Police in the western French city of Nantes fired teargas and water cannons at hundreds of demonstrators protesting Saturday against police violence. The unexplained death of a music festivalgoer in June has become a rallying cry for those criticizing French police for using excessive force.
Demonstrations expressing solidarity took place in several other French cities across France, some organized by the yellow vests protest movement. In Nantes, emotions ran high when the crowd gathered in the morning by the banks of the river Loire, where the body of 24-year-old Steve Maia Canico was finally recovered on Monday.
In the French capital around a hundred people paid homage to Steve, observing a minute's silence and leaving white roses. The head of the national police's general inspectorate, Brigitte Jullien, on Saturday denied having whitewashed the police action in Nantes. David Chantreux, head of the national police's inquiry unit said that a judicial inquiry has been opened into the death and witnesses were being questioned. On Twitter, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner congratulated the police for their handling of the day's event. But many protesters, in their slogans and placards, have targeted what they say is increasingly indiscriminate police violence, blaming the government in general, and Castaner in particular. Local activist group Nantes Revoltee, in their call to demonstrate on Saturday, argued that "the police attack on the Festival of Music is just the culmination of years of violence and impunity for the police."
The response of French President Emmanuel Macron's government to the yellow vest protests has been seen as an escalation of state violence toward its citizens as the U.N. recently urged a French probe into the use of force during the protests, in which more than 300 people were injured by police violence. In February, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, called on French authorities to show more respect for human rights during protests but the French government defends the use of tear gas by police during protests in order to maintain public order.
Nearly 370 people were injured since last November, an online investigative French journal said on Tuesday. According to Mediapart, one person was killed and 368 others injured after getting shot by tear gas capsules of French police during anti-government protests. The police violence left 21 people with eye injuries, 204 others with head injuries, as a consequence of the explosion of concussive grenades. Some 68 people sustained leg injuries while 41 others were wounded in the chest.
Among those injured were 56 journalists and 37 high school students. The horrifying images of students, outdoors in the suburban city of Mantes La Jolie, on their knees with their hands behind their heads had shocked France. They were pictured being watched over by armed police officers whose faces were hidden by ski masks.