REUTERS / Stephanie Lecocq

Warning: This article contains content that may be distressing to some readers.

LAST WEEK, RIOTS BROKE OUT IN the French suburb of Nanterre, after a 17-year-old known only as Nahel M, was shot dead by police. The investigation into the teenager’s death is still ongoing, but it sparked a wave of protests throughout the suburb, which have since rippled throughout greater Paris and other parts of France.

Per CBS, there were 719 arrests, 45 police and other gendarmes (French military police) injured, and 577 vehicles and 74 buildings set on fire throughout the country on Saturday night alone. Ahead, discover everything you need to know about the unrest, including why it started and what it means for France.

Why did the Paris riots start?

On June 27, Nahel was fatally shot, allegedly by police, after driving away during a traffic stop. The teenager was reportedly unarmed. Initially, police claimed the officer had fired his gun because Nahel, who’s reportedly of Algerian descent, was driving his car at them, with the intention of hitting them. However, this was contradicted by video footage posted online and verified by the local AFP news agency.

His killing sparked a rallying call throughout the Vieux-Pont neighbourhood on Tuesday night, similar to George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, which led to the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that year. Much like the U.S., France also has a history of systemic racial bias with the number of cases of police brutality increasing each year. According to the Defender of Rights, young men deemed to be black or of north African origin are 20 times more likely to be subjected to police identity checks than the rest of France.  Furthermore, a 2021 report from Human Rights Watch, says the nation’s police engage in “long-standing and widespread ethnic profiling”.

What has happened since?

The first protests in Nanterre have been followed by successive nights of violence, which spread throughout the country and have seen thousands arrested.

Protestors have torched buildings and cars, with public buildings — including police stations, schools and district offices — being targeted. Protestors also attacked the home of Paris Mayor, Vincent Jeanbrun during the fifth night of the French riots. Attackers allegedly tried to set fire to his house and fired rockets at his wife and children as they fled, he said. Per the BBC, the incident is being treated as attempted murder.

Jeanbrun had previously urged the French government to act by imposing a state of emergency. President Emmanuel Macron declined to do so — though he has condemned the violence, calling it an “unacceptable situation.”

Over the past week, curfews have been imposed in areas around Paris and public gatherings have been banned in Lille and Tourcoing, in the North of France. Approximately 45,000 police have reportedly been deployed throughout the nation, with three special units on standby.

Officials have also revealed that the protestors are young, with their average age being only 17. The youngest is just 13-years-old.

How are the riots impacting Paris Fashion Week?

At the weekend, Hedi Slimane announced that the Celine men’s show scheduled for Sunday night in Paris would be cancelled in light of the ongoing riots.

“Due to the events of recent days and to avoid any potential risk for the safety of our guests and our team, we regret to inform you that we are cancelling the Celine Homme summer 2024 show, which was due to be held at La Gaité Lyrique this Sunday, July 2 at 8:30PM,” the house said in a statement.

On his personal Instagram, Slimane wrote, “Having a fashion show in Paris, while France and its capital are bereaved and bruised, from my point of view alone, seems inconsiderate and totally out of place.”

Other fashion events have also been cancelled, including Chloé’s celebration of Karl Lagerfeld on Friday night and Courrèges’s annual club night, which was planned for Saturday. At this point, the four-day Paris Couture Week, which begins Monday local time, is expected to go ahead.

Is it safe to travel to France now?

It really depends on where you’re travelling to in France. The majority of rioting has occurred in the country’s big cities, notably — Paris, and in the Nanterre (part of the La Défense business district) and surrounding areas. There’s also protests in Toulouse, Marseille, Lille, Pau and Lyons. The Australian government’s Smart Traveller’s latest advice page says: “exercise a high degree of caution in France due to the threat of terrorism.” With the use of tear gas and arrests, they advise travellers to: “be particularly vigilant at night and avoid all demonstrations and areas with significant police activity. Curfews have been introduced in some cities. Public transport may be restricted or cancelled. The situation may change at short notice. Monitor the media and official sources for updates.”