Justice Pour Nahel Open Letter

An open letter organised by the Justice 4 Nahel UK campaign and signed by BLM UK, CopWatch and activists across the UK to express solidarity with the Justice Pour Nahel uprisings and all people in the banlieues!

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We have watched with horror as the French state has unleashed a systematic campaign of violence against people standing up to power and injustice. Police officers executed a Muslim teenager from Nanterre, Nahel Merzouk, and then proceeded to lie about what had happened. It is only because the video was published online that we know the truth: Nahel, like so many victims of police brutality in France, was killed in cold blood.

At this moment, our thoughts are with Nahel’s family and the families of everyone who has been subjected to the violence of the French state. 

We condemn the killings, (sexual) assaults and maiming of:

Nahel Merzouk, Alhoussein Camara, Mohamed B, Rayana, Zineb Redouane, Maria/ Angelina, Theo L, Liu Shaoyao, Adama Traoré, Emily Spanton, Ali Ziri, Lamba Soukouna, Maud Carretta, Josiane Ngo, Albertine Sow, Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna, Makome M’Bowole, Malik Oussekine, the victims of the Paris massacre of 1961 and all those, known and unknown, who have suffered at the hands of the Republic.

As feminist, anti-racist, LGBTQIA+, disability and climate justice campaigners, we believe that everyone has a right to live in dignity, safety and peace. We believe that the working class people of colour in the French suburbs (the banlieues) deserve better and wholeheartedly support the French protestors who are pushing to make this a reality. We believe that a world without state violence is possible.

While Nahel’s death was the catalyst, young black and brown people in France have taken to the street following decades of abandonment and brutalisation of their neighbourhoods. These protestors have been met with a response from the French government and police that has been disturbing but unsurprising. The major police unions swiftly released a declaration of war against the protestors, who they labelled as ‘pests’ and ‘hordes of savages’. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that in this same statement, the police unions vowed to unilaterally impose order in these communities, using ‘all means’ at their disposal. Since then, the banlieues have faced extreme levels of militarised state violence, with the police behaving like an occupying army in working class neighbourhoods. Combined with the government’s threats to cut off social media in order to quash dissent, make no mistake: France is rapidly descending into fascism. 

Moreover, we condemn the punitive actions Macron has taken during the revolt and stand in solidarity with all those who have been apprehended during this time. We know that this criminalisation is nothing new. From fast-track hearings (with lawyers often being given just 30 minutes to prepare) to teenagers being handed lengthy jail sentences for participating in the protests, the injustices we see in France today clearly echo what we saw in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings in London and communities across the UK. What’s more, the French government’s decision to outlaw demonstrations clearly parallels the draconian powers the police and the Home Office have to clamp down on protests in the UK, thanks to the Conservatives’ new legislation. So, we stand with the banlieusard.e.s because we understand that state repression transcends borders, and therefore so must our resistance.

Whether it’s in Manchester or Marseille, Atlanta or Angoulême, la police tue ! The state murder of Nahel is not a question of ‘bad apples’, rather it is the symptom of a policing system designed to control and dominate marginalised populations, which we can see across the globe. History has shown us that the police in France consistently inflict harm on oppressed groups such as Muslims, black people, undocumented migrants, women and disabled people. In this way, police brutality should not be considered as a bug, but rather a feature of how the Republic operates. The response to these uprisings further proves that this system is irredeemable.

As such, we support the demands being made by French activists on the ground, specifically:

  • An amnesty for all those arrested and/or imprisoned since June 28th for their participation in the uprisings in France
  • An end to the use of deadly force, that is, police immobilisation techniques that kill
  • The repealing of the 2017 Law Enforcement Firearms Relaxation Act, which explicitly authorises the French police to use guns during traffic stops
  • An end to racist profiliing (les contrôle au faciès)
  • The scrapping of the French government’s racist and punitive immigration bill, also known as la loi Darmanin
  • The repealing of the so-called separatism law (la loi séparatisme) which is fundamentally Islamaphobic and penalises those who film the police
  • The regularisation of all undocumented migrants in the country
  • Concrete measures to tackle the systemic racism, Islamophobia and mounting fascism in France

We also amplify the calls made by those on the frontlines in the U.K., specifically:

  • An end to the sexual assault known as strip search disproportionally used against Black people by police, with over 9000 children strip searched by Met police since 2016
  • To give families bereaved by the state automatic non means-tested funding for legal representation and create a National Oversight Mechanism to compel authorities to prevent future deaths
  • An end to the use of tasers, especially on people suffering from a mental health crisis
  • An end to the PREVENT duty and other surveillance tools used to control and criminalise, such as the recent introduction of Serious Violence Reduction Orders
  • As above, an end to the use of  deadly force and racist profiling by police and concrete plans to counter, not stoke, rising facism in the U.K,

In other words, we, the undersigned, demand an end to the systematic violence of the state and call for significant investment in the working class, racialised communities that need this the most. 

Ultimately, the people in the banlieues can count on the solidarity of the international community in their struggle to transform their conditions because we know that none of us are free until all of us are free.

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