Theo, 22 years old, was headed to a friend’s house on Thursday, February 2 when he was suddenly accosted by four members of the Specialized Ground Brigades (BST) in his neighborhood of Rose-les-Vents in the northern Parisian suburbs. The four policemen, whose mission it is to police lower-income neighborhoods, immediately asked to see his license.
They proceeded to beat him up. They then forced an expandable baton into his anal passage. While in police custody, medical help arrived with delay. The hospital has since confirmed that the injuries sustained by the 22-year-old man are those of a rape.
Footage from local CCTV has confirmed the victim’s and bystanders’ testimonies, and there are dried blood stains where police brutalized the young man.
Although the four officers were held in custody over the weekend, the police department decided to release them. The Internal Affairs Bureau explained that they believe the whole incident was nothing more than an unfortunate “accident.” According to their version of the story, Theo’s tracksuit pants fell down and the baton accidentally penetrated him. A true climate of police impunity currently reigns in Aulnay-sous-Bois where Theo remains hospitalized.
Protests in solidarity with the victim and against police impunity were held in Aulnay-sous-Bois over the weekend and still continue. They have been met with a muscled-up police presence. Several dozen protesters have been arrested and have been accused of ambushes and violent and unlawful assembly. Meanwhile the electricity has been shut off by authorities several times at night, helicopters patrol the skies, and tear gas fills the air, and police have even shot at protesters with real bullets in scenes reminiscent of the 2005 French suburb revolt.
Both local and national government officials have tried to calm things down. Coming out of his usual silence, the French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux condemned the rape of Theo as “exceptionally grave” at the National Assembly. In a major communication operation, the French President François Hollande personally visited the victim in the hospital, pressuring him with presidential compassion to ask the protesters to calm down.
Protesters gathered in other cities across the country, such as Paris and Toulouse, to show their support of the victim. But the social movement’s reaction to this extreme brutality has been slow to come. The labor movement must officially denounce what happened to Theo and ally itself with the youth of the working-class suburb of Rose-des-Vents. They must demand that the military encirclement of the city cease immediately and that justice be served.
Local teachers’ unions should go on strike in solidarity with their students who are hunted and victimized at the hands of the police. The biggest labor unions – the General Confederation of Labor, Solidaires, and the FSU – must also enter the arena and call for the end of the city’s occupation by militarized forces.
Such acts of police brutality are not uncommon in France. Only through an alliance between the organized labor movement, the youth, and the residents of poor neighborhoods will institutional racism and police brutality be able to be beaten back.