October 15th, 2023
Dear Madam Traoré,
It was seven years ago. On July 19, 2016, in a town close to where I live, your brother Adama lost his life after a long chase with the police, in the middle of a heatwave, on his 24th birthday.
After lengthy investigations, justice refused to hear you: it dismissed the case on August 31, 2023, ruling that no offence had been committed by the three policemen who arrested Adama.
The press, which improvises itself as an examining magistrate, is outraged that you do not accept this decision. But how can we? How can we believe in the validity of a legal case where expert reports and witness statements constantly contradict each other, and where there are more gray areas than certainties? How can we trust a justice system that has cleared the three policemen, even though the causes of Adama’s death remain uncertain to this day? How can we tolerate the fact that the “prone restraint” technique of immobilization is still authorized in France, when it is banned in many countries?
You have been accused of trying to grab the spotlight by speaking out in these terms. The real question is: why does the media spotlight seem to be one of the few tools available to victims of police violence and their families if they hope to make their voices heard?
You are repeatedly told that your brother and the rest of your siblings had a dubious past and problems with the police, as if that should justify Adama’s tragic fate. Since the reality of police violence is too frightening, they are constantly trying to undermine your fight by all means possible.
They want to silence you, because to agree with you would be to admit that horrors can be committed by the people who are supposed to protect us. Yet it was not so complicated to observe this during recent popular demonstrations, whether those led by your committee, those linked to the Yellow Vests movement, or those against the pensions reform.
They dare to tell you with contempt that police violence as a systemic problem does not exist, and that such violence is only the result of a few isolated cases, despite the fact that France has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in this respect, and that bodies such as the UN and the Council of Europe are concerned about the growing scale of such violence in the country.
People aggressively accuse you of not liking France. On the contrary, I am convinced that you have to sincerely love this country, and the values enshrined in its motto, to fight your battle with such ardour.
This combat is all the more difficult when police violence is mainly suffered by racialized people. It is easy to deny the reality of police violence when one has never been confronted with it. Not having to think about your skin colour every time you come across the police is a privilege, when it should be a right for everyone. Today, as you say, recognizing it is a question of life and death.
As a mother, a sister and an activist, you inspire many. In a world where police violence is still a taboo, you have had the courage to take to the media stage to denounce this much too trivialized problem. You are insulted, harassed to the point where your safety is threatened, and your demonstrations are banned, but you keep arising. You must, because as you well know, the fight against police violence is far from over. But let me tell you how much your commitment generates not only inspiration, but also hope, of a world in which justice is no longer just an ideal.
Kelly Owona Doun
translation by Gabriel Capitolo and Camille Cottais