French Protests: Masses Rise Against Police Violence

Protests Against Police Violence Erupt Across France

Activist Assa Traore led thousands of families, community groups, and far-left activists in protests against racism and police brutality in cities across France on Saturday, September 23, 2023. This demonstration comes at a time when French police presence is high due to a series of high-security events. Tensions escalated during the Paris rally, with clashes breaking out on the outskirts of the protest.

March for Change

The nationwide protest, organized by the left, followed a tragic incident three months ago. A youth was fatally shot at point-blank range by a policeman during a routine traffic check, sparking over a week of riots in Paris and other cities. Demonstrators of all ages carried placards with powerful messages such as “Stop state violence,” “Don’t forgive or forget,” and “The law kills.” They focused their discontent on article 435-1 of the internal security code, which grants authorities the ability to use firearms when a suspect refuses to comply. The radical left and groups like France Unbowed (LFI) had called for this demonstration.

Scale of the Protests

Unions estimated a turnout of around 80,000 people participating in demonstrations throughout France, including 15,000 in Paris. However, the interior ministry reported a much lower number of 31,300 nationwide, with 9,000 protesters in Paris.

Violence Erupts On the Margins

The government swiftly condemned the “unacceptable violence” that emerged on the outskirts of the Paris march. As a group of hooded individuals wearing black attire broke away from the main protest, chaos ensued. They vandalized a bank branch, threw objects at a police car caught in traffic, and attacked officers who were trapped in their vehicle. The Paris police reported that the car sustained damage from a crowbar, leading them to deploy anti-riot officers. Three officers suffered minor injuries during the incident.

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A video later surfaced, showing masked protesters relentlessly kicking the police car as one individual smashed a window with a crowbar. In response, an officer stepped out of the vehicle and brandished his service weapon, though he did not fire it and quickly got back inside. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin expressed his dismay with the violent act, stating, “We see where anti-police hatred leads.” Paris police chief Laurent Nunez confirmed that three people were arrested in connection with the incident. Overall, a total of six individuals were apprehended across France, according to the Ministry of the Interior’s report.

Pain of Injustice

Among the protesters in Lille was 27-year-old Mohamed Leknoun, whose brother Amine was killed last year after refusing to obey police orders. Leknoun expressed his frustration at the lack of progress in the investigation since the police officer responsible for his brother’s death was indicted. He stated, “All this injustice destroys families,” emphasizing the personal toll taken by police violence.

A Damning Report

The march took place just days after the IGPN, the inspectorate responsible for investigating police misconduct, released its annual report on the use of force by officers. The report revealed that in 2022, 38 individuals died as a result of police action, with 22 being shot dead. Thirteen of these deaths involved cases where individuals refused to comply with a police order. These figures raise concerns about the excessive use of force by law enforcement in France.

Further spotlighting the issue, in July, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, composed of 18 independent experts, flagged concerns over racial profiling in France. The committee called for the government to adopt legislation specifically defining and prohibiting racial profiling.

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As protests against police violence continue to ripple across France, the challenge for authorities lies in addressing the underlying issues and working towards a more just and equitable society.

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