‘Justice pour Adama’: Years of Crying Out for Justice Have Never Been More Relevant
Illustration Credit: Bethan Jayne

The 19th July marks the 4 year anniversary of the death of Adama Traoré, a 24 year old black Frenchman who died after being held in police custody.
On the day of his 24th birthday, Traoré – and his older brother Bagui – were walking around the Parisian suburb of Beaumont-sur-Oise, when they were stopped by three police officers for what they were told was an ID Check. Adama ran away, as he did not have his ID on him, and was arrested by the police once they caught up with him. Sadly, soon after his arrest, Traoré died after being held in custody at a Persan police station.

Adama’s family demand that the officers who detained him should be held accountable for his death, as Bagui described seeing his brother lying on the floor outside the police car, with blood on the police officer’s shirt. Adama was still handcuffed at the time of his death. His family believe the officers used their weight to pin Traoré to the ground – causing asphyxiation. Medical experts still disagree whether his death was related to the restraint following his arrest, or by underlying medical conditions. Autopsies show conflicting results; some believe the cause of death was related to heart problems, whilst others believe it was due to asphyxiation as a result of pressure forced on him by the police.

France is fighting for justice.

France’s first ever Black Lives Matter Protest on the 20th July, 2016, inundated the French capital as 600 people joined together to not only mourn Adama’s death, but to also stand in solidarity and fight for change. One protester, Fania Noël, described how the protest did not bring much engagement with the French authorities compared with previous protests over conflicting opinions regarding the recent labour laws passed.

Four years later, following the murder of George Floyd – a 46-year old black man, who was murdered after a police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds – hundreds of Black Lives Matter protests have broken out all over the world. However, in France, George Floyd is not the only name being chanted; echoes of ‘Adama Traoré’ flood the streets of Paris as thousands of people demand justice and answers. In an interview, Assa Traoré, Adama’s sister, stated that “George Floyd et Adama sont morts exactement de la même façon”, translating to “George Floyd and Adama died in exactly the same way”.

Assa Traoré, also the organiser of the current Black Lives Matter protests in France, felt that until now, her family had made no progress. The police officers associated were exonerated on the 28th May 2020 and Assa immediately responded, describing the exoneration as a “denial of justice”. Despite the state ruling out that the police officers were involved in Adama’s death, Assa and other members of her family demand a second opinion.

Wearing a t-shirt that states ‘Justice pour Adama, sans justice vous n’auriez jamais la paix’, translating to ‘Justice for Adama, without justice you would never have peace’, Assa led tens of thousands of people protesting for the Black Lives Matter movement in Paris on 13th June, urging people to take action and for the French authorities to remain investigating her brother’s death.

At a recent protest, Assa stated that the events that are “happening in America, are also happening in France. Our brothers are dying.” Historian Sandrine Le Maire explains that, whilst these events do happen under similar circumstances, the ‘historical baggage’ that they carry are different.

There is no doubt that France and America share histories of systemic and structural racism. However, the respective leaders have taken different approaches to the individual cases.

So, how similar were the French and American state responses to the deaths of Traoré and Floyd?

The former French President, François Hollande, was accused of neglecting the family, and isolating them from the actions of the government. Even after the current French President, Emmanuel Macron, came to power in 2017, the family believe there has still been a lack of official response towards this continuous fight for justice.

However, after such large responses from the Black Lives Matter movement, on 8th June, Emmanuel Macron asked the head of the French Ministry of Justice, Nicole Belloubet, to look into this case, following demands on social media and amongst the crowds of protesters; this comes almost four years after Traoré’s death and despite a police investigation concluding the police officers involved were innocent.

Belloubet has since contacted the Traoré family but a formal meeting was rejected. Angry, hurt and upset by the lack of communication from the French government until now, a statement from the family describes how they need and want ‘legal advances’ after demanding for almost half of a decade that the officers involved be ‘questioned and charged’. Being practically neglected by the French authority until this moment of contact with the Ministry of Justice, they felt that discussions with Nicole Belloubet would have no ‘procedural purpose’ – hence, they decided not to carry through with the meeting.

In Minneapolis, the family of George Floyd have had a direct conversation with the US President, Donald Trump, after he expressed his ‘deepest condolences’. Furthermore, the Minneapolis Police Department have announced that four of the officers involved with Floyd’s murder have been charged, with Derek Chauvin – the officer who forced his knee onto George’s neck – facing charges of second-degree murder. However, a different picture is being painted in France; a formal investigation still has not been held into Adama’s death since demands arose for a second opinion. The family still believe they have no true clarification on the cause of Adama’s death.

A fight for everybody.

As tensions rise in America and France, all eyes are watching, waiting for Trump and Macron to reach out a hand to their population as they cry out for justice.

However, as Bristol saw the statue of slave trader Edward Colston thrown into the river, François Mbaye, a black MP for France, has expressed his opinions on other ways to tackle this issue, rather than ‘[throwing]’ statues in the river. He questions whether France is ‘ready’ to learn about the history of French slavery and colonisation, insisting that there is more to be taught to the young people of France.

The fight for an anti-racist France is not over, it is only the beginning. After years of the Traoré family demanding justice, people in France are now not only agreeing with the family but are urging for societal and political change. Assa Traoré addressed the protesters in Paris, stating that this is “everybody’s fight” and not just her family’s. It has never been more important for racism to be acknowledged and fought against.

In the words of Assa Traoré, “when we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traoré”.