France braces for new wave of protests against police brutality

France was bracing for a weekend of demonstrations against alleged brutality and racism by the police, a controversy that has gained resonance since protests erupted in the United States over the police killing of George Floyd.

France braces for new wave of protests against police brutality
A woman holds a sign at a protest in Strasbourg, eastern France. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

A new protest has been called for Saturday near the Eiffel Tower in Paris under the slogans “Let us breathe”, “No justice, no peace”, echoing the words used since Floyd's death sparked demonstrations across the US.

The call follows a tense 20,000-strong rally in Paris on Tuesday, remembering the death of black 24-year-old Adama Traore who died in police custody in 2016.

His death has long been a rallying cause for critics of the French police.

French authorities have banned two demonstrations against police brutality planned on Saturday in front of the United States' embassy in Paris, citing a coronavirus restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people.

There are also calls for demonstrations in Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Nantes and Metz.

Adding to tensions, the contents of a private Facebook group reserved for police members were published by the online media SteetPress on Thursday.

In the group, police officers repeatedly use racist and sexist terms and mock victims of police brutality.

“If the facts are proven to be true, these comments are unacceptable and seriously damage the honour of the police,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

Paris prosecutors quickly opened a preliminary investigation after a call from the minister. He had pledged on Wednesday that “every mistake, every excess, every word including racist expressions” by police would be “the subject of an investigation, a decision, a punishment”.

'Wake up'

In another embarrassment, reports said a black police officer filed a complaint against six white colleagues in December 2019, after discovering an abundance of racist messages on a private Whatsapp group, often concerning him.

The officers involved will face a disciplinary hearing, national police chief Frederic Veaux told AFP on Thursday. “The French police isn't racist,” he said.

READ: French police fire tear gas at protest in Lille over police violence

“It suffers from behaviour which in no way corresponds to the republican values it defends.” Government officials say incidents of racism are the deplorable actions of individuals, whereas critics say there is a systemic problem.

Black actor Omar Sy — best known for this role in the 2011 comedy “The Untouchables” — weighed in on the debate on Thursday, calling on the French to “wake up” and drawing parallels between the deaths of George Floyd and Adama Traore.

Medical reports

“Like Adama Traore, I ran when I crossed the path of the police. I didn't have an open microphone to say how real the fear of dying in the hands of the police is,” Sy said.

Traore ran from the police during a dispute over an identity check, before being apprehended.

He died after he was pinned to the ground with the combined body weight of three arresting officers, according to the testimony of one of them.

Last Friday, French medical experts said Traore did not die of “positional suffocation”, ruling out the officers pinning him to the ground as the cause of his death.

But on Tuesday, a new probe commissioned by the Traore family said his death was indeed caused by the arrest technique used.

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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.”