understanding, you are based in France. Can you share your personal experience with these protests and riots as they unfolded?

Krasne-Cohen: Yeah. Absolutely. So, this was toward the end of June, and as you mentioned, it really, literally lit the country on fire.

Throughout the country, there were 45,000 police officers deployed—45,000. Upward of 700 arrests made and over 200 police officers injured. There were certain parts of Paris where they shut down the metro early. There were trains lit on fire, cars lit on fire. One mayor of a city had his house vandalized.

Where I live, just by way of example, how this affected ordinary people, I know a woman who works in a dental clinic. She herself is an immigrant. She moved to France from an Eastern European country. She wasn’t able to get to work because public transportation was shut down, because some of the trains had been lit on fire. So there were very acute and very serious ramifications.

I know I myself am lucky, my husband and I live in a nice neighborhood, but there was one Friday night where we could not go to our in-laws for Shabbat because it was too dangerous to leave the house.

Aschieris: It’s pretty crazy to see all the images that have come out of these protests and these riots, and I wanted to get your thoughts on how these specific riots, these protests that we saw last month, how do they differ from the ones that France has experienced before?

Krasne-Cohen: Absolutely. So, Lora and I were talking before—and protest, as you probably know, is frequent in France. It’s one of their main hobbies outside of vacation.

In spring, just a real quick primer on that, those protests were in response to pension reforms, and I wrote about this in the Daily Caller and alluded to it in The Daily Signal. These were different because, No. 1, [French President] Emmanuel Macron used something called the 49.3, which is the French equivalent of an executive order, to push through widely unpopular pension reforms. These pension reforms were unpopular on the Right and the Left.

In this particular circumstance, these violent riots—and I want to call them what they are, which is violent riots led by thugs and criminals—were in response to an assumption that there was outsized police violence against someone of North African descent.

I’m not going to sit here and say whether or not the police officer was right to shoot Nahel Merzouk. I will let the French justice system pursue that. But at the end of the day, this young man, his hands were not clean. As mentioned, he made several traffic violations. He was known to police officers. And when the police officers told him to stop, he didn’t stop, and he stepped on the ignition.

And then it resulted in people looting Nike stores, electronic stores. And even if, even if these rioters are attempting to pursue justice, I really don’t see how looting a Nike store solves any of France’s immigration problems or alleged racism.

Aschieris: Now, Lora, just here in the United States, not too long ago, we had protests and riots following George Floyd’s death back in 2020. How did those riots, what we saw back in 2020, compare to what we saw unfold in France?

Ries: Well, certainly, what happened in France takes us directly back to 2020, and I can’t help but wonder, has U.S. exported this model, where if someone from a minority community is killed by the police, that these very violent mobs are going to regularly pop up and cause such destruction? To be seen, I guess, in France.

Unfortunately, the U.S. lived through many months of it in 2020. And a little bit different in terms of what minority group we’re talking about. In this French incident, as Ellie explained, the gentleman was of North African descent, and the riots from 2020 that we dealt with in the U.S. was largely about the black community.

However, given our immigration situation, mass migration to the U.S. right now, this is going to be an interesting situation to watch.

The Left is not keen on true assimilation in the U.S. They want to highlight the differences among migrants. And when you inject millions of migrants into the U.S. in such a short period of time, I mean, we’re only talking two-plus years, what’s going to be the result of that? Are we going down the path of a fragmented society in the U.S.? And when the Left here has become very good at this model of what I call rent-a-mob or rent-a-protest, they can just turn it on very quickly, are we going to face similar scenarios?

Aschieris: And just from going back to what we saw back in 2020 and what we saw over the last couple of weeks in France, in terms of the media coverage, a question for both of you, kind of similarities, differences with how French media covered the shooting, compared to what we saw right here in the U.S.?

Krasne-Cohen: Sure. So, the media coverage that I saw in French-language media as well as English-language media overlooked a lot of the facts. It took me days to get a simple timeline of what happened, the day the actual shooting occurred.

I’ve also seen some English-language media that said that these protests were a result or partially a result of Islamophobia or a lack of access to social services, and those things simply could not be further from the truth.

In the suburb where Nahel Merzouk lived, it’s a suburb called Nanterre, 50% of the housing there is public housing, or what we would call a housing project. In France, by law, all cities have a minimum of 30% social housing.

Moreover, whether people immigrate to France legally or illegally, they are entitled to be part of France’s health care system. According to a 2019 study, 40% of men who are in France under an illegal immigration status, ages 18 to 30, use a special kind of health insurance for illegal immigrants. So it is simply untrue to attribute this to a lack of resources, as I’ve seen in some media.

The last thing I’ll say is about this alleged Islamophobia in France. Fifty percent of all victims of religious hate crimes in France are Christian, followed by Jews at 37% and Muslims at 12.5%. So there is simply no data to show that Muslims receive some kind of outsized scrutiny or hatred in France, and that is what I saw a little bit of in the media, and it’s just not true.

Aschieris: Lora, any thoughts?

Ries: Unfortunately, in the U.S., we continue to have, for example, mass murders, mass shootings, and our media is very quick to declare white supremacy as the motive and then get to the facts later. And if the facts don’t bear out their narrative, then the story quickly dissipates.

So the Left media here in the U.S. was perfectly fine with using similar tactics with what happened in France and I just don’t see that changing. And it’s important that the media get the facts first and report accurately, or continue to lose trust by the public.

Aschieris: Absolutely. And I wanted to move into the response that we saw from law enforcement. Ellie was talking earlier about how many police officers were deployed. Ellie, if you could speak more to what you saw in terms of this response from law enforcement and was it different from what you’ve seen in the past?

Krasne-Cohen: It’s a good question. So, yes and no. I will say something. On the off chance members of the American Left listen to a Heritage Foundation podcast—and I hope they do, there’s great information—I hear a lot, and you guys do too, especially from the Left, complaining about supposed police brutality.

Of course there are some bad apples and they should be held accountable. But if you want to see police officers crack down on rioters or protests, come to France for vacation. They do not come to play.

And I actually think it’s a strength of France, and I think it’s something they should be proud of, and they should lean into. They do not mess around.

Where I lived, when I would go for a walk when this was happening, I would see, they have these big kind of van, car things, it’s like a French car, and they were lined up. You would see rows of five, 10, 15, 20 from the Gendarmerie, which is a branch of police in France. You would see rows of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of police officers with large shields in front of them. They don’t hesitate to use tear gas. It’s very, very serious.

So they use everything at their disposal to put an end to this violence, as they well should. If we want to live in a country with freedom, we also have to live in a country with law and order.

Aschieris: Absolutely. And then also, the response from French President Macron, what did you think of his handling of the situation?

Krasne-Cohen: It was not great. I felt like the French government’s responses were delayed. They were a little bit weak.

But to me, what’s really at the root of this is not so much the immediate response or lack thereof from Emmanuel Macron, but rather France, sadly, somewhat similar to the United States, inculcating a culture of victimhood, and this notion that whenever you have some kind of identity politics grievance or perceived wrong, the appropriate response is violence.

Lora did a great job describing this, but we saw this with the [Black Lives Matter] riots in 2020. Anyone who saw that video of the George Floyd killing knows that that was a violent video. It was very disturbing to watch. But the answer isn’t looting private businesses.

But when we create this culture where people’s supposed victimhood status gives them leverage, coupled with the idea that your privileges and your rights ought to come from the state, it creates the conditions for violent riots. And that’s what we saw in the U.S. and it’s what we saw in France.

Aschieris: Now, Lora, I also wanted to ask you, in terms of how these riots and these protests can translate to what we saw, again, back in 2020 and how their approach in France can be or can’t be applied, or any lessons that can be learned from France’s handling of the riots, if there’s anything for us to take note of here in the U.S.

Ries: I liked Ellie’s point about victimhood giving leverage. And with BLM in particular, the Left has long taken advantage of and taken the black community in the U.S. for granted. And I think BLM has been a perfect example of that.

The Biden administration continues to hit this drum of white supremacy in the U.S. and how prevalent it is. And within the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas cites white supremacy as the No. 1 terror concern in the U.S.

Now, he’s short on examples of that, but it seems pretty clear that the Left now has dropped the narrative going into the 2024 election cycle that they’re going to dial this up.

Just last week, he testified before the House Judiciary Committee and complained about how his agents have been threatened with violence. The Democrat members on the committee asked what seemed to be very pre-organized questions about agents being threatened and attacked.

Now, mind you, none of these people said a word during 2020, when BLM and Antifa, and affinity groups were nightly attacking, violently, DHS agents, but now they’re interested in it.

At the same time, just yesterday, the secretary of homeland security announced that he is elevating the office of state and local law enforcement up into the secretary’s office. He’s plucking it out of this very small, little-known office elsewhere in DHS. He’s elevating it up to report directly to him, and wants to have daily communication between that office and state and local law enforcement offices, and he’s dangling federal grant money out there for these offices.

I think this is telling, going into the election, that they are, again, going to agitate, using white supremacy as a cover, violent extremism, to basically go after political opponents.

And again, when you mix in the millions of immigrants that have just arrived during this administration, is the Left going to try and use some of that population and their “victimhood,” as leverage, as Ellie talks about? It’s going to be very interesting to watch.

Aschieris: Yes. It certainly will be. Thank you both so much for joining me. Before we go, I just wanted to ask, any final thoughts from Lora or Ellie?

Krasne-Cohen: Sure. Lora mentioned earlier in this conversation assimilation, and I think that’s really the issue that we’re looking at in France.

And I want to be clear, I think, whether it’s in France or the United States, where we have shared values of democracy and freedom, people ought to be free to practice their own religion and embrace their own unique ethnic or religious identity. But within that, we have to agree on shared values.

And I am very concerned that in France and America, and alike, we’re experiencing a crisis of leadership and a crisis of culture, where we aren’t uniting over those shared values in such a way that allows us to embrace those unique identities, but also have things in common that inculcate a culture of respect.

Ries: I would just add that it is very interesting, just as recently as 2020, as we’re talking about, where so many on the Left were chanting, “Defund the police,” they now seem to have shifted to, “Federalize the police.”

The Left loves the FBI now. They certainly didn’t use to. And now with giving grant money out to state and local law enforcement, to elevating state and local law enforcement within DHS, to warning about coming violence leading into the election for white supremacy, it seems like they are on this trajectory to make at least some state and local law enforcement police offices more federal. And are they seeking to have state and local law enforcement do the bidding of the Left at the federal level?

Aschieris: Well, Ellie and Lora, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s so great to have you both on. Thank you. I appreciate your insight.

Ries: Thank you.

Krasne-Cohen: Au revoir, bonne journee.

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The post How Unrest in France After Police-Involved Killing Compared With Riots After George Floyd’s Death appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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