Several thousand people defied a coronavirus-related ban on protests to pay homage to George Floyd and Adama Traore, a French Black man who died in police custody.
Tear gas choked Paris streets as riot police faced off with protesters setting fires amid growing global outrage over Floyd’s death in the United States, racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics around the world.
Police had banned the protest because of coronavirus-related restrictions that forbid any gathering of more than 10 people.
French protesters took a knee and raised their fists while firefighters struggled to extinguish multiple blazes as a largely peaceful, multiracial demonstration degenerated into scattered tensions.
Paris says Black Lives Matterpic.twitter.com/YquMEv6sT5
— Yasmina Bennani (@YASMINAREBEL) June 2, 2020
Two small fires broke out, and green and grey barriers surrounding a construction site were knocked over.
Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille.
Many of the protesters drew inspiration from the protest movement in the US over the police killing of Floyd, an unarmed Black man, brandishing viral slogans in English such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe”.
“Today we are not just talking about the fight of the Traore family. It is the fight for everyone. When we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traore,” Adama’s sister Assa Traore said at the protest.
“What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France,” she added.
Protesters holding placards attend a banned demonstration planned in memory of Adama Traore, a 24-year old Black Frenchman who died in 2016 in police custody [Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters]
In 2016, following a dispute over an identity check, Traore, 24, was apprehended in a house where he hid after leading police on a 15-minute chase.
He lost consciousness in their vehicle and died at a nearby police station. He was still handcuffed when paramedics arrived.
One of the three arresting officers told investigators that Traore had been pinned down with their combined bodyweight after his arrest.
Last Friday, French medical experts exonerated the three police officers, dismissing a medical report commissioned by the young man’s family that said he had died of asphyxiation.
It was the third official report to clear the officers.
Adding to the controversy, a new probe commissioned by the Traore family said on Tuesday his death was caused by the arrest technique used by the officers, a source said.
‘Not violent, nor racist’
Paris police chief Didier Lallement wrote a letter to police officers defending their conduct, sympathising 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.
Star French actress Camelia Jordana, who is of Algerian origin, was rebuked last month by the French interior minister for saying people “get massacred” by the police in the Paris suburbs due to the colour of their skin.
Several French officers have also been investigated for brutality against members of the public at long-running “yellow vest” anti-government rallies, and more recent anti-pension reform strikes.