French hold rallies against police violence, racism

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Despite a ban on public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, a fresh round of rallies have drawn tens of thousands of people across France to take to the streets to denounce police brutality and racism on Saturday.

Several thousand people converged to the Republic square in central Paris, demanding "Justice for Adama Traore" -- a 24-year-old black Frenchman who died in police custody four years ago. The case, according to protesters, happened in circumstances similar to the death of George Floyd in the United States last month.

Protesters also carried posters reading "Stop police violence" "No justice, No peace" and "Remaining silent is to be an accomplice."

In Marseille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Montpellier and Nantes, people also took to the streets to join Traore's family support group to condemn police violence.

"It's a rally to denounce the denial of justice, a rally to denounce police violence, social violence and racial violence," said Assa, Traore's sister.

"The death of George Floyd has an echo in the death in France of my little brother," she told the crowds at Paris rally. "My brother said the same thing as George Floyd -- 'I can no longer breathe.'"

France's state investigators had dismissed the charge of police brutality in Traore case, saying that the man died of heart failure due to pre-existing medical conditions.

While Floyd's death triggered anti-racism protests around the world, the Traore case came back under the spotlight in France after a new probe commissioned by Traore's family said the young man died of asphyxiation due to the technique police officers used during the arrest.

Last Saturday, the first round of national rallies gathered 23,300 people across the country, including 5,500 in Paris, according to the Interior Ministry.

Early this week, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner vowed "zero tolerance" to police racism, stressing that "each suspicion must lead to an investigation and each mistake to a sanction."

He announced that the chokehold arrest would be abandoned and no longer be taught in police and gendarmerie schools. He also ordered to reinforce the use of body cameras.

Finding the racism allegations unjustified, police unions held their own protests across French cities on Friday. Thousands of policemen walked out from police stations to demand an end of police "stigmatization." 

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