After similar riots earlier this month, protests in Paris got violent again over the weekend.
On February 2, a black man, identified only as ‘Theo,’ aged 22, was arrested in the district of Aulnay-Sous-Bois by police. He alleged that one of the officers sexually assaulted him with a baton during the arrest. The arrest was caught on video and showed him beaten so badly that his injuries required surgery after. It was not clear that he was raped from the video evidence, though.
After the arrest, riots raged in Paris for several nights and spread to surrounding neighborhoods. The Telegraph reported at least 17 people were arrested in relation to the riots. Cars were set aflame and Molotov cocktails were thrown at police, according to reports by CBS/AP.
In a statement released by the French Interior Ministry, they claimed that one of the officers was under investigation for rape, and three others were being investigated for unnecessary violence, according to NBC News.
So why riots now, weeks later? The riots began as peaceful rallies outside the Bobigny court, where a hearing on the officers charged is due to be held February 20. After a police source said there was enough video and witness evidence to prove there was in fact a sexual assault, according to AFP news agency, the crowd gathered outside the courthouse to protest.
It quickly turned violent as some people began throwing things at riot police, according to Al Jazeera’s correspondent, David Chater, who was on scene: “Instead of being a peaceful demonstration trying to get justice outside the courthouse where we will hear what will happen to those police officers, this has turned into a series of running fights, in what I’m hearing will continue into the night.”
The decision has taken on a much deeper meaning than just a simple court ruling; it represents France’s tolerance –or lack of tolerance– toward police brutality. This comes on the heels of a previous assault on January 26 of a black male who was allegedly beaten by one of the four officers currently standing accused; an investigation into this account has now also been launched, according to Al Jazeera.
French President Francois Hollande visited Theo in the hospital shortly after the attacks, tweeting “Theo reacted with dignity and responsibility.” Hollande released a statement February 14 condemning the riots and saying, “Justice must be served.”
The hearing, due to be held in just under a week, will determine whether or not a trial will be held for the four officers.