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Violence Breaks Out At London and Paris Protests For Racial Equality


And these protests, which began in the United States, have gone global. Now we're going to go to Europe, where demonstrations have broken out not only over current issues of police brutality and racism, but also Europe's colonial history of subjugating black and brown populations around the world. Joining us now to talk about these protests are NPR correspondents Frank Langfitt in London and Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

Good morning to you both.


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eleanor, I'm going to begin with you. Describe for us what happened in Paris yesterday.

BEARDSLEY: Well, there was a very big demonstration in Paris, the second very big one for a French black man who was - who died in police custody in 2016. His name was Adama Traore. And none of the three arresting officers ever appeared before justice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And did this protest happen as a result of what's been going on here in the U.S.? I mean, 'cause that happened in 2016 - or are there local issues at play here?

BEARDSLEY: Well, a little bit of both, Lulu. You know, after the - over the last four years, there's been a core group wanting to reopen Traore's case, led by his sister. But because of George Floyd's death, this has just ignited, and it's morphed into a nationwide cause against police violence and racism in general. Listen to what I heard yesterday in Paris.



BEARDSLEY: So they're chanting, justice for Adama. And tens of thousands more came out in cities across France. You know, half of them are white, if not more. Many of these people didn't even know about Adama Traore before George Floyd. You've also seen left-wing people glomming onto this movement, saying, you know, capitalism is a root cause of social inequality and racism. You know, I would say, above all, there's sort of an awakening in France that this so-called colorblind society where they don't even take racial statistic, Lulu, because everyone is considered equal - well, in fact, everyone is not equal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Let's go to London now, Frank, where we've seen statues of some prominent figures from British history at the heart of the protests there.

LANGFITT: Yeah. This is actually - will be familiar, I think, to many Americans. A slave trader who made a lot of money in that business - his statue was torn down in Bristol last weekend. And then - that's a city on the coast. And then Churchill's statue in Parliament Square was defaced where someone spray-painted he was a racist.

Well, what's happened yesterday is a bunch of far-white nationalists, football hooligans and even some people who were just generally offended by this - these attacks on historical figures - they surged into Parliament Square right, you know, in front of Big Ben. Police had boxed up Churchill to sort of protect him. And at the time, what the mayor said - and even Black Lives Matters organizations here said, don't go to London for this. This is going to end up with a lot of battles between white and black people. But some anti-racism protesters came anyway.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so you had this protest and counter-protest. How did it play out?

LANGFITT: Yeah, it was fascinating to watch. The police penned in the far-right folks around the statues, and they started throwing bottles and started punching police. Some of them clearly came here for a fight. There were clashes between white far-right demonstrators and black anti-racism protesters in Trafalgar Square. I also ran across some black men who had face coverings, and they were doing some hit-and-run attacks on white protesters. By the time I got to Waterloo Station - the train station - there was some violence there, and police actually had to seal it off.

In the end, at least six people went to the hospital. There were over a hundred arrests. And I got to say the other thing is this is all a bit surreal because we're still supposed to be doing social distancing. So you would have people wearing face masks punching each other. So the whole thing was sort of extraordinary.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Quite a scene. Frank, did everyone come to London yesterday just looking for a fight?

LANGFITT: No. I mean, a lot of people were peaceful. And one of the striking images was a black anti-racist protester actually carrying one of the white protesters who'd been beaten. And there was a sizable center when I was talking to people who said, you know, if we're going to remove statues, there needs to be a democratic discussion about this. They can't just be torn down.

And I met a guy at Westminster Bridge. His name is Andy Boyle (ph). He works in construction. And he had come to monitor the protest. He's white. And this is what he said, Lulu.

ANDY BOYLE: I feel upset that this country's tearing itself apart. This country - and I will admit it - still has racism today, albeit it's getting better. But it still isn't there yet, and I believe it should get there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eleanor, are French officials taking any action in response to what's going on the streets there?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, they are. Well, yesterday, it ended rather chaotically because the police wouldn't let the protesters march through the city. They kept them penned into the Place de la Republique. So we did see scenes of, you know, tear gas being fired. But otherwise, it was peaceful.

The government appears to be listening. This week, the Interior Minister Christophe Castaner - he banned chokeholds. But the police have also come out. They're angry. They're - say they're being stigmatized by a few bad apples, and they have accused the interior minister of betraying them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris and Frank Langfitt in London, where there are continuing protests.

Thank you both very much.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Lulu.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Lulu.


Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.