BEAUMONT-SUR-OISE, France — Singing “No justice, no peace!” thousands of protesters marched through a Paris suburb Saturday to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of a Black man in police custody whose case has mobilized broad anger against police brutality and racial injustice in France.
The festive demonstration and concert in Beaumont-sur-Oise honored Adama Traoré, 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.
Since George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police 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.
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.
Investigative efforts into the Traore case have revived in recent weeks, in the wake of Floyd-related Black Lives Matter protests.
“There are a huge number of names — they are immigrants, they are people from poor neighborhoods, they are Black, Arab, non-white — who are killed by police,” Assa Traore said Saturday.
“Why did those investigations happen four years later?” Assa Traore asked reporters. “These investigations are because the people put pressure on.”
On July 19, 2016, gendarmes approached Adama Traore and his brother for an identity check in Beaumont-sur-Oise north of Paris. Traore ran away because he didn’t have his ID, but the gendarmes arrested him. Within hours he was declared dead.
One gendarme initially said three officers jumped on Traoré to pin him down, but the gendarmes later denied that. A dozen court-ordered medical reports found various cardiac diseases were responsible. The Traoré family countered those with an independent autopsy and medical reports pointing to asphyxiation.
The case is still under investigation, and lawyers for the officers deny police were at fault. No one has been charged.
Saturday’s broad-based march was the result of years of community organizing by the Traoré family. Undocumented migrants, climate activists and yellow vest protesters for economic justice were among those taking part, under the rallying cry “we want to breathe.”
The procession was led by a truck with banner representing Floyd’s and Traoré’s faces blended together, and marched past the building where Traore was arrested and the police station where he was pronounced dead.
Traoré’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.
Ramata Dieng, whose 25-year-old brother Lamine Dieng died in a police van in 2007, spoke at Saturday’s rally and asked for “the creation of an independent body tasked with looking into instances of police violence.” Dieng, whose family is French-Senegalese, also asked for a ban on heavy police weaponry and the repeal of a 2017 law that expanded French police powers.
France’s government recently agreed to pay Dieng’s family 145,000 euros ($166,000) to end legal proceedings over his death under a settlement brokered by the European Court of Human Rights.
Protesters also demanded that police convicted of violence be removed from their jobs.
Traoré, whose family is of Malian origin, told The Associated Press that she wants a ban on dangerous techniques that police use to immobilize people and wants France to scrap police oversight agencies, which are currently composed of police themselves, in favor of independent bodies.
Protester Teissir Ghrab of climate activist group Alternatiba said France’s poor suburbs, home to large immigrant and non-white populations living in cramped, neglected housing projects, “are the most impacted by climate change, by polluted air and water,” and called for an alliance between anti-police violence activists and climate activists.