TSuch was the number of mourners that crowds poured out of the Paris mosque, halting traffic while they prayed in the middle of the street.
The police killing of 17-year-old Nahel Marzouk has been described as an “execution” and has inflamed the nation’s anger and unleashed a level of unrest not seen in France for over a decade.
Across the country, at least 2,400 people were arrested, curfews imposed and public transport restricted as open street battles raged between protesters and police and looting was the order of the day.
In response, President Emmanuel Macron dispatched 45,000 officers, including elite anti-terrorist units and armored vehicles, to roam the streets.
But on Saturday, at Nahel’s funeral in a mosque in Nanterre, the west Paris suburb where he lived and was fatally shot, security forces were most notable.
Volunteers from the local community instead succinctly patrolled the streets scrawled with the words “The Land of Police Impunity.”
They contained the emotions that flared as the body was taken to a hearse escorted by hundreds of people on foot and on scooters.
“It’s ready,” Nahel M’s mother Mounia said bravely to a cloud of female well-wishers after the coffin was lowered into the ground.
“He had gone to paradise.”
Nahel – a teenager of Moroccan and Algerian descent – was shot dead by a police officer during a traffic stop on Tuesday: an incident captured on cellphone footage showing Nahel driving away from officers before one shot him.
Thousands protested across the country in outrage at the murder and apparent attempts by police to portray Nahel as a troubled teenager wanted by the law.
Nahel’s death was “the last drop that made the vase overflow,” friends of the family said again and again The Independent. France exploded.
According to the Interior Ministry, the streets of cities such as Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Lille were ablaze for four nights. Looters looted dozens of businesses and set fire to 2,000 vehicles.
There have been calls for calm and for President Macron to declare a state of emergency, with more unrest on the horizon.
The United Nations also called on the country “to seriously address the profound problems of racism and discrimination in law enforcement”.
It has taken a toll on Mr Macron’s diplomatic profile. On Saturday, Mr Macron had to postpone the first state visit by a French president to Germany in 23 years, citing internal security issues.
On the funeral march to the cemetery on the hill, friends of the family said they were in “deep shock” and spoke of struggling with racism, which is rampant in the French police force.
“I’m devastated, we all are, especially as a mom with kids living in this neighborhood,” said Theresa, 60, who lived next door to Nahel’s grandmother and knew the teenager personally, whom she described as “smiling, hardworking and kind.” . .
“Thank god there’s a video, the police lie all the time. “That could change things,” she added.
Mohamed, 60, who also belongs to the Algerian community in Nanterre and is a friend of Nahel’s mother Mounia, said they were all treated like “second-class citizens”.
“Nahel was all his mother’s world, and now he’s gone. She lost everything. We just don’t get equal rights.”
His comments were echoed by half a dozen other mourners The Independent talked to him all day.
“If you’re not white, you’re not the same. There is a two-tier nationality system,” said Abdelmalek Hamchoui, 62, a local community leader.
“I’m made to feel like I’m only French on paper,” added Hadhrami Belhachemi, 35.
And so the incident threw a harsh spotlight on the French judiciary and legal system.
Abdelmadjid Benamara, one of the family’s lawyers, also from Nanterre, described Nahel’s murder as an “execution” and told The Independent It was just the latest in a long line of alarming incidents by French police.
He called for a series of investigations into the police response to the incident and a comprehensive reform of the legal system.
“You can’t be hypocritical about it. When a police officer kills a young teenager, you have to call it a spade: it’s an execution. You have to start the right investigation,” he added.
While the police officer who fired the shot was in custody when video of the incident emerged, the second police officer at the scene was not charged and is still on duty, Mr Benamara continued.
“The problem lies in the legal system as a whole, after a 2017 bill relaxed rules on police officers’ right to use their firearms.”
“In 2022, there were 13 cases in which French police shot at citizens in circumstances similar to those in the assassination of Nahel M. Of these, only five are being studied,” he added.
The only difference this time is that there is a video of the event.
“There is a social contract between the people and the government that has been broken. There is no more trust,” he added.
The riots have also brought back memories of the 2005 riots that shook France for three weeks and forced then-President Jacques Chirac to declare a state of emergency.
This wave of violence erupted in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois and spread across the country after two young men died after being electrocuted at a substation while hiding from police.
Many people The Independent I spoke to him and said nothing has changed since then.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 27 years and every year it gets more racist,” Laslah Baghdad, 58, another Nanterre mourner, said at Nahel’s funeral.
“I don’t know how you fight.”
The explosion of anger across the country, sparked by video evidence of Nahel’s murder suggesting homocide, could be the catalyst for a different future, Theresa continued.
“We have an expression: 100 years for the thief, one year for the master. That really embodies the situation here,” she said.
“But now we have a feeling that there will be changes.”