Thousands of people gathered in France on Saturday to demand justice for Adama Traoré, a young black man who died in police custody in 2016, and to denounce police violence and racism.
The protests, which took place in several cities across the country, were organized by the Truth and Justice for Adama committee, led by Traoré’s sister Assa. They coincided with the seventh anniversary of his death on 19 July 2016.
Traoré, who was 24 years old, died shortly after his arrest by three gendarmes in Beaumont-sur-Oise, north of Paris. He was pinned down by the officers and lost consciousness in their vehicle. He was pronounced dead at a nearby police station.
The exact circumstances and cause of his death are still disputed. The authorities have cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, citing various medical reports that pointed to pre-existing health conditions or a possible drug overdose.
However, the family and their lawyers have commissioned their own experts, who concluded that Traoré died of asphyxiation due to the weight of the officers on his body.
The case has become a symbol of the fight against police brutality and discrimination in France, especially in the working-class suburbs where many residents are from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The protesters also expressed their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and around the world, following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis last year.
They chanted “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe” – some of the slogans used by anti-racism activists globally.
They also held signs reading “Justice for Adama”, “Stop police impunity” and “The police kill and lie”.
Some of the demonstrations were banned by the authorities, who cited the risk of public disorder and the ongoing coronavirus restrictions that limit public gatherings.
In Paris, where a march was planned from Place de la République to Place de la Nation, the police headquarters issued a prohibition order on Friday.
However, hundreds of people defied the ban and gathered at Place de la République on Saturday afternoon. They were met by a large police presence and some clashes broke out. The police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, while some protesters threw projectiles and set fire to bins.
According to the Paris prosecutor’s office, 19 people were arrested and five police officers were injured.