Thousands in Paris protest death of black man in police custody

Romain FONSEGRIVES
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The huge turnout outside the Paris court at a banned protest for Adama Traore, who died in police custody in 2016

Thousands of people on Tuesday defied a ban to protest in Paris over the death of a young black man in French police custody in 2016, using slogans that echoed the protest movement raging in the US.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement had refused permission for the rally to go ahead outside a Paris court for protesters calling for justice for Adama Traore, whose death has long been a subject of controversy in France.

Many of the protesters on Tuesday drew inspiration from the protest movement in the United States over the police killing last week of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, brandishing viral slogans in English such as "Black Lives Matter" and "I can't breathe".

"Today we are not just talking about the fight of the Traore family. It is the fight for everyone. When we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traore," elder sister Assa Traore told the protest.

"What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France," she added.

The Traore case sparked has long been a rallying cause against police brutality in France, which young, black men say is often targeted at them.

Following a dispute over an identity check, Traore, 24, was apprehended in a house where he hid after leading police on a 15-minute chase in 2016.

He lost consciousness in their vehicle and died at a nearby police station. He was still handcuffed when paramedics arrived.

One of the three arresting officers told investigators that Traore had been pinned down with their combined bodyweight after his arrest.

Last Friday, French medical experts exonerated the three police officers, dismissing a medical report commissioned by the young man's family that said he had died of asphyxiation.

It was the third official report to clear the officers.

Adding to the controversy, a new probe commissioned by the Traore family said Tuesday that his death was caused by the arrest technique used by the officers, a source said.

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- 'Not violent, nor racist' -

Lallement meanwhile wrote a letter to police officers defending their conduct, sympathising with the "pain" officers must feel "faced with accusations of violence and racism, repeated endlessly by social networks and certain activist groups".

The Paris police force "is not violent, nor racist: it acts within the framework of the right to liberty for all," he insisted in an email to the city's 27,500 law enforcers.

Star French actress Camelia Jordana, who is of Algerian origin, was rebuked last month by the French interior minister for saying people "get massacred" by the police in the Paris suburbs due to the colour of their skin.

Several French officers have also been investigated for brutality against members of the public at long-running "yellow vest" anti-government rallies, and more recent anti-pension reform strikes.

Scores of protesters were maimed by rubber bullets or stun grenades, some losing an eye or a hand.

On January 3 this year, a 42-year-old man suffocated to death after being pinned face down to the ground during an arrest in Paris.

Last week, a 14-year-old was badly injured in one eye during a police operation in Bondy, one of Paris's northern suburbs, sparking protests.

Lallement insisted Tuesday that any officer found to have acted wrongly would be appropriately punished.

"But I will not accept that individual actions throw into question the republican bulwark that we are against delinquency and those who dream of chaos and anarchy," he wrote.

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