Boubacar Drame had been helping a mother find her lost daughter in a working-class Paris suburb before three police officers approached. One only said a few words, the second one took the 31-year-old Black man to the ground and kneeled across his throat.
Video footage recorded by bystanders shows the two officers using their body weight to pin down and handcuff Drame, who worked as a community mediator in the local town hall at the time of the June 2019 incident. One squeezed his genitals as they bundled him into a vehicle, he claimed.
“I was powerless,” Drame explained, sitting in the park where the girl went missing. “They were crushing me and I couldn’t do anything. I found it so hard to breathe. I can’t see what their aim was, other than to hurt me.”
The streets of Gennevilliers are far from Minneapolis but the murder in May of George Floyd, who died after three officers used their weight to restrain him, has resonated painfully with Drame, who filed a complaint with prosecutors after his arrest.
Drame talked to the media a year after his detention and at a time when anti-racism protests in France and beyond have turned the U.S. Black Lives Matter movement into a global rallying cry.
In France, rights groups say accusations of police violence, in particular in deprived suburbs where residents are often of immigrant background, remain largely unaddressed. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner earlier this month admitted that there has been cases of racism in the police.
Demonstrators attend a protest against alleged police brutality and the 2016 death in police custody of black Frenchman Adama Traoré, at Place de la République in Paris, France. Image credit Reuters, Benoit Tessier
Drame had no idea why he was being detained, other than the fact that he matched the profile of a suspect they were hunting, he declared. He was released from a police cell without charge only after the mayor and local police chief intervened.
The ordeal left Drame psychologically affected. A doctor ordered him on sick leave for three months. He is still employed at Gennevilliers town hall but does not work as a mediator, his faith in the values he taught to youngsters have been badly shaken.
An investigation into the officers’ conduct continues, Drame’s lawyer pointed out. Paris police refused to comment, claiming they cannot say anything during an ongoing investigation.
“I just want to know why they did what they did and find out whether they recognise that on that day they went too far,” Drame admitted.
Inside the police station, Drame said that the language used by the officers left him with the feeling as if he was being racially discriminated against.
“The police needs to understand that when people denounce abuses, it is not because they are against the police but because they are against injustice and impunity.”
People demonstrate in Paris on Saturday over the death of George Floyd. Image credit François Mori, AP