Death by police…it could be France

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Widespread police violence has ensured demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd have brought victims together with tens of thousands of protesters. Selma Oumari reports from Paris

When George Floyd died at the hands of the police, many people in France felt this was happening in their own country. So many Black, Arab and Asian people are being killed in France as in the US. The latest deaths came in a context of already existing anger towards the brutality of police forces. Tensions have been rising during the lockdown, as the police have been harassing people in non-white areas. Fourteen people have been killed, and others wounded over the recent months. Riots have erupted in response, and demonstrations have taken place despite the imposition of bans in April and May. An active movement has developed as the globalised anger, and the focus on its racist aspect, have helped develop criticism of the police.
The families of the victims of police violence have taken the lead in the movement. The Adama committee for Justice, named after Adama Traoré, who was killed in 2016 in similar ways to George Floyd, called for a protest on 2 June at the courthouse Porte de Clichy in northwest Paris Despite the ongoing ban on demonstrations, 120,000 mainly young people turned up. This came days after a national mobilisation for the ‘Sans-Papiers’ (those without legal status to remain), organised by “La Marche des Solidarités”, in which 10,000 people defied the ban and marched in central Paris.
These demonstrations came also in a context where health workers have staged weekly protests resulting from the lack of resources during the pandemic; protests which have been met with police violence. The Black Lives Matter wave of protests in France prompted a range of responses from politicians and the media, with some trying to present racism and police brutality as a unique feature to the US.
But due to the strength of the movements’ pressure, and videos circulating on social media, scandals about the police have erupted. It was already known that 60 percent of the police vote for the fascist RN (the National Rally party), while in early June recordings were leaked by a Black policeman showing a white ‘colleague’ saying, “this country deserves a dirty racial civil war, these dogs must die”.
Christophe Castaner, the minister of the interior, known for his brutal policy against the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vesets), declared that racism is not tolerated among the police. But no police officer has been officially disciplined or dismissed for any of the racist killings. Initially, Castaner said he would ban the chokehold technique, then went back on his word after the police demonstrated against the ban.
Meanwhile, president Emanuel Macron has publicly supported the police, as well as explicitly ruling out taking down public statues commemorating France’s colonial past and involvement in slavery.
The upsurge in the anti-racist movement, and the wide support it has attracted, is a unique opportunity to get truth and justice. The European Court of Human Rights has recently recognisied Lamine Dieng as a victim.
The policeman killed Dieng in 2007 after deploying a chokehold Dieng, making him the first in France to die in such circumstances. The French state has had to make a deal with the family. This is a victory and a hope for other victims.
It is also a symptom of the strength of the movement against police racism and brutality.