Are France’s Protests Against Police Brutality the Start of a New Movement?

Are France’s Protests Against Police Brutality the Start of a New Movement?
Demontrators hold a placard reading "Cop rapist go to jail" during a protest against alleged police abuse, Paris, Feb. 18, 2017 (AP photo by Francois Mori).

Earlier this month, protests broke out in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a northern suburb of Paris, after police allegedly raped a 22-year-old black man, known only as “Theo L.,” with a baton during an I.D. check. One police officer was charged with rape, and two with assault.

Despite a visit by French President Francois Hollande to Theo's hospital bedside in an effort to calm the situation, rallies and riots, some violent, spread across the suburbs of Paris where immigrant and immigrant-origin communities are concentrated. The protests soon made their way to central Paris, drawing thousands to Place de la Republique by the end of last week. On Thursday, riot police were deployed to some 16 high schools in Paris, where students protested and blocked entrances by setting trashcans on fire.

The conversation about racism in France, and particularly police practices targeting immigrant-origin communities, has grown louder in recent years. In July 2016, riots broke out when Adama Traore, a black Muslim, died in custody after being arrested by two plainclothes police officers in Beaumont-sur-Oise, another suburb north of Paris, while he was celebrating his birthday with his older brother.

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