Wrongs In Wine-Land

Editor’s Note:

This article from Ferguson In Paris, an anti-police brutality group in France, does not contain a byline. The reason for this is because members of that group say they must maintain anonymity as much as possible remain to avoid abusive retaliation from authorities and others in France. “We publish under the name of the organization because of fierce repression regarding activists dealing with police brutality,” explained a Ferguson In Paris member during a recent email exchange with ThisCan’tBeHappening.net. The claimed support by French government authorities and other for freedom of speech following the fatal shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office last January 2015 apparently do not extend to French activists opposed to brutality by French police. (Ferguson In Paris, an organization that fights against police brutality and racism/discrimination in France, works in solidarity with anti-brutality groups in the United States.)


In 2005, the human rights monitoring organization Amnesty International published a report titled: “France: The search for justice.” That Amnesty report examined allegations of serious human rights violations by law enforcement officials across France between 1991 and 2005. Those human rights violations by law enforcers included unlawful killings, excessive use of force, torture, and other mistreatment. Racist abuse was reported in many cases examined by Amnesty and racist motivation appeared to be a factor in many more. As that report noted, the persistent targets of police abuse in France are “foreign nationals or French nationals of foreign origin.”

On the basis of the evidence examined, Amnesty International concluded that a pattern of de facto impunity existed with regard to police and other law enforcement officials in France. Failures by French officials “to address” police abuses have created a “climate of effective impunity for law enforcement officers,” the report stated.

That report identified a number of factors contributing to this impunity. Those factors included gaps or flaws in legislation; reluctance or failure of police, prosecutors and courts to thoroughly investigate and prosecute human rights violations involving law enforcement officials; and sentences which were not commensurate with the gravity of the crime. Like Ferguson and most other places in the United States, the Amnesty report stated that convictions of abusive police across France are “relatively rare, or when they occurred, sentences have mainly been nominal.”

The effects of this are most clearly visible in the outbreaks of violence that have occurred sporadically following deaths related to police interventions. For example, in November 2005, riots erupted after the deaths of two children — Zyed & Bouna – who were pursued by police officers in Clichy-sous-Bois, a town located outside of Paris. Regrettably, French authorities have failed to implement any of the key recommendations aimed at combating the human rights violations and impunity identified in Amnesty International’s 2005 report.

As a consequence, the problems identified in 2005 could still be found four years later as documented in a second report from Amnesty International titled: “Public Outrage, Police Officers Above the Law in France.” Issued in 2009, this secon report uncovered continuing allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement officials in France. The procedures for investigating such allegations are still failing to live up to the standards required by international law, and people in France still expect better in 2015.

Furthermore, just like Amnesty International, we are concerned at what appears to be an increasing trend in which individuals who protest or attempt to intervene when they witness apparent ill-treatment by law enforcement officials find themselves subjected to criminal charges of “outrage” (insulting a law-enforcement official) or “rebellion” (violently resisting a law-enforcement official in the course of his/her duties). These trends have a very serious dissuasive effect on individuals seeking justice for human rights violations they have witnessed or suffered from, and consequently exacerbate the existing climate of impunity.

Since the publication of Amnesty International’s 2005 & 2009 reports, allegations of mistreatment by law enforcement officials in France have continued. This abuse by police includes excessive or inappropriate use of force leading, in some cases, to permanent injury or death. Embedded in this abuse is persistent discriminatory behavior towards members of certain ethnic groups by members of the security forces and a lack of accountability for such acts.

This is the context in which Amadou Koumé, a 33-year-old father of three, died on March 6, 2015. During that fatal incident, a bartender called 911 because Koumé, who was seated alone at a table, seemed worried and was making incoherent comments aloud. The police called the French Anti-Crime Squad for backup and Koumé, under the influence of drugs, literally panicked at the sight of their guns.

Despite the fact that some clients and a barman testified that Koumé, although impressive in build, had notbeen violent to them, police put Koumé in a choke hold while they handcuffed him upon their arrival. Authorities determined that the death of Koumé was caused by “mechanical asphyxiation” -– just like the police custody deaths of Lamine Dieng in Paris in June 2007 and Hakim Ajimi in the French city of Grasse in May 2008.

The autopsy report on Koumé, dated March 21, 2015, was delivered to the family’s lawyer on April 29th, only after the case was revealed to the public on April 20th by the French newspaper, Le Parisien. The findings are overwhelming and the autopsy concluded that Amadou Koumé had died of “pulmonary edema induced by asphyxiation as well as facial and neck trauma.”

Since then, the family of Koumé and friends have been struggling for his case to be presented in court so that justice can be rendered over this brutal death that was initially proclaimed by law enforcement to be a “death consecutive to a dizzy spell.”

To display our frustration and distrust, we will demonstrate peacefully to demand Truth and Justice in Amadou Koumé case on Saturday, October 10, 2015 from Paris Nord Train Station.

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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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