AULNAY-SOUS-BOIS, France (AP) — French police detained 26 protesters early Tuesday during an eruption of violence against security forces in a Paris suburb in which numerous vehicles were set afire, including a police car.
At one point, police encircled by an angry crowd fired warning shots into the air using real bullets, according to French press reports. No injuries were reported.
The pre-dawn violence was a show of outrage in support of a young black man who authorities allege was raped with a police officer’s baton last week during a spate of identity checks as part of a police operation targeting drug traffickers.
One officer was charged Sunday with aggravated rape and three others were charged with aggravated assault.
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President Francois Hollande visited the victim Tuesday at the hospital where he has been admitted, the Elysee Palace said. Le Parisien newspaper posted on its Twitter page a picture of Hollande shaking hands with the young man lying on his hospital bed.
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for “the greatest firmness” should any of the four police officers implicated be proven guilty. “Police by their uniforms represent a state of law,” Cazeneuve said, and must be “absolutely exemplary.”
Frederic Gabet, a lawyer for the officer charged with rape, said that any injury inflicted was done accidentally.
Firefighters raced to restore order after several shops were reported damaged and garbage bins set ablaze in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a working class suburb northeast of Paris with a large minority population.
French authorities are wary of unrest in poor suburbs, remembering the fiery 2005 riots that spread through France — beginning in nearby Clichy-Sous-Bois and hopscotching through social housing around the country.
Police Alliance spokesman Frederic Lagache said one police officer narrowly escaped being burned as a protester set his vehicle on fire with a Molotov cocktail.
“The objective is to kill cops and this is unacceptable,” Lagache said Tuesday in an interview with Europe-1.
Local youth claim they are the victims of police who allegedly habitually target them without cause.
“Frankly, it’s pathetic. The kid, he plays football, he’s serious. He never was in trouble with the police …,” Sofiane Hajjobi, a 21-year-old local resident, said of the victim. “It’s not normal. We’re all frustrated. Now we’re at war with the police.”
The 22-year-old man allegedly assaulted by the officers told his story to the BFM television channel Monday. He said the officers hit him and peppered him with racist insults. At one point, one of the officers took his truncheon and “he drove it into my buttocks,” he said.
“These kinds of acts happen every day,” said Vin Mazout, 25. “Everybody, every day, is roughed up (by the police). There are attacks from the police. They insult us. They arrest us all the time. Excuse my words but if my skin was a different color, I think my life in this neighborhood would be better.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault. Authorities have not identified the young man, but supporters have been marching in “Justice Pour Theo” shirts.
Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.