The suburbs of Paris are rising up once more against police killings, trying now to build up upon the U.S. movement Black Lives Matter as residents are furious over the death of another young Black man in police custody a week ago.
Between 1,000 people, according to the police, and 5,000 people, according to organizers, participated in the “White March,” meant to launch the French version of Black Lives Matter on Sunday.
But informal unrest actually began last week after it emerged that Adama Traore, born in Mali, had died shortly after being arrested in the town of Beaumont-sur-Oise, on his 25th birthday.
Authorities said an autopsy revealed Traore was suffering from a serious infection at the time of his death and that his body showed few signs of violence.
"What? You did not know these very serious infections that affect 24-year-old people when they are in touch with police forces?!"
However, Traore's brother, who witnessed the fatal arrest, said Traore tried to run away from a routine police identity check because he did not have his documents on him at that moment. Another eye witnesses saw police hitting Traore in the head.
Traore's family said they were denied access to him during several hours at the police station, without being informed of Traore's actual state. When more neighbors gathered in front of the police station, they were received with tear gas.
Young people in the suburb said they are convinced police are responsible for Adama’s death.
“One hour earlier he was riding his bike, the day before he was playing soccer with his friends... For someone who was 'seriously sick' I find it weird,” Traore's sister told BFMTV.
Judicial authorities have demanded a new autopsy on Tuesday, with results expected Wednesday, a few days after the French Ombudsman launched a separate investigation.
Various French celebrities have taken to social media to demand justice, including actor Omar Sy and rappers Nekfeu, Kery James and Youssoupha.
In France, the rate of police shootings against Arab victims is similar to police killings in the United States against Black citizens—although France remains one of the only European countries that does not officially track the number of police killings. Historian Maurice Rajsfus, who leads an institution monitoring police repression over the past 50 years, has counted an average of about 10 to 15 dead every year, and rising.
In France, someone can be stopped only if he or she is “behaving suspiciously.” However, “the police, with the approval of the state, have been ignoring for 20 years the legal framework in which it is supposed to operate,” said lawyer Felix de Belloy. There has been little oversight of police practices in France, with those practices only becoming controversial in mainstream French society after a couple of sociologists ran an independent study in 2009 proving that racial profiling was a reality. The study found that a Black or Arab person has a 6.2 and 7.7 precent greater chance, respectively, of being stopped by police than a white person.
During his electoral campaign, current Socialist Party President Francois Hollande had promised to implement some kind of police monitoring to avoid such human rights violations on the part of the security forces. But only a couple of months after the election, Prime Minister Manuel Valls discarded a proposed measure under pressure from police union lobbying.