20,000 protest police brutality in Paris, echo anti-racism calls in the United States

Protesters burn trash cans, shared scooters, and bicycles after a demonstration against police violence and in memory of late US citizen George Floyd in Paris, France, on June 2, 2020. (Photo by AFP)

Nearly 20,000 protesters have defied a ban on public gatherings in the French capital of Paris to demonstrate against police brutality in France over the 2016 death of a black man in police custody, inspired by rallies in the US against racism and police violence.

Clashes between protesters and police officers erupted during the massive rally in Paris on Tuesday as rally participants used slogans from the American anti-police brutality movement to demand justice for 24-year-old Adama Traore, whose death after being brutally detained by police officers four years ago turned into a rallying point against police violence in France.

Many protesters drew inspiration from the nationwide protest movement across the US that erupted following the killing of African American George Floyd by a white police officer in the northern city of Minneapolis last week.

Many of the French demonstrators carried placards that read in English “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe.”

The 46-year-old Floyd died on May 25 after the police officer arresting him pressed his knee on his neck for nearly 9 minutes while he continually gasped, “please, I can’t breathe,” triggering massive rallies and clashes with police in major cities throughout the US.

Earlier on Tuesday, Traore’s elder sister, Assa, addressed the large crowd of protesters, saying, “Today, we are not just talking about the fight of the Traore family. It is the fight for everyone. When we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traore.”

“What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France,” she said.

Protest rallies against French police brutality were also held in other cities across France, with 2,500 taking part in a rally in the northern city of Lille, nearly 2,000 in Marseille, and 1,200 in Lyon, according to the AFP.

French interior minister slams protesters

This is while French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner censured the massive protest rally in France in a Twitter message, proclaiming that “violence has no place in a democracy.”

“Nothing justifies the behavior that took place in Paris this evening, when protests on public streets are banned to protect everyone’s health,” he said.

The Paris protest began late afternoon outside a court in the north of the city before projectiles were tossed and police officers used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Sporadic clashes then broke out near the city’s main ring road, with stones thrown at police forces, who responded by firing rubber bullets.

Some protesters also burned bins, bicycles, and scooters to set up flaming barricades on the streets.

Paris police chief defends officers as ‘not violent, nor racist’

Meanwhile, Paris police chief Didier Lallement, who had banned the protest rally on Tuesday, wrote a letter to police officers earlier in the day, defending their conduct and expressing sympathy with the “pain” officers must feel when “faced with accusations of violence and racism, repeated endlessly by social networks and certain activist groups.”

The Paris police force “is not violent, nor racist: it acts within the framework of the right to liberty for all,” the police chief said.

Contradictory medical reports

The protest rallies on Tuesday came after the release of two contradictory medical reports into the cause of Traore’s death were prohibited by police authorities, who cited a coronavirus ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

This is while the Traore case has long remained controversial in France since his 2016 apprehension by police officers over an identity check.

One of the three arresting officers has told investigators that they pinned Traore down with their combined body-weight, leading him to lose consciousness in a police vehicle and eventually dying at a police station while still in handcuffs.

French medical experts on Friday exonerated the three police officers, claiming that Traore did not die of “positional suffocation,” ruling out the officers’ pinning him to the ground as the cause of his death.

Instead, the experts ruled that Traore died of heart failure, possibly caused on by underlying health conditions in a context of “intense stress” and physical exertion, as well as the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol — the active ingredient of cannabis — in his body.

The new findings, the third official report to clear the officers, contradicted a previous medical report commissioned by the young man’s family that said he had died of asphyxiation.

Yet another probe commissioned by the Traore family reaffirmed on Tuesday that his death was caused by the arrest technique used by the arresting police officers.

Meanwhile, several other French police officers have come under investigation for brutality against members of the public at long-running “yellow vest” anti-government rallies and more recent anti-pension reform strikes. Many protesters in those rallies were maimed by rubber bullets or stun grenades, some losing an eye or a hand.

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