A relative calm began to return to the western French city of Nantes early Sunday after days of rioting over a police officer’s fatal shooting of a black man, whose family plans to file a lawsuit over a killing which has cast a fresh spotlight on tensions in deprived urban areas.
The officer who shot 22-year-old Aboubakar Fofana, after pulling over his vehicle last Tuesday, has been charged with manslaughter after admitting he had falsely claimed self-defence.
But he has said he fired accidentally while reaching through the car window to try to wrest control of the vehicle as Fofana tried to flee, according to prosecutors, a version of events dismissed by many residents.
“How can it be an accidental shooting when you take out your gun and remove the safety?” said Said, a manager of a community association in Breil, the neighbourhood where the shooting took place and which is home to a large public housing estate with a history of gang violence.
“We are gathering witnesses and nobody has seen any scuffle. The officer was standing, hands outstretched and he fired,” according to Said, who declined to give his last name.
Loic Bourgeois, a lawyer for Fofana’s mother and sister, told AFP on Saturday that they would file a civil lawsuit against the officer on Monday.
For now, “they want to be left alone to deal with this tragedy,” he said.
News of the killing sparked fierce riots in several areas of Nantes starting overnight Tuesday to Wednesday, with dozens of cars torched and several buildings vandalised while police tried to disperse crowds with tear gas.
The nightly violence began to ease Friday after the officer was charged, while police said 18 vehicles were burned and no arrests were made early Sunday.
Like other cities across France, Nantes has several poor neighbourhoods with large immigrant communities where youths often accuse police of heavy-handed tactics and racial profiling.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has promised “the fullest transparency” in investigating the circumstances of Fofana’s death, amid concerns the unrest could spread.
A protest march has been scheduled in Paris on Sunday afternoon.
“The anger is far from over and it won’t end as long as there is no justice,” a 36-year-old named Chris, who described himself as a social mediator in Breil, told AFP.
“We are going to keep trying to convince those who are reluctant to testify to do so,” he said.
Anger had already bubbled over last year when a young black man in another Paris suburb suffered severe anal injuries caused by a truncheon during his arrest.
And in 2005 riots erupted across the country after the deaths of two black teenagers who were electrocuted in a Paris suburb while hiding from the police.
The simmering tensions mean security forces themselves are often targeted.
Prosecutors said Sunday that two brothers would go on trial Wednesday over the brutal beating of two off-duty officers, a husband and wife, who were attacked in front of their three-year-old daughter in a northeastern suburb of Paris on Wednesday.
A police source said the attackers recognised the policewoman because she had recently stopped them for an ID check in the high-crime suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.