Crime in the Côte d’Azur in southern France appears to have reached a critical point this week.
After a series of recent armed robberies in the neighbouring city of Cannes, 67-year-old jeweller Stephan Turk, from Nice took matters into his own hands on Wednesday morning, shooting dead an 18-year-old man who had just robbed his jewellery shop.
According to reports, Turk chased after the two thieves and fired as they fled on a scooter, hitting one of them in the back with what proved to be a fatal shot. On Friday Turk was charged with murder.
With the shopkeeper still in police custody, he may be unaware of the fierce national debate his actions have provoked in France, about the use of violence for self-defense and to protect property.
Reacting to the shooting in his city on Wednesday, Nice's centre-right UMP Mayor Christian Estrosi took to Twitter to condemn the behaviour of armed criminals.
“This morning there are two victims: the jeweller and the hooligan. The fear needs to shift over to the other side, now. Taubira’s law must not pass,” he said, referring to planned legislation by Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, which would limit custodial sentences and expand the use of alternatives to prison such as probation.
Ce matin, il y a deux victimes : le bijoutier et le voyou. La peur doit maintenant changer de camps. La loi taubira ne doit pas passer #Talk
— Christian Estrosi (@cestrosi) September 11, 2013
'This government can't provide security for French citizens'
While politicians have, in the main, steered clear of the row, the French public have been venting their anger through social media.
A Facebook group started on Wednesday and entitled “Support for the jeweller in Nice” has exploded, gaining over 400,000 followers (at time of writing) in just the last 48 hours, and provoking thousands of comments, overwhelmingly positive towards the actions of the 67-year-old businessman.
The page’s mission statement tackles head-on the thorny issue of property protection. “Self-defense isn’t just about your own person, but about your livelihood, how you provide for your family.”
One commenter reflected the disgust of many users with violent crime and robberies in France.
“It’s always the same ones who pay – businesspeople,” they said.
“And when they defend themselves, it’s they who are punished. And the thieves, if they’re caught, they’re freed again. Bravo – that’s justice for you, always on behalf of the same people, and never for anyone honest. Well done to this man, he was right.”
Many others view the incident as indicative of a breakdown in law and order in France.
“This is the sad result of impunity, of a lack of justice, and the inability of the government to provide for the safety of French citizens,” said one commenter.
Another expressed, in no uncertain terms, a widespread lack of sympathy for the deceased: "He played the game, and he lost."
'My son was shot down like a pigeon'
However, the family of the 18-year-old victim, named only as Tony, have not shied away from condemning the widespread public support for his killing.
“It’s true, he did a lot of stupid things. He was a little criminal, and stole scooters,” the deceased’s father told local local daily Nice Matin on Wednesday.
“But Tony had the face of a child, and no child is meant to die like that. I’m not defending my son, but he was shot down like pigeon over there,” he added, noting that the 18-year-old was about to become a father himself.
Tony’s brother Yannick told RMC: “[The jeweller] shot him out on the street, and in the back. I don’t call that legitimate self-defense.”
Crime on the French Riviera has become a thorny political issue in recent months, with the government under pressure to deal with gun violence and gang wars.
Responding to a series of armed jewellery heists in Cannes this summer, as well as an escalation of gangland deaths in the nearby city of Marseille, Interior Minister Manuel Valls in August announced an increased police presence in the Côte d’Azur.
“Some 4,750 police reinforcements will be deployed throughout the [Mediterranean] coast, including 143 in Cannes and Nice,” he was quoted as saying by French daily Le Monde.
Speaking on Tuesday, before the fatal shooting in Nice, the city’s mayor Estrosi said: “Everywhere in France, businesspeople live with the anxiety of suffering a stick-up or an attack.”
What do you think? Is it legitimate to use violence to protect your property? Join the conversation in the comments section below.