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President Hollande with Theo; car burning
Paris

Racial riots hit France once again

The arrest of a black male has triggered several nights of racially charged riots in France. The unrest shows that non-white youths in the country's suburbs see an opportunity to enhance their political bargaining power.

Published: February 11, 2017, 6:25 am

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    President Francois Hollande visited the man only known as “Theo” in hospital and Prime Minister Bernard Cazenueve said Wednesday the government expressed its “solidarity” with the alleged victim.

    But the initial police investigation found insufficient evidence to support allegations that “Theo” was anally raped with a police truncheon, a police source told AFP on Thursday. Investigators said they had taken into account “the questioning of the victim by [police officers], eyewitness accounts and CCTV recordings” and had concluded that “there are insufficient elements to show that this was a rape”.

    The alleged drug dealer required surgery for anal injuries and also suffered head trauma in a case that has ignited the immigrant suburbs of France once again.

    In 2005, after two black youths died from electrocution while hiding from police, riots that lasted for weeks shook France, with youths burning cars and buildings in the suburbs. Around 10 000 cars were burned and 6 000 people were arrested.

    On Thursday last week, the accuser said four police officers who were patrolling in the housing estate “Cite des 3000” in Aulnay-sous-Bois, in Seine-Saint-Denis, northeast of Paris, raped him with a baton. An investigation was opened against the four police officers, now suspended. One of them is accused of rape.

    The 22-year-old Theo resisted arrest, according to the officer charged. “I wanted him to lose his balance and fall to the ground, so that we could handcuff him more easily,” he told French media. But Theodore, who’s still in hospital, disputes this version. “I saw him taking his baton and pushing it in deliberately,” he said.

    The police responded to a warning cry by a group of local drug dealers. Theo was part of the group.

    Right after the alleged “rape”, riots broke out – first in Aulnay-sous-Bois, then in other adjacent cities. An appeal by Theo from his hospital bed to residents of Aulnay “not to go to war” had no impact as black and Arab youths continued their rampage.

    The trouble has spread to other immigrants areas in the country. Some 28 people were detained in neighbouring Parisian suburbs for “throwing objects, lighting fires and violence”. In northwestern France, 20 people were arrested in Nantes following a demonstration of around 400 people in support of Theo and incidents of public violence occured in the city of Rennes as well.

    On Wednesday night, while hundreds of people took to the streets in Rennes and Nantes, police say it was quieter in Aulnay-sous-Bois after several nights of car burnings.

    “The youths in the suburbs are feeling stigmatized and unfairly treated. The police deal with them in a brutal way and control them frequently, although ID checks don’t even make sense – the police know who they are,” said a leftist sociology lecturer from Nantes University.

    The police defended ID controls and said they were part of standard procedure: “There are at least 10 local drug dealers in the Cite 3000 and we need to do something about this, don’t we?” Arnaud Leduc from the police union Unite SGP in Seine-Saint-Denis said in response.

    “Furthermore, police work is extremely difficult in this Cite, which is known to be an anti-police neighbourhood,” Leduc added.

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