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A French town is rattled after protestors attacked its mayor's home

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

French President Emmanuel Macron held a closed-door meeting with more than 200 mayors today. The mayors are pushing for tighter measures from the state after a wave of unrest has shaken the country. Today marks one week since the start of the turmoil triggered by the death of a 17-year-old boy of North African descent who was shot by a police officer during a routine traffic stop. Rebecca Rosman visited one town just south of Paris, where people are still in shock after an attack on the mayor's home during the protests.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VINCENT JEANBRUN: (Speaking French).

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: Backed by dozens of elected officials wearing blue, white and red sashes, Vincent Jeanbrun, the 39-year-old conservative mayor of L'Hay-les-Roses, a quiet leafy South Paris suburb, told a crowd of hundreds he had just one thing to say to them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEANBRUN: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "Thank you."

Jeanbrun went on to describe the events of this past weekend as a, quote, "new milestone of horror and disgrace." While he was working at the town hall late Saturday evening, rioters rammed a car into his home and then set the vehicle on fire. As his wife and two young children tried to escape, they were hit with fireworks. His wife ended up breaking her leg. One of his children was also hurt.

JEANBRUN: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: Speaking to NPR inside the town hall, Jeanbrun said he understands people are angry and that there are people living in certain areas going through hell every day.

JEANBRUN: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "But this was not anger," he said. "It was pure hatred." The incident is being investigated as an attempted assassination.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

ROSMAN: Forty-five thousand police have been deployed across the country and more than 3,000 people have been arrested in the last week. According to France's Interior ministry, the average age of those arrested is only 17 years old. Some are as young as 12. Jeanbrun and other mayors are calling on the government to declare a state of emergency. While the violence has subsided in recent days, there are fears it may just be a temporary lull.

In L'Hay-les-Roses, residents NPR spoke to seem to agree on two things - first, that people have the right to be outraged over 17-year-old Nahel's death, and, second, that the unrest of the past week has officially crossed a line.

MARIE LEROI: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "We are shocked and outraged," says 41-year-old resident Marie Leroi. Leroi says she can understand the anger coming from the rioters, and she believes there is a greater systemic issue tied to lack of opportunity and resources for working-class youth.

LEROI: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "But it's time to restore order."

French President Emmanuel Macron now faces a difficult balancing act to quell the violence while also addressing the underlying problems the riots have exposed. It's the latter that some worry will be swept under the rug.

ZACH RACHIDI: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: Zach Rachidi is a 32-year-old insurance broker who has been living in L'Hay-les-Roses for about a year. Like Nahel, he's of North African origin. He believes race played a role in the teenager's death. Rachidi condemns the recent violence, but says it's the result of successive governments who have done nothing over the years to address the issues facing the working class, especially young minorities.

RACHIDI: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: "They may put on some bandages," he says, "but it's never enough to heal the wounds entirely."

For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in L'Hay-les-Roses, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rebecca Rosman