Protests condemning police brutality in America exposes French institutional racism.

The killing of George Floyd in the US has reinvigorated the anger after the death of Adama Traore, allegedly at the hands of French police officers, in Paris almost four years ago.

The family of the 24-year-old from Mali has been battling a "state cover-up", and yesterday a staggering show of solidarity of more than 20,000 people filled the streets of Paris demanding accountability and transparency from the state.

"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," his sister, Assa said, one of the main organisers of the protest.

Anas Daif, a 25-year-old from Paris who attended the march, believes that the protests in the US were a "wake-up call" for communities of colour in France.

"I think that what happened in the US pushed more people in France [especially] communities of colour but also white people, to step up and raise their voice against police brutality in France," said Daif speaking to TRT World.

"Even though we don't share the same history with the US. There's a sort of mirror effect, seeing all these Black people die, especially for the Black community here," he added.

The peaceful protests were one of the largest since the lockdown came into effect in March. By the end, tear gas was a feature.

The social and political convulsions that Floyd's death has caused in the US are now reverberating across the Atlantic as minorities in France reflect on their treatment at the hands of the police.

Conflicting medical assessments by the French state regarding Traore's killing has seen the family doggedly seeking justice.

'Racism is deeply rooted'

The French NGO 'Basta!', which means 'enough', has been keeping a grim tally of the increasing number of people that have died in police custody. 

In 2019 alone, there were 29 deaths, with 2017 the deadliest year on record with a total of 36 deaths.

The numbers have been on a steady upward trajectory since 2010 impacting mostly minorities.

As a consequence of police brutality, there have been regular flareups in immigrant neighbourhoods which have turned into full-blown riots primarily aimed at the state and the police force.

"Racism is deeply rooted in the French police institutions," says Daif, adding, "for instance, in the 70s/80s, police officers in France used brutality against the communities of colour (from Africa and North Africa included) with techniques taught during the colonial era whereas, in the States, I think that their repressive methods are taught from the slavery and segregation eras."

Even as people of colour protest against police violence and discrimination, the French president Emmanuel Macron has denied that police brutality exists, scolding citizens for suggesting otherwise.

"I don't like the word repression because it doesn't reflect reality," said Macron when challenged about police violence towards the Yellow Vest movement in 2019, which for many has exposed the deep flaws in policing to wider French society.

Macron's public comments are in stark contrast to the lived reality of Traore's family.

The changing narratives emanating from the state on exactly how Adama died, highlights discrepancies at the heart of France's justice system and for some, its inability to defend people of colour.

The first autopsy in the immediate aftermath of his death in 2016, found that the victim had suffered a heart attack induced by alcohol, medication and a pre-existing lung infection. 

A second independent medical opinion in 2017 was sought by the family, which discovered no pre-existing medical conditions or intoxicants.

Another government report in 2018 concluded that Traore had died due to sickle cell disease, which reduces oxygen delivered to the body and mainly affects Black people.

Again the family challenged this conclusion seeking independent expert medical opinion, which in 2019 found that sickle cell disease was not the cause of death.

A new state-led investigation was opened on 29 May 2020. It found that Traore did not die of asphyxiation but from "cardiogenic edema", a heart condition. The family has rejected those findings issuing a counter medical report.

Yesterday's massive protests in Paris and other cities in France, have come at a time that threatens a "political crisis in which the state uses its strength to quash anything that threatens its power."

Protected by the state

When the coronavirus pandemic hit France earlier this year, it struck France's ethnic minorities on two levels: first, they tried to keep themselves safe from the virus and secondly, from the police.

The pandemic in France, like in many other countries, has exposed socio-economic inequalities. Ethnic minorities in many of France's run down banlieues found themselves at higher risk of both contracting and dying from the coronavirus.

The slow response by the Macron government in dealing with the spread of the killer disease has been emphasised by the country having the fifth largest mortality rate in the world at almost 29,000 deaths.

When the government eventually took action, ethnic minorities also saw a crackdown by the implementation of draconian policies.

"The confinement was ordered in a rush and in a highly volatile social situation. It was ordered in the aftermath of the Yellow Vest movement and a series of social protests led by doctors, nurses and teachers," says Yasser Louati, a French human rights activist leading the NGO' Committee for Justice & Liberties For All'.

Implementation of the lockdown also reflected internal social tensions in the country, according to Louati.

"When the confinement was ordered the police cracked down on the banlieues and showed outrageous complacency with the white neighbourhoods of downtown Paris," said Louati speaking to TRT World.

Videos on social media showed police officers aware of white people breaking lockdown rules in contrast "for young Black people and Arabs in France, the police showed the utmost brutality even in cases where people were outside to buy their groceries or to take the trash out."

The need by Emmanuel Macron's government to ensure a lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus saw the police be given a "blank cheque". It, in essence, ensured that "police brutality" would continue unabated Louati said.

Black people, Arabs and Muslims throughout the country were already accustomed to a "complete absence of oversight and total impunity" by the police who operate with the full backing of the state, he says. But "today they are behaving like a gang outside the rule of law," referring to measures implemented over the last three months.

Internationalising the struggle for human rights

Suspicion towards the police in France and the US are deeply held - it is seen as a fraternity that looks after its own.

"Lots of people from the communities of colour in the working-class neighbourhoods (especially Black and North-African) are afraid of the police," said Daif adding "it's hard for us. It's hard to trust them."

A video in April of this year captured the moment: two police officers can be heard racially insulting a North African man who had been pulled out of the river, with one of the officials suggesting they should have let him drown.

"Lots of police officers intimidate and sometimes attack young males. Racial profiling is common."

"There's a famous quote from 'La Haine'" says Daif, a harrowing film that depicts the life of a young Arab who is arrested and beaten to an unconscious state by the police. "Who's going to protect us from the police?" says the protagonist.

Yasser Louati believes the answer to that question is in "activists from both sides of the Atlantic to be politically mature enough to connect the dots and look beyond their national agenda and to see the parallels between their own experiences and what others are going through in other countries."

The police violence in the US has resonated for some time in France with the rallying cry "Black Lives Matter" being used in protests as far back as 2017.

Louati argues that the struggle for equality in France has always been influenced and inspired by international currents.

"We have to remember that most of the activists in France found their inspiration not only in the de-colonial struggles of Africa, Asia and the Middle East but also in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s in the US."

If activists on both sides of the Atlantic can reconnect these dots, argues Louati, then "the French government would naturally worry."

"There is always a continuity of repression wherever it happens. Governments walk with one another to share knowledge, practice, expertise and intelligence. Whoever cares about human rights should recognise that."  

Source: TRT World