Unions representing half of French police on Friday said they were at war with “vermin” in nights of rioting over an officer’s shooting of a teenager during a traffic stop.
Violent protests have seen thousands of cars burned and hundreds of arrests in a growing crisis that authorities were scrambling to contain.
“Today police officers are at the front line because we are at war,” the Alliance Police Nationale and UNSA Police unions said in a statement echoing far-right turns of phrase.
“Faced with these savage hordes, it’s no longer enough to call for calm, it must be imposed,” they added.
President Emmanuel Macron has stopped short of declaring a state of emergency in areas hit by rioting over the death of 17-year-old Nahel, shot at point-blank range by a police officer on Tuesday.
After three nights of violence — triggered by the emergence of a video showing the policeman was not in danger for his life at the moment of the shooting, as authorities had initially claimed — Macron instead promised more officers.
“Now is not the time for industrial action but for fighting against these ‘vermin’,” the union statement released soon after said.
But they added that unless officers enjoy still greater legal protection and more resources in the future, “tomorrow we will be in resistance”.
Police “‘unions’ calling for civil war should learn to keep quiet. We’ve seen the fatal behaviour this kind of talk leads to. Politics needs to regain its grip on the police,” tweeted Jean-Luc Melenchon, former presidential candidate for the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party.
“Can we finally say that we have a structural problem in the police? This text is an appeal for civil war,” agreed Greens party leader Marine Tondelier.
Left-wingers have repeatedly charged that a 2017 law allowing police in traffic stops to use their weapons in case of danger to their own life or others has already resulted in an increased number of fatal shootings.
Two people, including Nahel, have been killed this way in 2023 after 13 last year.
Police unions complained earlier Thursday that the officer who fired the shot has been held in custody, daily Le Monde reported.
Macron raised their hackles the day before by saying the shooting was “inexplicable and unforgivable”.
Also Thursday, the United Nations human rights office said that France must “seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement”.
Earlier this week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would seek the dissolution of a small far-right union, Syndicat France Police, which welcomed the shooting of Nahel in a since-deleted tweet.