In France, a sister’s fight for justice and black lives is gaining momentum

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Crowds marched through the streets of the Parisian suburb of Beaumont-sur-Oise this weekend to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of Adama Traoré, a black Frenchman who died in police custody on July 19, 2016, his 24th birthday .Lead the chants of “Justice for Adama! Was Traoré’s older sister, Assa Traoré. She claims the police killed her brother, and for the past four years she has been fighting to hold them accountable. Due to public pressure in France since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Traore’s efforts are starting to bear fruit.

Last Friday, the three judges responsible for investigating Traore’s case announced that 14 elements of the case would be reviewed, including the backgrounds and files of the police officers who arrested him. An external forensic doctor will be called upon to intervene. Lawyers say the decision amounts to reopening the case and restarting the investigation.

Traore said she would never stop until she got justice for her brother.

“When my brother died, the first thing I said to myself is that his death will not remain a simple report,” says Traoré. “The gendarmes killed you, but they won’t kill your name. ”

Four years ago, Traoré founded the Justice and Truth Committee for Adama. George Floyd’s death transformed his small advocacy group into a national movement against racism and police violence.

Today, she has become an icon in France. In a gritty neighborhood around Gare du Nord north of Paris, people recognize her and stop her in the street to thank her for what she is doing.

“She’s the leader we’ve never had in France, shining the spotlight on the police violence and injustices we face every day as black people,” said 19-year-old Christopher Johnson in a statement. recent demonstration in Paris. “She’s doing something that no one else can. She is fighting for her brother. She is hard.

Traoré has also gained worldwide recognition. In June, she won the Global Good Award from the US network BET.

“We had to go to the front line and fight”

Traoré, 35, left her job as a special education teacher to devote herself to the cause of her brother. She is the mother of three children and 17 siblings. His father emigrated from Mali to France and married four times. Traore says that all of his father’s wives and children are close and support each other.

She tells NPR that she couldn’t watch the video showing the police kneeling on George Floyd’s neck because it would have been like watching her own brother die.

She and many others in France believe that, like Floyd, Traore was suffocated by the police. They sued him after he tried to avoid an ID check because he was not carrying his ID card. Two hours later, he died in a police station.

“Adama was suffocated when three gendarmes threw him face down on the ground and put him on his back with all their weight,” she said. “It was his 24th birthday. He was wearing his Bermuda shorts, a floral shirt and a cap. He just wanted to go out and be free and enjoy a bike ride on his birthday. ”

Instead, says Traore, his brother died “under the weight of three police officers and a racist system.”

A state medical examiner ruled that Traore’s death was due to underlying heart disease. The three officers were transferred to new jurisdictions and were never charged. They have never been questioned before a judge.

“We mourned the death of Adama for a day,” says Traore. “Then we had to go to the front row and fight. ”

She has been fighting ever since – organizing rallies, filing lawsuits and hiring medical experts to examine her brother’s death.

Medical experts challenged the official decision. But progress was slow. His protest movement never exceeded a core of supporters.

Everything changed on June 2. Traore had called a rally to coincide with protests in the United States against the death of George Floyd. The demonstration in front of the main criminal court in Paris would normally have attracted a few hundred supporters, but 20,000 people showed up – despite the pandemic.

According to French journalist Rokhaya Diallo, the death of George Floyd the previous week marked a turning point.

“And what Assa Traoré did was say, ‘Hey, we also have racism and police brutality in France. So if you’re covering what’s going on in the United States, you have to talk about what blacks and Maroons are going through here. ‘ “Said Diallo.

Ten days later, another big demonstration followed on the Place de la République in Paris. People of all ages, races and social backgrounds have come to demand justice for Adama.

“The fight for justice for Adama belongs to all of France”

Today, Assa Traoré has become the face of Black Lives Matter in France.

Sociologist Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, co-author with Traoré of a 2019 book, Adama’s fight, says she has made her struggle for justice a grassroots movement from the start.

“For four years, she has been traveling the country doing a sort of Tour de France of neighborhoods in difficulty,” he said. “She spoke with families, with mothers, with young men. She was visiting to settle a fight between two gangs or if a young man had been killed. She would stay all night helping people and giving advice on lawyers. She has this very, very strong political desire to connect with people. ”

De Lagasnerie says Traoré is not shy about state authority. “She is absolutely confident about her right to demonstrate, her right to be a French citizen and her right to be respected by the authorities,” he said.

Although some see her as radical – civil rights lawyer Slim Ben Achour compares her to Angela Davis and says, “It bothers a lot of people” – Traoré has allied himself with a wide range of climate activists, students, health workers and “yellow vests”. anti-government protesters. She says her movement crosses race and class.

“It is no longer the Adama committee, it is the French of all classes and all walks of life who are rising,” she said. “The fight for justice for Adama belongs to all of France. ”

Traoré says that when people stop her on the street to ask her if she is Adama Traoré’s sister, she knows the movement will be successful.

“That day the police had the power of life and death over my little brother,” she said.

Now, she said, “my brother’s name will go down in French history whether they like it or not. “

Copyright 2020 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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