Thousands gather in France calling for action on claims of police racism and brutality

Thousands paid tribute to George Floyd in Paris on Tuesday as the prime minister insisted that France and its security forces were "not racist", following a string of allegations of heavy-handedness and police brutality.

Thousands gather in France calling for action on claims of police racism and brutality
All photos: AFP

Some placards at the rally, which took place at the same time as Floyd's funeral in Texas, drew parallels between Floyd and those who have recently died at the hands of the French police.

The killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, by white police officers on May 25th has sparked protests across the United States and inspired anti-racism rallies across the world.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who was not at the demonstration, said there had been a “very big, very legitimate, widely shared” outpouring of emotion after Floyd's death.

“France, the national police, the gendarmerie, are not racist. But every time there is a racist act… it's important that the whole country reacts,” he said in his first public comments on the topic since the rallies began.

The prime minister also called for “respect and trust” towards the police, saying that the public should hold the force to high standards.

Leaders of France's radical left France Unbowed party and other left-wing parties attended Tuesday's gathering, organised by the campaign group SOS Racisme.

Police said there were 2,400 people at the demonstration, while SOS Racisme estimated the crowd size at a much larger 12,000.

“There is a movement forming in the country against the horrible contamination of racism, where we wouldn't want to see it – in an important body, the police,” said France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The French protests have rallied around the case of a young black man, Adama Traore, who died in police custody in 2016.

READ ALSO Who was Adama Traore and why are there protests across France in his name?

His family have called for more demonstrations in France on Saturday.

Camelia Jordana – a singer and actress of Algerian descent who said last month that thousands of people like her feared being “massacred” by the police – sang “We Shall Overcome” at the meeting.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who rowed with Jordana over her comment last month, has moved to address some concerns about the police.

He banned police from using chokeholds to detain suspects and has promised “zero tolerance” for racism in law enforcement.

Castaner has acknowledged that too many officers “have failed in their Republican duty” in recent weeks, with several instances of racist and discriminatory remarks revealed.

Dominique Sopo, the president of SOS Racisme, welcomed Castaner's comments, saying it was understandable that citizens want the forces of order to be “beyond reproach”.

Last weekend, some 23,000 people protested in several French cities to demand justice for victims of crimes allegedly committed by police.

Tuesday's demonstration went ahead despite the social distancing measures currently in force to prevent any resurgence of the coronavirus.

Castaner acknowledged that worldwide feeling was running so high on this issue as to over-ride such considerations.

Similar, smaller gatherings also took place in other cities across France.

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Paris suburbs see third night of violence

The Parisian suburbs of Sevran, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Tremblay-en-France have seen clashes between residents and police, ever since an officer shot and killed the driver of a stolen van on Saturday.

Paris suburbs see third night of violence

Angry residents and police clashed for a third night in suburbs north of Paris, leading to 13 arrests following the fatal shooting of a father-of-four by an officer at the weekend, police said Tuesday.

Despite a heavy police presence to prevent further violence, several cars, a dozen bins and an abandoned sports centre were set alight overnight in the low-income Sevran, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Tremblay-en-France suburbs, a police source told AFP.

The unrest began Saturday after a police officer fatally shot the driver of a van that had been reported stolen and was being inspected at a traffic light in Sevran at around lunchtime.

The officer was hospitalised afterwards “in a state of shock,” local prosecutor Eric Mathais said Sunday, while internal police investigators have opened a probe into the incident.

Local people who knew the man named as Jean-Paul told AFP that he had taken a van owned by his employer who owed him wages.

They have also questioned how the officer could justify opening fire when his life was not in danger, which is the only justification for using a weapon under French law.

A protest march by the dead man’s family is expected in the next few days.

Residents in France’s multiracial suburbs often complain about heavy-handed policing methods and violence that have led to a series of scandals in recent years, including the February 2017 arrest of a black man who was allegedly sodomised with a police baton.

Police unions say officers often face hostility and attacks, and are faced with the difficult task of trying to maintain order in impoverished high-rise housing estates that in some cases are centres of drug dealing and other criminality.

The French government began a public consultation in February aimed at devising ways to increase public confidence in the police.