Thousands defy bans in France to rally against police violence

Thousands of French protesters have defied a ban on marching in central Paris, following a week of violence sparked by the killing of a teenager in a Parisian suburb, which led to riots.

The protesters, numbering in the hundreds, were observed peacefully marching towards the wide Magenta Boulevard, as they dispersed from Paris’s huge Place de la Republique on Saturday, with the police present.

Following the protest, the Paris law enforcement agency announced that two individuals were apprehended. They stated that a “climate of strained relations” had resulted in the prohibition of the scheduled protest.

Demonstrators referred to the prohibition as “astonishing”.

Felix Bouvarel, a health practitioner who attended the event despite the prohibition, declared, “However, the right to gather is in jeopardy. In France, we still relish the freedom of speech.”

Masked protesters walk amid tear gas during clashes at a march in tribute to Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager killed by a French police officer during a traffic stop, in Nanterre, Paris suburb, France, June 29, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
Masked protesters walk amid tear gas during clashes in a Paris suburb [File: Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters]

About 30 demonstrations also took place across France, including in the southern port city of Marseille and the eastern city of Strasbourg, where there was also police violence.

Officials in Lille prohibited a gathering.

The 17-year-old, who is of Algerian and Moroccan descent, was driving a sports car without a license. In the Nanterre suburb of the French capital, protests erupted following the death of Nahel M during a traffic stop, just one week after the country was shaken by demonstrations.

An officer of the law is presently under investigation for the commission of voluntary manslaughter; his lawyer claims that he had no intent to cause the demise of the adolescent.

Around 2,500 structures suffered damage. Earlier this week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin revealed that over 3,000 individuals, predominantly adolescents, were apprehended during six consecutive nights of unrest, culminating a week ago.

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In the United States, the killing of George Floyd bore resemblance to the situation in which a Black Frenchman named Adama Traore passed away while in police custody back in 2016, leading to protests organized by his family.

She expressed, “The authorities have chosen to exacerbate the situation” and “disregard the passing of my younger sibling,” Assa Traore, Adama’s elder sister, condemned the police prohibition in a video shared on Twitter.

Assa Traore, who attended the rally at Place de la Republique, said that she took part in the gathering to tell the whole world that we have the right to exist and to commemorate the dead.

At the gathering, which was likewise attended by various lawmakers, she expressed, “They desire to conceal our fatalities. We are parading for the younger generation to condemn law enforcement brutality.”

She added, “The police is violent and racist. France cannot give us moral lessons. They do not allow us to march, but they authorize marches by neo-Nazis.”

Since the shooting, the police have also been called upon to address allegations of racial profiling and questions regarding recruitment, training, and rights groups.

On Friday, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) asked France to pass legislation defining and banning the excessive use of force by law enforcement, as well as questioning and profiling based on race, according to independent experts.

According to the CERD’s concern regarding the consistent practice, individuals belonging to minority communities, specifically individuals of African and Arab descent, face racial profiling alongside the disproportionate utilization of force during law enforcement, particularly by the police.

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Nonetheless, political figures like President Emmanuel Macron and the French government have rejected the notion of widespread racism within the country’s law enforcement institutions.

On Saturday, France’s foreign ministry challenged the “excessive” and “unfounded” comments made by the UN panel.

Far-right parties have called for restrictions on new immigrants, connecting the recent riots in France, which are the most severe and widespread since 2005, to the influx of migrants.

Campaign groups say Saturday’s marches will be an opportunity for people to express their anger and grief towards discriminatory police policies, especially in working-class neighborhoods.

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