Anger, activism grow over police abuse amid French lockdown

PARIS (AP) – With France confined to fight the virus, a video circulated online in April showing a young man lying on the bloody ground next to two police officers – and quickly set off protests in struggling neighbourhoods around the Paris region.

Sometime before, the man had been on a motorcycle. Then, he crashed into a suddenly opened police car door. Whether the door was opened on purpose or not is unclear, but what was clear was the anger the video sparked.

A protest that night in the town of Villeneuve-la-Garenne led to others in a dozen Paris suburbs and similar neighbourhoods around France in the ensuing days.

The relationship between police and marginalised residents of France’s low-income neighbourhoods, many of whom are Arab or black and trace their roots to former French colonies, has long been tense.

Safety measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 further empowered police – but also empowered community activists using apps or online sleuthing to track and challenge what they see as an abuse of police power.

George Floyd’s death in the US has resonated especially loudly in places like Villeneuve, one of many banlieues, or suburbs, where poverty and minority populations are concentrated in France.

Protesters demonstrate in Paris. PHOTO: AP