Nahel M., Nanterre, and the French Colonial Continuum



Nanterre Leopold Lambert 1
March for Nahel two days after his murder in Nanterre. / Photo by Léopold Lambert.

On the morning of June 27, 2023, 17 year old Algerian French boy Nahel M. was murdered by a French police officer in his hometown of Nanterre (western Paris banlieue). The last words he heard were those of his murderer: “If you don’t stop I’m gonna put a bullet in your head,” and of  his colleague “Shoot him!” The next few days have seen many nights of revolt for Nahel and others who have died from police killings, in numerous banlieues in France, but also in Guiana and Martinique in the Caribbean, and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. In the following days, the judiciary apparatus took over police operations and started judging the 3,600 people (mostly young men) arrested (often arbitrarily on very weak evidence if any), to flex that Justice is a fundamental, if not the most important part of the police state. Those of us who are not solely attuned to spectacular police violence, but also to the more institutional forms of violence by the penal system, witnessed then prosecutors and judges’ humiliation of young people, their infantilization and ultimately, cruel sentencing to prison time or other forms of judiciary brutality—“to set an example” as some judges had no problem stating. These immediate trials allow for practically no defense, in particular when lawyers are “commis d’office” (court appointed) and lack political commitment. Learning from lessons of the 2005 massive revolts that had followed the death of teenagers Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré in Clichy-sous-Bois (eastern Paris banlieue), an anti-racist legal team was created to facilitate access to politicized lawyers who also agreed to drastically reduce their fees, in order to not overburden families already in situation of economic precariousness.