1,000 protesters defy bans to rally against police violence in France

AFP , Saturday 8 Jul 2023

More than 1,000 people defied a ban and on Saturday gathered in central Paris for a memorial rally, with dozens of marches planned throughout France to denounce police brutality and racial profiling.

Assa Traore, center, raises her fist during a banned protest against police violence, Saturday, July
Assa Traore, center, raises her fist during a banned protest against police violence, Saturday, July 8, 2023 in Paris.


Seven years after the death of Adama Traore, his sister had planned to lead a commemorative march north of Paris in Persan and Beaumont-sur-Oise.

But with tensions running high following the riots that were sparked by the June 27 police killing of 17-year-old Nahel M. of Algerian origin at a traffic stop near Paris, a court ruled the chance of public disturbance was too high to allow the march to proceed.

In a video posted on Twitter, Assa Traore, Adama's older sister, denounced the decision.

"The government has decided to add fuel to the fire" and "not to respect the death of my little brother", she said.

She instead attended a rally on Saturday afternoon in central Paris's Place de la Republique to tell "the whole world that our dead have the right to exist, even in death".

"We are marching for the youth to denounce police violence. They want to hide our deaths," she said at the rally.

"They authorise marches by neo-Nazis but they don't allow us to march. France cannot give us moral lessons. Its police is racist and violent," she said.

The Paris rally had also been banned on the ground that it could disrupt public order, but more than 1,000 people attended nonetheless, including several lawmakers.

"Public liberties are losing ground little by little," said Sandrine Rousseau, a lawmaker from the EELV Green party.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the outspoken head of the radical leftist France Unbowed party, castigated the government on Twitter.

"From prohibition to repression... the leader is taking France to a regime we have already seen. Danger. Danger," he tweeted, referring to the World War II regime of Vichy leader Philippe Petain who collaborated with the Nazis.

Around 30 similar demonstrations against police violence were scheduled across France this weekend. Marches were held Saturday in the western city of Saint-Nazaire and Strasbourg in the east.

Grief and anger

Several trade unions, political parties and associations had called on supporters to join the march for Traore as France reels from allegations of institutionalised racism in its police ranks following Nahel M's shooting.

Traore, who was 24 years old, died shortly after his arrest in 2016, sparking several nights of unrest that played out similarly to the week-long rioting that erupted across the country in the wake of the point-blank shooting of Nahel.

The teenager's death on June 27 rekindled long-standing accusations of systemic racism among security forces, and a UN committee urged France to ban racial profiling.

The foreign ministry on Saturday disputed what it called "excessive" and "unfounded" remarks by the panel.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) -- 18 independent experts -- on Friday asked France to pass legislation defining and banning racial profiling and questioned "excessive use of force by law enforcement".

"Any ethnic profiling by law enforcement is banned in France," the ministry responded, adding that "the struggle against excesses in racial profiling has intensified".

Far-right parties have linked the most intense and widespread riots France has seen since 2005 to mass migration, and have demanded curbs on new arrivals.

Campaign groups say Saturday's "citizens marches" will be an opportunity for people to express their "grief and anger" at discriminatory police policies, especially in working-class neighbourhoods.

More than 3,700 people have been taken into police custody in connection with the protests since Nahel's death, including at least 1,160 minors, according to official figures.

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