Rights groups lead Paris rally against police brutality

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Officers stand guard in Aulnay-sous-Bois last month after clashes between police and youths. Photograph: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

Rights groups and victims’ families are holding a rally in Paris on Sunday against police brutality after the recent baton-rape of a young man heightened tensions over alleged beatings and deaths in police custody.

After a police officer was charged with raping a young black man, Theo, with a baton during a violent arrest in Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris last month, clashes and rioting broke out on estates around the French capital, leading to more than 250 arrests.

This week, a 37-year-old police officer, Damien Saboundjian, was found guilty of deliberate assault after shooting dead a suspect, Amine Bentounsi, as he chased him in a northern suburb of Paris in 2012. He was given a five-year suspended sentence. Advocates against police violence had hailed a Paris appeal court’s decision to overturn an earlier acquittal.

Daniel Merchat, the defence lawyer in the case, accused the appeal court of being anti-police. The Unité SGP-Police union protested against the verdict, complaining about the negative image of police in France: “Cops [are seen as] fascists, all violent, who don’t respect the law.”

French police are regularly accused of using excessive force in poorer neighbourhoods, particularly against black and minority ethnic suspects.

The French Human Rights League, which led Sunday’s protest march, said in a statement that the rally was to express “anger in the face of repeated police violence” and warn against “a perverted notion of public security and the protection of citizens”.

Amal Bentounsi, whose brother was shot dead by Saboundjian, was among organisers. She said police “seem to benefit from abject impunity” while those who mobilised to find out the truth about deaths were “victims of campaigns of criminalisation”.

The slow reaction of the authorities to the death in police custody of a young black man, Adama Traoré, in Beaumont-sur-Oise outside Paris last summer sparked accusations of police violence and a state cover-up. An investigation is ongoing.

After a demonstration in which the family demanded the truth about Traoré’s death and tried to access a local council meeting, two of the deceased’s brothers were found guilty of verbally and physically assaulting police officers, and one was jailed.

A third brother was found guilty of violence and given a jail sentence in a separate case this month. He was convicted of beating of a man who had made a complaint of violence against Traoré when they had been in prison together in 2015.

The Traoré family has said it has been unfairly targeted by the justice system. Assa Traoré, the sister who is leading their fight for justice, told Le Monde: “A second Traoré in prison, but no gendarme has yet been charged with my brother’s death. Where is justice in France?”

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