Traoré, a 24-year-old Frenchman, was arrested by three gendarmes following a dispute over an identity check. He lost consciousness in their vehicle and died in a nearby police station. He was still handcuffed when the paramedics arrived. One of the three officers who made the arrest told investigators that Adama was stuck with their combined bodyweight after his arrest.
Since his untimely death, the bereaved family of Traoré has been fighting for justice. They launched petitions, organized demonstrations and ordered private autopsies to find out what had prompted a perfectly healthy young man to suddenly stop breathing a few hours after being arrested for a trivial matter. Despite their efforts, however, they have not received satisfactory responses from the authorities. Last month, French medical experts again exonerated the three police officers, rejecting a medical report ordered by the family of the young man who said that he died of asphyxiation. None of the officers who arrested him have ever been charged with his death. They are still employed by the same police. Some members of their brigade have even received praise for the role they played in suppressing the protests that followed Traore’s death.
The brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police and the widespread protests that followed drew attention to Traore’s death and renewed calls to the French state to combat racism and brutality in the country. within the police force.
When the Justice and Truth for Adama committee asked people to take to the streets of Paris to protest racist police brutality in France and around the world – and to demand justice again for Adama Traoré – 23,000 people (60,000 according to the organizers of the rally) answered their call.
“Today we’re not just talking about the Traore family’s struggle. This is the fight for everyone. When we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traore, “said Adama’s sister during the demonstration on June 2.
“What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France,” she added.
The historic march – the largest demonstration of its kind in the country’s recent history – has clearly demonstrated that a large part of French society wants the security forces to be held accountable for their violent and discriminatory actions and policies. Nonetheless, the French state responded to this growing call to action with hostility and denial.
Authorities have not only tried to ban the protest due to the coronavirus pandemic, but have also expressed sympathy for the “pain” the police must be feeling following the accusations and protests.
In a letter to the 27,500 security forces working in Paris, the city’s police chief, Didier Lallement, wrote that he sympathizes with the “pain” that the officers must feel in the face of “accusations of violence and of racism, repeated endlessly by social networks and certain militant groups ”. The Paris police “are neither violent nor racist: they act within the framework of the right to liberty for all,” he added.
Lallement’s letter sparked anger and controversy, but it was by no means an aberration in the authorities’ response to accusations of institutionalized racism and police brutality in France.
Just days before the murder of George Floyd, Franco-Algerian actress and singer Camelia Jordana publicly condemned racialized police violence in the country.
Speaking during a France 2 television talk show, the 27-year-old actress said: “Men and women who work in the suburbs are slaughtered for no other reason than the color of their skin. It is a fact “.
“There are thousands of people who do not feel safe in front of a police officer in France. And I’m one of them, “she added.
For many in France, and especially for visible minorities, Jordana’s words were nothing more than a statement of fact. But for the French authorities, it was an attack on the very heart of the French Republic.
As police unions across the country called on the state to take legal action against Jordana, winner of the Cesar Prize, for defamation against the police, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner joined the conversation and said : “Freedom of public debate does not allow for everything and nothing. to be told “. “What she said is untrue and unjust,” he added, “we will not allow the honor of the Republic to be tarnished.”
The minister’s assertion that “everything and nothing can be said publicly in France” was an unexpected attack on freedom of expression in a country proud of its centuries-old commitment to freedom of expression. But Castaner’s words did not surprise anyone who knows the sustained efforts of the French state to silence any public figure who dares to question the false idea that the French security forces treat all citizens of the country of same way. It was not until March 2019, after all, that President Emmanuel Macron said to the French “Don’t talk about police repression or violence; such words are unacceptable in a state under the rule of law. “
It has long been established, through countless research papers, the state’s own statistics and the well-documented experiences of minority communities, however, that non-white and / or low-income populations in France are the subject disproportionate police attention and violence.
In 1999, the so-called> became the first state in the European Union to be found guilty of torture by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, for the violence and sexual violence inflicted on a young man in jail. The victim, Ahmed Selmouni, was a French citizen of North African descent.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch argued in a 55-page report that “French police use overly broad powers to carry out unwarranted and abusive identity checks on young black and Arab men and boys.”
“Young people belonging to minorities, including children aged 13, are frequently arrested, involving lengthy interrogations, invasive body blows and the search of their personal belongings,” added the international rights group. “These arbitrary decisions can take place even in the absence of any indication of wrongdoing. “
In 2015, the Court of Appeal of Paris sanctioned the French State for having authorized the security forces to carry out arbitrary identity checks on citizens, solely on the basis of their physical characteristics. The state asked the Court of Cassation to set aside the judgment and, according to official documents obtained and published by Mediapart, it claimed that the police force legitimately carries out a disproportionate number of identity checks on black men and Arabs because they are “more likely to be foreigners and therefore undocumented”.
Despite state efforts to legitimize racist actions by the security forces, the Court of Cassation confirmed the conviction, stressing that the control of racial identity is a daily reality in France, regularly condemned by international, European and national institutions.
ACAT, an anti-torture NGO, found his investigation in the use of force by law enforcement officials in France, according to which “visible minorities” constitute “a significant proportion of victims … in particular … concerning deaths”.
In 2016, the United Nations Committee against Torture also criticized France for “the excessive use of force by the police, which in some cases has resulted in serious injuries or deaths.”
In recent months, many other discriminatory and violent practices by French police have been made public.
In April, StreetPress unveiled the existence of a private Facebook group with 8,000 members, in which police officers regularly shared sexist and racist content and mocked victims of police violence.
In May, the Defender of Rights, the administrative authority in charge of combating discrimination in France, released a damning report accusing Paris police of ” systematic discrimination“Against young people from minorities.
Last week, Mediapart revealed that a black police officer reported some of his colleagues to their superiors last December for participating in a WhatsApp group in which racist, white supremacist, sexist and homophobic messages were shared. Five months later, all of the accused officers would still be on duty.
The discriminatory and violent actions of the French police constitute a long list. French security forces may not use firearms as widely and openly as their American counterparts, but this lack of firepower rarely prevents them from inflicting deadly violence on members of minority communities.
In France, most deaths in police custody in recent years have been caused by the obstruction of the suspects’ airways. In 2007, Lamine Dieng death from suffocation in a police van. In 2008, Hakim Ajimi lost his life after two police officers strangled him and compressed his chest. In 2015, Amadou Koume died of asphyxiation after being stopped in a bar. A year later, Adama Traoré died under the weight of three gendarmes. All the deceased had one thing in common other than how they died: an Arabic or African sounding name.
On June 8, following “Justice for Adama” protests in Paris, the French government finally announced that the police would no longer be able to use stifles when arresting people.
Interior Minister Castaner said using strangulation is a “dangerous method” and will no longer be taught as part of police training.
Contrary to his recent claim that Camelia Jordana’s statement on police brutality in France was “false and unjust”, he also said he now hears “calls against hate” in his country. “Racism has no place in our society, not in our Republic,” he added, ironically.
The government’s apparent turnaround regarding the use of strangulation proves that anger and generalized public protests can succeed in breaking the wall of denial and indifference of the French state in the face of radicalized police brutality in the country.
But this is just the start.
Activists, NGOs, international institutions and the courts have long presented the French state with ample evidence of the misdeeds of its police forces. The fact that he refused to act, and even denied the existence of a problem, for so many years indicates that it is not only complacent but also tacitly favorable to the violence that the French security forces inflict on minority communities.
In addition, the state’s constant attempts to silence figures such as Jordana who dare to speak of the abuse inflicted on black and brown bodies by French police, and the repeated assertions that “racism has no place in France Show that he is not yet ready to accept the seriousness of the problem.
To put an end to police violence in France, do justice to Adama and ensure that all French citizens are treated according to the country’s guiding principles “freedom, equality, fraternity”, the struggle must continue.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.