Paris Black Lives Matter protesters: 'Who protects us from the police?'

3 June 2020, 02:13 | Updated: 3 June 2020, 09:08

Paris is no stranger to demonstrations. The French capital has a long tradition of protest, of banner, flags, chants and crowds. But this one was different.

Often, Parisian protests are about party politics, or the economy. The last big violent demonstration here involved a blend of disaffected trade unionists, some angry Gilets Jaunes and a group of people who just wanted a clash with the police. Which they got.

That day, the tear gas was sprayed around and the police came under attack, before the violence stopped and the peaceful protest resumed. The tension, which reached a violent crescendo, fell away.

But this time, the tension lingers. Because the police weren't just monitoring this protest - but were also the focus of its anger.

As we watched the aftermath of clashes in Porte de Clichy, a sign caught my eye. It said "Qui nous protege de la police?" It translates, simply, as "who protects us from the police?" And it's a question that is now resonating in Europe, just as it reverberates in the United States.

In Paris, there is another echo to events in America. Four years ago, a young Frenchman called Adama Traore was arrested in Paris.

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The police had actually been looking for his brother but, according to reports, Adama did not have his ID with him and tried to run away. Instead, he was arrested.

Somewhere along the line, in the next few hours, he died. The police say his death was due to a pre-existing health condition. His family say he was asphyxiated while being restrained by an overbearing police officer.

Parallels have been drawn with the death of George Floyd - Adama's sister even claimed this week that her brother's last words would have been the same: "I can't breathe."

For the past four years, his death has been the focus of anger, claim and counterclaim. But now the protests have been given much greater impetus because of events in America.

When I spoke to protesters in Paris, they told me they had simply had enough and wanted to add their voice to the global cacophony of anger. "We just want to live a normal life, without fear," said one.

The air in Paris had a couple of familiar smells after the protest - the acrid flavours of tear gas and burning plastic. The streets were full of debris; the riot police officers looked nervous. Sirens were a regular sound.

But what happens next with this nascent protest movement - in Paris, and in France and across Europe - is hard to predict.

Was this demonstration in the French capital a one-off event, or the start of a wave? For the moment, nobody knows.