PARIS — Paris police sprayed tear gas at bottle-throwing demonstrators on the margins of a rally Saturday meant to support a young black man who was allegedly raped with a police baton and other victims of police abuse.
Two police officers were injured and 13 people were arrested in the clashes, which involved about 150 of the thousands of mostly peaceful anti-racism demonstrators. The skirmishes marked the latest in a string of protests around the alleged rape that have degenerated into violence.
Police had installed a security perimeter around Paris’ Place de la Republique for the rally. Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, urged the government to ban the protest out of respect for police.
Demonstrators carried banners reading “Justice for Theo,” the name of the 22-year-old alleged rape victim. The protesters argue that Theo is just one example of many young minority men unfairly targeted by French police in ID checks and sometimes abused.
One officer has been charged with rape in the case, and three others with aggravated assault. All denied intentional wrongdoing. Former French national soccer star Lillian Thuram was among the Paris marchers Saturday calling for justice.
“Living in the public space is not the same, depending on the color of your skin,” he said. “We’re in 2017. This is a real shame.” Theo, whose last name has not been released, was hospitalized for two weeks after the reported attack in his hometown of Aulnay-sous-Bois northeast of Paris..
After an apparent video of the attack circulated online, angry youth torched cars and clashed with police for several days in suburbs around Paris. The violence was reminiscent of riots in 2005 that exposed France’s long-running problems between youths in public housing projects with high immigrant populations and police.
Demonstrator Hamid Djudi, 57, expressed frustration Saturday that successive French governments have failed to prevent abuse and discrimination. “In the 1980s, we were protesting racism … I was 20 years old in the ’80s. I used to face (police) controls four times a day,” he said. “History repeats itself. My own children are facing the same troubles.”
“One of them is an engineer, the other is a doctor, and my daughter is at the Institute of Political Studies. And they are controlled by police every time they go out of our building,” he lamented. “This is not normal. That’s why I decided to come here. To protest for my children.”
Theo has left Paris hospital and thanked supporters in France and abroad for rallying around him.