NANTERRE, France (AP) — A sea of young men walked from the mosque up the hill and into the hush of the cemetery. By the hundreds, they had come to say goodbye to the teenager whose killing by a police officer has set much of France on edge. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, far
NANTERRE, France (AP) — A sea of young men walked from the mosque up the hill and into the hush of the cemetery. By the hundreds, they had come to say goodbye to the teenager whose killing by a police officer has set much of France on edge.
It was a warm Saturday afternoon, far from the nights of violence in the streets that have left windows smashed and vehicles charred. Many of the men were Arab or Black and had come to mourn a boy who could have been them.
France and the rest of the world know 17-year-old Nahel by his first name only, along with the barest details about his life, including that his family has roots in Algeria. But on Saturday, many in the crowd either knew him, or identified with him.
After four days of chaos, there was nearly silence. Here and there, someone wore a “Justice for Nahel” shirt. As the crowd pressed through the cemetery gate, the police were nowhere to be seen. For all the significance of the day, only a few people were seen filming with mobile phones. The teen’s killing was captured on video, which was crucial in the police officer’s swift detention. But at his burial, such witness was not welcome and some journalists were chased away.
“Men first,” an official in suit and tie declared to dozens of women waiting to enter the cemetery. But Nahel’s mother, dressed in white, walked straight inside to applause and headed toward the grave.
The crowd had grown for hours, first at the mosque where prayers were held, then at the cemetery. From time to time, the word “martyr” could be heard. The usual French greeting was somber. One man told another, “Ca ne va pas, franchement.” (“Not going well, frankly.”)
This was not the first time a young man, Arab or Black, had been killed by police.
Inside the cemetery gate, the white casket was lifted above the crowd and carried toward the grave. The men followed, some holding little boys by the hand.
As they left, some wiped their eyes. Others looked blank, shattered. Some offered warm greetings to acquaintances. A few carried folded prayer rugs. Some looked frustrated, striding alone back into the streets.
After days of anger and allegations of being long marginalized in France, they sought the peace to mourn.
As the funeral attendees began to scatter, other parts of Paris enjoyed a summer weekend, with tour groups and café-goers just a few miles away. But pain remained for many residents in the capital and beyond.
Near the cemetery, a Paris driver who identifies as Arab and gave only his partial name, Sid Ali, for fear of retaliation by police or authorities, said he wasn’t sure Nahel’s killing and the violent unrest will change anything.
“Paris has burned a bit, no?” he asked. Let’s see ”if the police will change their ways as the days pass.”
Nightfall was still hours away.
Cara Anna, The Associated Press