Thousands of people gathered across France on Saturday to protest at racism and police violence as public anger grows after a raft of complaints against officers and in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the United States.
Several thousand people congregated in central Paris mid-afternoon to answer a call to protest by a pressure group representing Adama Traore, a young black man who died in police custody in 2016.
The rallies came at the end of week when France’s police watchdog said it had received almost 1,500 complaints against officers last year – half of them for alleged violence.
Police fired tear gas at protesters in central Paris. A couple of tear gas canisters were deployed and the crowd moved away calmly, according to a Reuters journalist at the scene.
Largely peaceful march
A march was called by supporters of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black man who died in 2016 in police custody near Paris, and whose case has been re-ignited by the George Floyd killing in the United States.
The protest had not been authorised by police.
Up to 15,000 people took part in the protests, journalist Peter Humi said, citing French police estimates.
He said the rally – taken out to protest Floyd’s custodial death in US and police brutality in France – was largely peaceful.
Look at the March in Paris for #GenerationAdama and Police violence #BlackLivesMatters
The mobilization is still there !
Angry shouts rose from the peaceful and racially diverse crowd as a small group of white extreme-right protesters climbed a building overlooking the protest and unfurled a huge banner denouncing “anti-white racism.”
Police did not arrest the far-right demonstrators, but residents in the building tore part of the banner down, one raising his fist in victory.
Officers prevented people attending the main rally from approaching the far-right members.
pro white banner getting destroyed by the flat owners #Generationadama #seum
Black Lives Matter
Police surrounded the intended march route, bracing for potential violence after scattered clashes at some previous demonstrations around France also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s custodial death in the US.
The Paris protest was among several in France and other countries this weekend for the same cause.
‘Let us breath’
Myriam Boicoulin, 31, who was born in the French Caribbean island of Martinique, said she marched on Saturday because she “wants to be heard.”
“The fact of being visible is enormous,” Boicoulin told The Associated Press. As a black woman living in mainland France, she said, “I’m constantly obliged to adapt, to make compromises, not make waves — to be almost white, in fact.”
“It’s the first time people see us,” she said. “Let us breathe.”
“We are are all demanding the same thing – fair justice for everyone,” Traore’s sister Assa told the crowd.
She is increasingly seeking to transform the support committee for her brother into a broader-based movement for social justice, notably since Floyd’s death.
At Saturday’s protest, a huge portrait showed a face that was half Floyd, half Traore.
Banners strung between trees around Republique plaza bore the names, scrawled in red, of dozens of others who have died or suffered violence at the hands of French police.
Along the march route, the Paris police chief ordered merchants and city officials to clear sidewalks along the march route of anything that could be set on fire or used by troublemakers against police.
Ban on gatherings
Gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned in France because of virus containment measures.
Protests were also being held on Saturday in Marseille, Lyon and other French cities.
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.
Police unions protest
But French police unions held their own demonstrations on Friday, saying they’re being unfairly labelled 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 Traore 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.”