Days of protests have been rocking the Parisian suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois after the alleged rape of a young black man in police custody. Elvis Zannou, a local resident, describes the recurring police violence in the “3000” projects.
On February 2, 2017, four officers arrested a 22-year-old youth worker named as Théo, with no criminal record, in projects known as “3000” located in the northeastern Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois.
Shortly thereafter, he was taken to the hospital, where medical tests confirmed that he had been sodomised with a police baton. The baton had been pushed in as far as 10 centimetres [about 4 inches].
The four officers have since been suspended. One has been charged with rape and three others with assault over the incident, which is just the latest in a long history of allegations of police brutality in the area.
In the days following the incident, protests have been taking place in both Aulnay-sous-Bois and other places in and around the French capital.
Zannou, a local, described the mood.
In these past few weeks, we’ve seen a heightened police presence in our neighbourhood. They are intimidating and they act like they want to mark out their territory, to say “we’re in control”.
We were expecting the tension to boil over, but we didn’t think that it would get this bad. We couldn’t have imagined what actually happened. I was shocked and I’ll admit that I feel hate for the police, because it could have been me or any other guy from the neighbourhood. I don’t really know Théo, but he’s pretty laid back and social, and he hasn’t caused any problems. The police want us to respect them, but they didn’t respect Théo – and, in that way, they disrespected all of the residents of Aulnay-sous-Bois, especially young people.
"If the police receive sentences that are equal to the severity of their crime, we will feel understood"
I want to put my faith in the justice system. I hope that justice is served, and that it is both firm and impartial because the crimes are serious.
We don’t want the case to be dismissed or for the officers to simply be suspended from their jobs or to be handed a suspended sentence. The punishment needs to be the same as if the victim were a police officer. If the police officers receive sentences that are equal to the severity of their crime, we will feel understood. Then, we’ll know if justice is the same for everyone. But if they get off again, it is extremely likely that things will go up in flames. It’s already starting. Some people are talking about destroying public property as a way of getting back at the police – damaging bus shelters, for example. Even some people who haven’t been violent in the past want to lash out. But there’s no sense in that because it is local residents who will suffer from that kind of action. We must show our anger, but how we show it is important.
The police need to be responsible and set an example; they are adults, after all. In Aulnay-sous-Bois, there is a deep division between the police and the population. The other day, I was waiting for my little brother in front of his primary school when a police car drove by. An elementary school student pointed at the officers and warned his little friends, “Those guys beat everybody up!” After Théo’s arrest, a junior high school student told me that the police officers who were supposed to protect us and represent security were actually the “meanest of all”. There is a lot of work to do to repair relationships with the youth, especially.
I want to organise a meeting between local elected officials and student organisations at two local high schools, Jean Zay and Voillaume, to create a charter for “Living together in security”. The goal is to build an understanding between young people and the police so that there is less police violence and more responsibility. Any improvement is going to require long-term investment, but this kind of situation shouldn’t be happening. I can understand that the police might get tired and fed up, but they need to control themselves and keep a cool head.
“This was a choice made in order to humiliate this young man”
Close to 500 people participated in a march towards the police department on Monday, February 6, at 1:30pm. The march was led by mothers accompanied by their young children.
“Théo is a good person, which means that it could happen to any of our children,” one mother said on a Facebook Live. “We don’t feel safe anymore.”
“Nothing justifies this kind of atrocity,” said a local who knows Théo well. “Police officers are professionals and there are legal procedures for arrests. This was a choice they made to humiliate this young man.”
Many residents of Aulnay-sous-Bois took to social media to express their anger and to remind others that police violence is a common occurrence for them.
Support for Théo’s family, in the town of Aulnay, and for all victims of police violence.
Laetitia NONONE, president of the ZONZON93 association
(THIS MESSAGE REFERS ONLY TO MY PERSONAL FEELINGS)
There have also been calls for violence. For the past three nights, clashes have taken place in the projects in Rose des vents, which is also nicknamed “3000”. A helicopter has been flying over the area at night. Police also confirmed that they had used live bullets in warning shots, and had arrested 23 people on the night of February 6.