Le Weekend, 6/30/23: Mouima: A Mother in France Who’s Son Was Shot by Police on Tuesday ??

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June 30, 2023

Dear Frenchly Readers,

On Tuesday morning, 17-year-old Nahel M. was shot in a traffic stop in the Paris banlieue of Nanterre. There were two other passengers in his bright yellow Mercedes who both witnessed the murder, one of whom has disappeared. What no one, except perhaps the two people in the car, knows exactly, is what happened. We know that Nahel was driving recklessly, also illegally—you need to be 18 to drive in France. We know that he was stopped by white police officers. We know that Nahel was of Algerian descent. We know he didn’t heed whatever it was the police told him and sped away, driving more recklessly and dangerously. We know the police pulled him over again at that point, words were exchanged, and when he accelerated to once again lose them, a police officer shot him.

The fallout in France right now is explosive. Riots, marches, fury, shame, pain. President Emmanuel Macron said, “Nothing justifies the death of a young person.”

The police officer who killed Nahel is now in custody.

But as a mother of two sons, my heart is breaking. What about the mother? Here’s what we know so far: Nahel’s mother, Mouima, was a single mother and Nahel was her only child. They were best friends, she said. Her son struggled in school, but had found structure and inspiration in a rugby program for at-risk youths. Despite previous run-ins with the police, all involving traffic violations, Nahel was not a violent person, said a mentor.

That morning, when Mouima left for work, Nahel had given her a kiss and said, “I love you, Mum.” She said in a crushing video, posted here by the BBC, “What am I going to do now? I devoted everything to him. I’ve only got one, I haven’t got 10 [children]. He was my life, my best friend.”

And yet, her first reaction was not to denounce the entire police force or all of France, both of which she could have been justified in doing. Instead, Mouima said, according to the BBC, that she “believes the police officer who shot him ‘saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life.’” In another interview, she revealed that she didn’t blame the police, only the officer who fired the fatal shot. “‘I have friends who are officers – they’re with me wholeheartedly,’” she told France 5 TV.

As an American watching this unfold from across the ocean, though the situations are different, it’s hard not to go back to the devastating and catalytic event of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. In America, gun violence, and, in particular, police violence against people of color has become so commonplace it’s an enormous, horrible stain on our national character, our American flag.

In my new novel, Pete and Alice in Maine, which comes out next week, I had to address George Floyd’s murder. The book takes place during that extraordinary year of 2020 when the world was locked down and then, in the midst of it, Floyd was senselessly, brutally, murdered. Alice is a middle-aged white woman struggling in her marriage. And when the Floyd murder happens, she feels powerless, devastated, reduced. She wants to leave America for good, she tells her husband, Pete. I wrote all that because I, myself, felt totally incapable of helping in any way that really was big enough to fix a systemic problem that is so beneath what the character of what America was supposed to be. Like Alice, it was Floyd’s “Mama,” that one crucial word he uttered as he was dying, that gave me nightmares for months. And when I think about it now, even as I write these sentences, I feel physically sick.

Today, here’s what I am holding onto from this situation in France: A photo I saw of Mouima in a white t-shirt and her fist is held in the air. Behind her, an enormous crowd of men and women of all races and ethnicities are  marching in peaceful protest through the streets of Paris. Remember this image–much more of that is happening than what the media is showing you of cars on fire.

The horrible reality is that there is nothing anyone can do to bring Mouima’s son back. No car fires, no tear gas, no broken windows will resurrect Nahel. But what we can do is hold Mouima in our thoughts and prayers and strive to make a difference in our own neighborhoods for mothers. Too many mothers of at risk youths struggle alone. It takes a village to raise children and a whole world to protect not just those kids but also those mothers. We must all do our part.

Eat, pray, love & cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend, too: 

This weekend, Americans will celebrate the independence of our nation. Some do it with barbecues, others with beer, some with strawberries or beach days. In our house, we usually go out to pick strawberries just before the 4th. I like to make this French strawberry soufflé, which Melissa Clark adapted from Julia Child. I love the addition of the vinegar. But my tip is to cut back the sugar by 1/4 cup, at least. When it puffs up that glorious pink in the oven, you won’t regret that you turned on your oven this July weekend.

I want to start this new PBS series, Marriage, this weekend. I am always interested in why some marriages break apart and others don’t. I’m hoping the show will inspire a few more talking points for when I start my book tour for Pete and Alice in Maine next week. Go to my Instagram page or website for places you can come meet me. I’d love to see you!

And if you’re in the NYC area and can come to our Franglais-o-phone book launch party we’re hosting with agnès b., please come! So many of us from both the Frenchly and French Morning teams will be there and Emmanuel is going to roast, I mean introduce, me.

I’m psyched for those of you who got copies of the novel in Cat’s giveaway on Wednesday. I hope you love it. (Here is a link to her Midweek Distractions, I understand the Eventbrite link was broken. Should be fixed now.)

Because of my book tour and how much goes into traveling around and speaking, you will not receive a Le Weekend for the next 3 weeks. I will be back on July 28th. In the meantime, Cat will be sending her Midweek Distractions out on Wednesdays and I’m sure she’ll have everything in tip-top shape, as always. And if you want to send me a line or catch up with me on my website, I always love hearing from you.

À bientôt,

Caitlin.

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