Paris police fire tear gas at protest of racial injustice
Paris – Riot police fired tear gas Tuesday as scattered protesters in Paris pelted them with debris and set fires during an unauthorized demonstration against racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics.
Several thousand people had previously rallied peacefully for two hours at the main Paris courthouse as global outrage over what happened to George Floyd in the United States kindled frustrations across borders and continents. The protesters also paid tribute to Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody.
Police had banned the protest because of coronavirus restrictions that had forbidden any gathering of more than 10 people.
As the demonstration wound down, police fired tear gas and protesters could be seen throwing debris. Two small fires broke out, and green and gray barriers surrounding a construction site were knocked over.
Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille. French protests sometimes degenerate into violence by a few rowdy demonstrators.
Earlier, thousands marched in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, chanting “I can’t breathe,” and expressions of anger erupted in multiple languages on social networks, with thousands of Swedes joining an online protest and others speaking out under the banner of #BlackOutTuesday.
Diplomatic ire percolated too, with the European Union’s top foreign policy official saying the bloc was “shocked and appalled” by Floyd’s death.
As protests escalated worldwide, solidarity with U.S. demonstrators increasingly mixed with local worries.
“When you refuse to treat the problem of racism … it leads to what we see in the United States,” said Dominique Sopo, head of French activist group SOS Racisme. “The case of George Floyd echoes what we fear in France.”
Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America – and now, beyond.
Fears of the coronavirus remain close to the surface and were the reason cited by the police for banning Tuesday’s protest at the main Paris courthouse. Gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned in France as part of virus confinement measures.
But the Paris protest plans drew attention online, and demonstrators showed up anyway. Demonstrations also were held in other French cities in honor of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s death.
The Traore case has become emblematic of the fight against police brutality in France. The circumstances of the death of the 24-year-old Frenchman of Malian origin are still under investigation after four years of conflicting medical reports about what happened.
The lawyer for two of the three police officers involved in the arrest, Rodolphe Bosselut, said the Floyd and Traore cases “have strictly nothing to do with each other.” Bosselut told The Associated Press that Traore’s death wasn’t linked with the conditions of his arrest but other factors, including a pre-existing medical condition.
Traore’s family says he died from asphyxiation because of police tactics – and that his last words were “I can’t breathe.”
“I can’t breathe” were also the final words of David Dungay, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney prison in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.
As 3,000 people marched peacefully through Sydney, many said they had been inspired by a mixture of sympathy for African Americans amid ongoing violent protests in the U.S. and to call for change in Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, particularly involving police. The mostly Australian crowd at the authorized demonstration also included protesters from the U.S. and elsewhere.
“I’m here for my people, and for our fallen brothers and sisters around the world,” said Sydney indigenous woman Amanda Hill, 46, who attended the rally with her daughter and two nieces.
“What’s happening in America shines a light on the situation here. It doesn’t matter if it’s about the treatment of black men and women from here or from another country; enough is enough,” she said.
A total of 432 indigenous Australians have died in police detention since a 1991 Royal Commission – Australia’s highest level of official inquiry – into Aboriginal deaths in custody, according to The Guardian newspaper.
Australia has also never signed a treaty with the country’s indigenous population, who suffer higher-than-average rates of infant mortality and poor health, plus shorter life expectancy and lower levels of education and employment than white Australians.
Another protest was planned Tuesday in the Dutch capital The Hague, and more than 6,000 people attended a Sweden-organized online protest to express support with the Black Lives Matter movement. Among speakers was Aysha Jones, a Gambia-born and Sweden-based activist and fashion blogger.
Jones said the protest was important to show support to people in America, but also to remind Swedes that racism “does exist here, it’s very real and people are being harmed from it.”
More protests in various countries are planned later in the week, including a string of demonstrations in front of U.S. embassies on Saturday.
The drama unfolding in the U.S. drew increasing diplomatic concern.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s remarks in Brussels were the strongest to come out of the 27-nation bloc, saying Floyd’s death was a result of an abuse of power.
Borrell told reporters that “like the people of the United States, we are shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd.” He underlined that Europeans “support the right to peaceful protest, and also we condemn violence and racism of any kind, and for sure, we call for a de-escalation of tensions.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said peaceful protests in the U.S. following Floyd’s death are “understandable and more than legitimate.”
“I can only express my hope that the peaceful protests do not continue to lead to violence, but even more express the hope that these protests have an effect in the United States,” Maas said.
More African leaders are speaking up over the killing of Floyd.
“It cannot be right that, in the 21st century, the United States, this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism,” Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement, adding that black people the world over are shocked and distraught.
Kenyan opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga offered a prayer for the U.S., “that there be justice and freedom for all human beings who call America their country.”
Like some in Africa who have spoken out, Odinga also noted troubles at home, saying the judging of people by character instead of skin color “is a dream we in Africa, too, owe our citizens.”
Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Peter Dejong in The Hague and Lori Hinnant in Paris.