Tear gas choked Paris streets as riot police faced off with protesters setting fires Tuesday amid growing global outrage over George Floyd’s death in the United States, racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics around the world.
French protesters took a knee and raised their fists while firefighters struggled to extinguish multiple blazes as a largely peaceful, multiracial demonstration degenerated into scattered tensions. Several thousand people defied a virus-related ban on protests to pay homage to Floyd and Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody.
Electric scooters and construction barriers went up in flames, and smoke stained a sign reading “Restaurant Open” — on the first day French cafes were allowed to open after nearly three months of virus lockdown.
Chanting “I can’t breathe,” thousands marched peacefully through Australia’s largest city, while thousands more demonstrated in the Dutch capital of The Hague and hundreds rallied in Tel Aviv. Expressions of anger erupted in multiple languages on social networks, with thousands of Swedes joining an online protest and others speaking out under the banner of #BlackOutTuesday.
Diplomatic ire percolated too, with the European Union’s top foreign policy official saying the bloc was “shocked and appalled” by Floyd’s death.
Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America — and now, beyond.
As demonstrations escalated worldwide, solidarity with U.S. protesters increasingly mixed with local worries.
“This happened in the United States, but it happens in France, it happens everywhere,” Paris protester Xavier Dintimille said. While he said police violence seems worse in the U.S., he added, “all blacks live this to a degree.”
Fears of the coronavirus remain close to the surface and were the reason cited for banning Tuesday’s protest at the main Paris courthouse, because gatherings of more than 10 people remain forbidden.
But demonstrators showed up anyway. Some said police violence worsened during virus confinement in working class suburbs with large minority populations, deepening a feeling of injustice.
As the Paris demonstration wound down, police fired volley after volley of tear gas and protesters threw debris. Police were less visible than usual at the city’s frequent protests. Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille.
The demonstrations were held in honor of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s death.