Who is Adama Traore and why are there protests across France in his name?

More than 20,000 people took to the streets of Paris on Tuesday night while other protests took place around France calling for 'justice for Adama Traore' - but who is he and why the protests?

Who is Adama Traore and why are there protests across France in his name?
All photos: AFP

Thousands gathered in Paris for protests which were largely peaceful, but ended with scuffles with police, tear gas and street furniture set on fire.


The protest started in the late Tuesday afternoon outside a court in northern Paris, before projectiles were thrown and the police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, AFP journalists witnessed.

Sporadic clashes broke out near the city's main ring road, with stones thrown at the police, who responded by firing rubber bullets.

Some protesters burned bins, bicycles and scooters to set up flaming barricades on the streets.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner responded by saying that “violence has no place in a democracy”.

 Other protests were held across France, with 2,500 people attending a rally in the northern city of Lille, 1,800 in Marseille, and 1,200 in Lyon.

What was the protest about?

The protest was sparked after a verdict on Friday in a four-year investigation into the death of Adama Traore, who died after being arrested in 2016.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement refused permission for the march, but organisers – including Adama's sister Assa – decided to go ahead anyway.

Among the banners calling for 'Justice pour Adama' were many referencing George Floyd, the American man whose death at the hands of police has sparked protests across the US. Many in Paris also took to one knee, in an echo of Colin Kaepernick's protest against police brutality and had slogans in English including 'Black Lives Matter' and 'I can't breathe' echoing the US protests.

Who was Adama Traore?

A 24-year-old man born in the Paris suburb of Beaumont-sur-Oise who was arrested in 2016 after a dispute over a police identity check.

After a brief chase he was arrested and one of the three arresting officers has told investigators that they pinned Traore down with their combined bodyweight.

Traore lost consciousness in their vehicle and died at a nearby police station. He was still handcuffed when paramedics arrived.

Since then, there have been four medical reports into the cause of his death, with experts failing to agree whether the cause of death was suffocation after the police pinned him to the ground or whether his underlying medical conditions and possible presence of drugs in his body contributed to his death.

Is this type of incident unusual in France?

Sadly, no. France's black and North African communities have frequently made accusations of bias and violence against French police and racially mixed areas – in particular Paris' northern suburbs – have seen regular clashes with police and accusations of police brutality.

READ ALSO Investigation launched after Paris police allegedly caught on video making racist comments

During the lockdown there were several nights of running battles between police and locals after a motorcyclist was seriously hurt during a police stop.

In May the French-Algerian actress Camelia Jordan caused a storm of protest when she said that people “get massacred” by Police in the Paris suburbs because of the colour of their skin.

Over the years there have seen a string of high-profile cases, including the death of two young men during a police chase in 2005 in Clichy-sous-Bois which lead to three weeks of rioting.

More recently the Paris suburb of Les Ulis saw rioting over a case in which a youth worker named Théo was beaten and allegedly raped with a police baton.

During 2019 there was a national conversation about police violence after injuries during 'yellow vest' protests, but many campaigners said this problem had existed for years in areas that are poor, racially mixed and largely ignored by the media.

READ ALSO How the 'yellow vests' forced France to talk about police violence

What do the police say?

French police chiefs do not accept that there is a problem with violence or racism within their ranks.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement, who had denied permission for Tuesday night's protest, earlier on Tuesday wrote a letter to police officers defending their conduct.

He said he sympathised with the “pain” officers must feel “faced with accusations of violence and racism, repeated endlessly by social networks and certain activist groups”.

The Paris police force “is not violent, nor racist: it acts within the framework of the right to liberty for all”, he insisted in an email to the city's 27,500 law enforcers.



Member comments

  1. Police and power is an old chestnut.

    The police are, notionally, civilians in uniform. They are not supposed to be an elite, military, fighting unit. They do, however, have a strict hierarchy and constantly play in-house competitive games; car snooker, for instance, whereby booking a red car gives the right to “pot” a colour (yellow to black) – and so on – until the game is won.

    This gives rise to gross injustice on the streets.

    French police, however,(along with most other continental police forces) carry guns on their hip and/or are otherwise armed. This, I suggest, alters the dynamic considerably.

    Generally speaking; crowd threat or actual violence comes about at the end of a gathering or protest. Rarely, unless it is a quasi-military assault, does it manifest itself at the beginning.

    I have known (still know) many UK police officers. Most, (not all) when tested under one-to-one conditions – a rugby match, say – prove to be cowardly. They only become ‘strong’ or emboldened, individually, when they are surrounded by ‘the team’. (I have played – including against the Met’ Police – and coached rugby at a reasonably high level and, thus, feel qualified to make this observation).

    It does not take three people to ‘subdue’ a handcuffed person. Such an act is that of the emboldened one taking the lead in a weak group; the others, then, join in so as to appear unified and strong. There is, also, the misguided concept of the ‘safety-in-numbers’ mentality; that no one individual is accountable if everyone joins in.

    I don’t necessarily believe french police are that much different to any other police force within a democracy but the ‘macho’ profile, and associated bullying mentality, can bring about aberrational behaviour when under pressure to take control.

    Of course, none of the above excuses a police officer killing another human being except under the most exceptional of circumstances.

    Arresting someone is NOT exceptional.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”