Some 20,000 protesters last night rallied in Paris to demonstrate against the 2016 death of a young black man in French police custody, some using the slogans of the George Floyd riots in the US.
The protesters rallied outside a Paris court despite a coronavirus ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, before clashes erupted involving tear gas, rubber bullets, burning barricades and projectiles.
They were protesting after the release of two differing medical reports into the cause of Adama Traore’s death, whose case has long been a rallying cry against police brutality in France.
Many of the protesters drew inspiration from the protest movement in the United States over the police killing last week of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, brandishing placards in English such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’.
Riot police fired tear gas as scattered protesters pelted them with debris and set fires outside the Tribunal de Paris courthouse, at the tail-end of a demonstration against racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics.
The protest was originally planned for Tuesday evening by supporters of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black Frenchman of Malian origin who died in July 2016 after three officers pinned him down with their combined bodyweight.
In defiance of coronavirus restrictions, thousands gathered at the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring road around the French capital, and started fires at around 9pm.
Violence erupted in Paris tonight after thousands of demonstrators turned up at a banned protest against alleged racist policing in support of two black men separately killed in police custody
Several thousand people had previously rallied peacefully for two hours outside the courthouse as global outrage over the death of George Floyd in the Minnesota kindled frustrations across borders and continents
With the demonstration winding down, police fired tear gas and protesters could be seen throwing debris. Two small fires broke out, and green and grey barriers surrounding a construction site were knocked over
The protest was originally planned for Tuesday evening by supporters of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black Frenchman of Malian origin who died in similar circumstances to Mr Floyd in July 2016
But Didier Lallement, the Paris police prefect, said it could not go ahead because of Coronavirus restrictions on public demonstrations that forbid any gathering of more than 10 people
Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille. French protests sometimes degenerate into violence by a few rowdy demonstrators
Projectiles including fireworks were also being thrown at the police, who estimated the crowd number at 20,000.
‘Gangs are getting on to the road and stopping the traffic too,’ said a demonstrator at the scene. ‘The fires are huge – it’s getting very ugly indeed.’
With the demonstration winding down, police fired tear gas and protesters could be seen throwing debris. Two small fires broke out, and green and grey barriers surrounding a construction site were knocked over.
Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille. French protests sometimes degenerate into violence by a few rowdy demonstrators.
In a sign of solidarity, demonstrations were also held in other French cities in honour of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s death.
The Traore case has become emblematic of the fight against police brutality in France. The circumstances of the death of the 24-year-old Frenchman of Malian origin are still under investigation after four years of conflicting medical reports about what happened.
Mr Traore had run away from a police check in Beaumont-sur-Oise, a town north of Paris, and hours later died at a nearby police station.
The vague circumstances of the incident have led to allegations of a state cover-up, and his family have been fighting for justice ever since.
In a sign of solidarity, demonstrations were also held in several French cities in honour of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s death.
Huge crowds turned up undeterred by the police warning, and by 9.30pm fires had been lit underneath the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring road around the French capital
There have been frequent complaints about racist violence carried out by the French police, particularly in incidents involving young black men, or those from Arab backgrounds
They say he died from asphyxiation caused by officers, while police claim Mr Traore died from a heart attack due to pre-existing medical condition.
In a new video message posted on social media on Tuesday, Mr Traore’s sister, Assa Traore, said people should show their anger ‘at a time when the world, when France is outraged by the death of George Floyd’.
She said both Mr Traore and Mr Floyd ‘had used the same words, their last words: ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,’ and said medical experts working for the police were releasing reports that were ‘racist and untrue’.
The lawyer for two of the three police officers involved in Traore’s arrest, Rodolphe Bosselut, said the Floyd and Traore cases ‘have strictly nothing to do with each other.’ Bosselut also alleged that Traore’s death wasn’t linked with the conditions of his arrest but other factors, including a pre-existing medical condition.
Traore’s family continue to say he died from asphyxiation because of police tactics.
There have been frequent complaints about racist violence carried out by the French police, particularly in incidents involving young black men, or those from Arab backgrounds.
In 2017, four officers were accused of anally violating a 22-year-old called Theo Luhaka with a telescopic truncheon, causing him lifelong injuries, in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.
It comes as police also face criminal charges for a series of allegedly racist attacks as they enforced curfews and other tough law and order measures during the Coronavirus crisis.
Protests over the killing have escalated worldwide, with protestor all across Europe sending their solidarity with US demonstrators increasingly mixed with local worries
A female protestor holds up a sign reading ‘Who do you call when the police murders’ in reference to George Floyd and Adama Traore, black men who both died in police custody
Streets surrounding Paris’ largest courthouse were close down by the protestors, who later spilled into the traffic as the event ended
Riot police are seen sealing off a road with police vans as a pile of debris including a bicycle and railings burn in the middle of the road
Prosecutors opened an enquiry in April after a 30-year-old motorcyclist from an Arab Muslim background was critically injured following a collision with an unmarked police car in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, which is less than 10 miles from central Paris.
This led to emergency workers including police becoming the target of rioters, who threw rocks and fireworks.
Diplomatic ire percolated too, with the European Union’s top foreign policy official saying the bloc was ‘shocked and appalled’ by Floyd’s death.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s remarks in Brussels were the strongest to come out of the 27-nation bloc, saying Floyd’s death was a result of an abuse of power.
Borrell told reporters that ‘like the people of the United States, we are shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd.’ He underlined that Europeans ‘support the right to peaceful protest, and also we condemn violence and racism of any kind, and for sure, we call for a de-escalation of tensions.’
Protests over the killing have escalated worldwide, with protestor all across Europe sending their solidarity with US demonstrators increasingly mixed with local worries.
‘When you refuse to treat the problem of racism … it leads to what we see in the United States,’ said Dominique Sopo, head of French activist group SOS Racisme. ‘The case of George Floyd echoes what we fear in France.’
Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America – and now, beyond.