It mattered to be there for a boy who probably died in terror. The reports of the events of last Saturday night come from the media, le parquet (public prosecutor), and the Saint-Jean hospital. The media report that Ibrahima was filming the police with his phone when he was taken into custody. The police report that Ibrahima was taken in for disobeying the curfew, and that he ‘fell ill’ in custody and was taken to the hospital. The hospital reports that Ibrahima died at 20:22 of cardiac arrest, well before the curfew, that he had several bruises. The parquet has opened an investigation.
Ibrahima was a part of AJGB, an association of Guinean youths, who organized a manifestation in his honor for Wednesday at 15:00. I went to the manif with two other XR rebels. I had never been to this side of the Gare-du-Nord neighborhood. We walked past the deteriorating buildings of Rue de la Riviere and arrived at a crossroads beside that street lined with sex shops that can be seen from the trains.
500 people, mostly of color, had gathered. The assembly was held in front of the Commissariat where Ibrahima was taken. What did the police say to Ibrahima in there, to trigger cardiac arrest in a 23 year-old? What was done to him?
XR rebels have experienced a share of police abuse and the denial of rights during arrest. Trauma, fear or loathing are not uncommon. But I can’t imagine the sentiments of people who have been unduly targeted throughout their lives for police controls and abuse. This institution, the ‘guardians of peace’ robs their right to live in peace on a daily basis.
It came to my mind this poem written by the German pastor Martin Niemöller in the 1930s:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The crowd lost its collectivity when a group of people at the back turned away to run into the tunnel, towards the entrance to the train station on the other side. Shouts arose. Police lines amassed to block them.
At the crossroads, the crowd lost its collectivity. 500 emotions were running, gazing, buzzing, shouting. Some smoke bombs were thrown, and some empty cans, but not always in the direction of the police lines. The police built lines across other roads, leaving only two roads of exit. With the assembly broken and the air tense we decided to leave.
We drank sugary-mint tea at a bright Arab cafe down the street. The whole neighborhood seemed to be in the streets to watch the tense situation from afar. We could see two water canons pull up to the remaining crowd. We were unsure what to do. To remain to defend our right to demonstrate would probably put us in a situation of resisting the police, for which we had not come prepared. But I was glad I came to the manif, because the police had come for others, and if they are not resisted by a united front for the rights of all, one day they will come for me.
Take the case of the ecological Member of European Parliament (MEP) Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana. Last June, Herzberger-Fofana was photographing nine police harassing two black youths at Gare-du-Nord. The police took her phone from her hand, and forced her against a wall to retrieve her documents. They refused to believe her when she said she was an MEP. They said she must be a maid. As if a maid didn’t deserve respect. As if the youths didn’t deserve equal treatment. As if the police should not be observed for ethics.
Watching the images of the riots that followed after we left the manif, I saw rage, and I understood.