As of June 11, France is reporting 155,561 confirmed coronavirus cases and 29, 346 Covid-19 deaths, 25 percent more deaths per capita than the United States and centered in Paris. Despite the risks, tens of thousands have flooded the streets of Paris and other cities and towns to take a stand against racism, inspired by the George Floyd protests in the United States and angered by France’s long and brutal record of colonial domination, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant racism, and police brutality. The police murder of Adama Traoré by police in 2017 and the subsequent coverup, and his family and supporters fight for justice, is one in a long line of abuses by Muslim and immigrant communities at the hands of French security forces. The latest protests have forced President Emmanuel Macron’s government to announce a ban on police chokeholds, but few expect this last-minute reform will quell antiracist anger and demands for change.
Julien Salingue is a member of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA). He is the co-editor (with Celine Lebrun) of Israel, un Etat d’apartheid? (L’Harmattan, Paris, 2013) and the forthcoming Palestine d’Oslo (Cahiers de l’Iremmo). Translated and published by International Viewpoint, republished here by No Borders News.
A tremendous political acceleration is underway. This is how we can describe what we have seen in France for the last ten days around the issue of racism and police violence. You would have to be very perceptive to have anticipated two weeks ago that these themes would occupy a central place in public debate, to the point that Assa Traoré (Adama Traoré’s family member) was invited on set on BFM-TV and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner was forced into making announcements which were very badly received by the police unions.
The death of George Floyd in the United States, and the mobilizations that followed, obviously played a role in triggering the sequence of events we are going through today. However, it would be especially wrong to suggest, as some editorialists and politicians do, that the major demonstrations that have taken place in France in recent days are only a form of mimicry of what is happening in the U.S. In France as elsewhere, there are common issues at the international level and specific issues linked to national histories.
The argument that “France is not the United States,” aimed at disqualifying the denunciation of structural racism in France, is as such, as consistent as the argument that “Israel is not South Africa,” brandished against those who call Israel an apartheid state. There is never a strict equivalence between two historical and/or national situations, which does not prevent us from identifying similar processes and grouping situations under a common “label.” Would anyone say that we cannot speak of representative democracy in France and in the U.S. on the pretext that “France is not the United States?”
The collective denials that have appeared in the mainstream media in the face of the systemic nature of racism is, moreover, precisely part of the mechanics of systemic racism, In fact, one of the conditions for racism’s reproduction is its “self-negation” through its dilution in denouncing individual “bad behavior.” Note that this phenomenon echoes the discourse claiming that there are “sexist men” and “sexist behavior” but denying the structural nature of the oppression of women. In recent days, this attitude towards racism has been pushed to the point of caricature, with the ad nauseam repetition of the formula “There are racist police officers but there is no racism in the police force.”
“Something” is happening
The anti-racist mobilizations of the past two weeks are not a flash in the pan, and reflect dynamics deeply rooted in society. When, on May 30, thousands of undocumented migrants and their supporters marched through the streets of Paris despite a city-wide ban, “something” happened. When, on June 2, tens of thousands of people, mostly young, even very young, people of color, from working-class neighborhoods, gathered before the Paris Appeal Court around particularly radical slogans, again despite a city-wide ban, “something” is happening.
Yes, there is institutional racism in France, which is expressed as much in the criminal policies with regard to migrants and undocumented migrants as in the systematic practice of facial recognition checks, which are often the excuse police use to commit crimes. And it is against this institutional racism that tens of thousands of people, at the forefront those “directly affected,” are rising up today in France, rather than against dangerous ideas or intolerable individual behavior.
A relationship of forces is being created
In recent days, the question of racism and police violence has been raised in public debate on a scale unprecedented in France. The weakness of the government is palpable, given its dependence on good relations with the cops and their organizations, to the point that Interior Minister Castaner was forced to issue several announcements (ending the use of choke holds, suspension of police officers guilty of racism) and that President Macron himself ordered the Minister of Justice Nicole Belloubet to look intoAdama Traoré’s case as soon as possible.
The Adama Committee’s response (formed by his family and supporters) was stinging, as they refused to meet the minister and called for a new day of mobilization on Saturday June 13. Meanwhile, the Marche des Solidarités has called for a mobilization on June 20 for undocumented migrants. A relationship of forces has been created, that we should continue to build, rejecting all diversions, whether they come from the government or from a certain “left” which has for many years has been distinguished only by its absence in struggles against racism and police violence, when it has not itself been the legitimate target of these struggles when it was in power. A relationship of forces which has, moreover, already begun to contribute to changing the global social and political climate, giving an explosive character to the emergence from the coronavirus lockdown and encouraging all kinds of mobilizations.
[For international news and analysis from working-class and socialist points of view, read No Borders News.]