Protesters take to streets of France, Germany to condemn police racism

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French police restrain a man wearing a yellow vest, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher fuel prices, as demonstrators block the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris, France, November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Four years after the death of a 24-year-old black man, Adama Traore, in French police custody, several thousands of people rallied in his memory on Saturday against the backdrop of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

The festive demonstration and concert in Beaumont-sur-Oise honored Adama Traore, who died on his 24th birthday in July 2016 after an arrest in circumstances that remain unclear. But it was also about broader anti-government grievances and climate activists co-organized this year’s protest. In addition to people close to the family, demonstrators included members of the “gilets jaunes” movement who staged a series of sometimes violent protests in 2018-19.

His case has put renewed focus on alleged police racism in France. Traore’s case has also shed light on the struggle of other French families who have lost a loved one in police custody, notably black and North African men, who French researchers have found are disproportionately targeted by police. According to a nationwide tally by news website Basta Mag, at least 101 police-related deaths are under investigation in France.

Family and friends of Traore continue to press for a full account of the circumstances leading up to his death amid heightened awareness of police brutality in a number of countries around the world. Traore’s sister Assa, who has led the family’s long legal fight, called Saturday for police to be charged with homicide in her brother’s death, saying her brother “took the weight of gendarmes” for several minutes. Family members of a half dozen others who died by alleged police violence addressed the crowd, some of whom held placards that read “I can’t breathe.”

In May, French medical experts exonerated three police officers involved in the arrest, saying that Traore did not die of “positional asphyxia,” or choking. Instead, the experts found Traore died of heart failure possibly brought on by underlying health conditions in a context of “intense stress” and physical exertion. French judges have now called on Belgian experts to conduct a forensic examination of the evidence, and their results are expected in January 2021.

Since George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in the U.S. in May, campaigning by Traore’s family and other French activists against police violence targeting minorities has gained renewed attention and mobilized thousands in protests around the European Union nation.

An anti-racism march was also taking place in the German capital, Berlin, on Saturday. Holding posters saying, “racism kills, mentally, physically, globally,” more than 1,500 protesters marched through the inner city to condemn police brutality. Given that coronavirus restrictions are still in place in public spaces across Germany, many wore face coverings and attempted to keep 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from other protesters.

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