Police brutality is in the spotlight yet again after a French officer was charged in the rape of a Black man during a violent ID check in a suburb just outside of Paris on Thursday, Feb. 2.
Four officers arrived at a housing complex in the Aulnay-sous-Bois suburb that evening when they began stopping youths and demanding that they show some identification, according to The Guardian. During the operation, a 22-year-old Black man identified as “Theo” was forced to the ground and physically beaten by police.
One of the officers has since been charged with anally raping Theo with a baton, causing such severe injury to his rectum that the young man had to undergo vital emergency surgery. The three other officers involved in the attack were charged with assault; all four cops have been suspended from the force until their trials, The Guardian reported. Despite Theo’s extensive injuries, the officers have all denied the charges against them.
“This is an exceptionally serious case,” Éric Dupond-Moretti, the attorney for Theo’s family, told France Inter radio. “There was blood everywhere, on the walls.”
The prosecutor’s office claimed the police had stopped a group of about a dozen youths after hearing reports of drug dealing sites in the area. They said during the operation, the officers attempted to arrest Theo, a local youth worker with a clean criminal record. When the young man tried to resist, the officers used tear gas while “one of them used an expandable baton.”
But Theo’s account of the police attack that day greatly differed from that of the officers. He told his attorney that during the “violent” ID check, one of the policemen ripped his bag and proceeded to beat him.
“I didn’t try to run away,” the young man said. “I told the officers: ‘You’ve torn my bag,’ to which they replied that they didn’t give a damn. They all tried to grab me. I asked them why they were doing this, but they just continued to throw insults at me.”
One of the officers “told me to put my hands behind my back,” Theo continued. “They put handcuffs on me and then they told me to sit down. They sprayed tear gas in my face and then I had a pain in my buttocks. My trousers were lowered. I was in serious pain.”
The Independent reported that French police are known for regularly wielding excessive force in poorer areas, especially against Blacks and other ethnic minorities. The dubious in-custody death of a young Black man named Adama Traoré in another Paris suburb last summer, plus the slow reaction of local authorities to investigate the matter, spurred accusations of police violence and an attempted cover-up, according to the newspaper.
Thursday’s attack involving Theo sparked widespread protests in and around Aulnay-sous-Bois, with nearly 3,000 demonstrators turning out in support of the young man on Saturday. Some held banners bearing the message “Justice for Theo,” while others resorted to violence, setting fire to parked cars and vandalizing a bus shelter, The Guardian reported. Riot police were sent into the area on Sunday.
Supporters also took to social media to voice their support for Theo, while also denouncing the all-too-common police violence against Blacks and other ethnic minorities.
"Non à la violence" et "On est tous Theo" scandent les manifestants #justicepourtheo #aulnaysousbois pic.twitter.com/RoXze8l0uR
— Kozi Pastakia (@Kozi_P) February 6, 2017
PSA: France is a white supremacist fantasy where police brutality and racism is the order of the day. #JusticePourTheo https://t.co/ugmr3fCxdu
— Tese (@TheBlackTCK) February 7, 2017
The police brutality that BLACK Folk face worldwide is due to white supremacy; our oppression & liberation interlinked#JusticePourThéo
— 👑 𝓞𝓻𝓲𝓽 𝓥𝓲𝓫𝓮𝓼™ (@Empress_Orit) February 7, 2017
This is a horrific, violent, racist, sexual violence by French police against a black man. #JusticePourTheo https://t.co/Xchm0htLAO
— Fine Gael & Fianna Fail Delenda Est (@Lamhfada) February 6, 2017
This the France I hate. https://t.co/81znzBAbTg
— Guilaine Kinouani (@KGuilaine) February 7, 2017
“All light must be shed” on this “unbearable and unacceptable” attack, said Bruno Beschizza, the right-wing mayor of Aulnay-sous-Bois, who’s also a former police officer. “The police are there to protect and not to humiliate our fellow citizens.”
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist presidential candidate, echoed Beschizza’s sentiments, calling for a diligent and transparent inquiry into the violent incident. He also tweeted the police “represent the Republic that protects” and “trust must urgently be restored.”