Thousands rally in fresh Paris protest against racism and police brutality
Paris riot police fired tear gas Saturday to disperse a largely peaceful but unauthorised protest of police brutality and entrenched racism, as a wave of anger continued to sweep the world following the death of African American George Floyd.
The protesters gathered in Place de la République, where the crowd chanted “No justice, no peace” and some climbed the statue of Marianne, who personifies the French Republic. Police refused organisers permission to proceed to the Opera House in central Paris.
The protest was generally peaceful but after three hours skirmishes broke out. Organisers urged protesters with children to leave as riot police charged pockets of protesters and projectiles were thrown at police lines.
The outrage generated by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last month has resonated in France, in particular in deprived city suburbs where rights groups say that accusations of brutal treatment by French police of residents of often immigrant background remain largely unaddressed.
Assa Traoré, sister of 24-year-old Adama Traoré, who died near Paris in 2016 after police detained him, addressed Saturday’s protest.
“The death of George Floyd has a strong echo in the death in France of my little brother,” she said. “What’s happening in the United States is happening in France. Our brothers are dying.”
Traoré’s family say he was asphyxiated when three officers held him down with the weight of their bodies. Authorities say the cause of his death is unclear.
One banner carried by the crowd in the Place de la République read: “I hope I don’t get killed for being black today”. Another carried a message for the government: “If you sow injustice, you reap a revolt.”
Early in the afternoon, angry shouts rose from the racially diverse crowd as a small group of white extreme-right activists climbed a building overlooking the protest and unfurled a huge banner denouncing “anti-white racism.”
Building residents then reached out of their windows and tore part of the banner down, one raising his fist in victory. Officers prevented people attending the main rally from approaching the counter-demonstrators, but didn’t detain the far-right activists until two hours later, further angering the crowd below.
Riot police then fired tear gas and charged unruly members of the main protest, urging them to disperse. The crowd initially planned to march through the city, but police decided to block them from moving, citing coronavirus concerns.
Similar protests were also held Saturday in cities around France, from Rouen in Normandy in the northwest to Marseille on the Mediterranean.
In the wake of Floyd’s death and the global protests it unleashed, the French government is under growing pressure to address long-running accusations of excessive violence by police, particularly against minorities.
Researchers have documented racial profiling by French police, and investigations were opened recently into racist comments in private Facebook and WhatsApp groups for police officers.
The interior minister promised this week to stamp out racism and announced a ban on police chokeholds during arrests. But French police unions held their own demonstrations Friday, saying they’re being unfairly labeled as racist because of a few extremist officers, and that they don’t have enough tools to deal with violent suspects.
After meeting with union representatives, the interior minister said Friday night that police will start experimenting with expanded use of stun-guns in the future, despite concerns about their safety.
Assa Traoré said that when she saw images of the police protesting, “I wasn’t even angry. I was ashamed of the French police. In the whole world, the only country where police officers demonstrate to keep their permission to kill is France.”
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
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