Paris riot police fired tear gas to disperse a largely peaceful but unauthorized protest against police brutality and racism on Saturday.
At least 15,000 people rallied in the French capital, led by supporters of Adama Traoré, a French black man who died in police custody in 2016 in circumstances that remain unclear despite four years of back-and-forth autopsies. No one has been charged in the case.
“We are are all demanding the same thing - fair justice for everyone,” Traore’s sister Assa told the rally.
Myriam Boicoulin, 31, who was born in the French Caribbean island of Martinique, said she was marching because she wanted "to be heard.”
“The fact of being visible is enormous,” Boicoulin said. As a black woman living in mainland France, she said, “I’m constantly obliged to adapt, to make compromises, not make waves — to be almost white, in fact.”
“It’s the first time people see us", she added, “let us breathe.”
Angry shouts rose from the racially diverse crowd as a small group of other protesters climbed a building overlooking the demonstration and unfurled a huge banner denouncing “anti-white racism.”
Building residents then reached out of their windows and tore part of the banner down, one raising his fist in victory.
Officers prevented people attending the main rally from approaching the counter-demonstrators, who were later detained.
Riot police then fired tear gas and charged a few unruly members of the main protest, urging them to disperse.
The crowd had initially planned to march through the city, whose shops were closed between Place de la Republique and the city’s main opera house, but police decided to block them from marching.
Gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned in France due to containment measures.
Similar protests were also held on Saturday in other cities around France, from Rouen, in the northern region of Normandy, to Marseille, on the Mediterranean, as well as in Lyon, south-east.
Some demonstrators were encouraged that the French government responded to the past couple of weeks of Floyd-inspired protests by banning police chokeholds and launching investigations of racist comments in private Facebook and Whatsapp groups for police.
After meeting with union representatives, interior minister Christophe Castaner said on Friday that police will start experimenting with expanded use of stun-guns in the future, despite concerns about their safety.
French police unions held their own demonstrations on Friday, saying they're being unfairly labelled as racist because of a few officers, and that they don't have enough tools to deal with violent suspects.