On Tuesday, June 27, 2023, a 17-year-old boy named Nahel Merzouk was driving a yellow Mercedes, a rental car, without a license in the Parisian northern banlieue (suburb), Nanterre. After the car stopped in traffic and the police stepped off their motorcycles, the car attempted to speed away, and a police officer fired his gun, shooting and killing Nahel.  Following that, Paris was filled with violent riots where participants destroyed metro cars and trains, lit government buildings on fire, and over 44,000 police officers were deployed in response across France. 

The American media covered the riots but ignored some basic facts about France and French history. Below are the three biggest myths being told and why they are wrong.

Myth 1: The riots happened because people in Paris’ banlieuex (suburbs) lack access to social support (medical care, housing, education, child care).

  • Nanterre, where Nahel Merzouk lived, has 50% public housing. In France, all cities must have a 30% minimum social housing by law.
  • All lawful residents of France receive medical care after being residents for 90 days. There is taxpayer-funded Caisse Primaire d’Assurances Maladie (CPAM) for those who cannot afford supplementary insurance.
  • There is special insurance, Aide Médicale Gratuite, for illegal immigrants. According to a 2019 study, 40% of men ages 18-30 who are in France illegally use this insurance.
  • France’s creche, or taxpayer-funded day care, is, allocated based on income. As such, those with the most economic need are prioritized. Going to the French government’s creche website and entering “92000,” Nanterre’s zip code, returns three day cares. 

Myth 2: The riots happened as a result of “Islamophobia.”

Myth 3: The riots happened because of “colonialism.” 

  • France’s immigrants from North Africa are here of their own volition and are entitled to the same rights and social benefits as all French residents.
  • France’s rule of North Africa ended in 1962 following the Algerian War. 
  • Correlating previous generations living under colonialism with current violent behavior stereotypes people based on their ethnicity is, in and of itself, racism.
    • My own in-laws, like many of France’s Jews, fled their homes in North Africa as refugees. They lived in social housing in France and raised wonderful children (I’m married to one of them.)
    • India was under British colonial rule for 200 years. Great Britain’s Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is Indian. 

Reasonable may disagree on the appropriate way for France to respond to riots and prevent criminal activity. But attributing criminal behavior to a lack of resources, Islamophobia, and colonialism does not align with the facts.