The 24-year-old French-Malian Adama Traoré died on July 19, 2019, in in the Paris suburb of Beaumont-sur-Oise shortly after having been arrested by gendarmes, in circumstances similar to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. He was apparently choked to death by 3 gendarmes inside a van. The newspaper Le Monde revealed on 29 May that the latest medical report requested by the investigating judges in this case “exonerates the gendarmes in Adama Traoré's death”. He is said to have died of illness.
Under no circumstances should we give in to this attempt at intimidation, but instead recall that there is in France (and abroad as well) a whole history of using medical expertise as a maneuver aimed at inventing scenarios where young men who die at the hands of the police or gendarmerie actually died on their own. They present the events as self-destruction, as if the contact they had with the police had nothing to do with it. We all tend to believe experts or doctors - who are known to be one of the professional bodies most submissive to authority. We find it hard to believe that they can lie. And yet this is a recurring situation in cases of police violence. The operation carried out by the doctors in connection with the death of Adama Traoré is not an isolated case. It is part of a political history: to pretend that when people die at the hands of the police, they died on their own, is nothing new. The mystifications that doctors produce could also highlight the fact that they have so internalized an idealized image of the forces of law and order that, when a body is presented to them with the possibility that death is linked to action by the police or gendarmerie, this eventuality seems inconceivable to them, to the point that they will mechanically look elsewhere for the final explanation.
► A book published by the Cases rebelles collective tells the story of 100 deaths at the hands of the French State between 1947 and today. To read it in continuity is to unfold the catalogue of techniques used to construct narratives in which the coming of death is autonomous from police action. Two main categories of techniques appear: either the experts present as the cause of death a fact that is independent of any action by the police and gendarmerie (illness, drugs), or they invoke a cause that is visibly linked to their action (asphyxia, suffocation, heart attack) but which they will nevertheless refuse to attribute to it by asserting that it may have occurred for other reasons. It is as if the actions of the police were never active or causal.
► Other cases include the following:
♦ Patrick Mirval, died asphyxiated by strangulation during a transfer to the disciplinary unit of the Fleury-Mérogis prison in 1974. 6 expert reports were carried out between 1974 and 1975, leading to the thesis that he died alone: the asphyxia was the consequence of a crisis “of anger by raising the sympathy tonus” (!!!);
♦ Mahamadou Maréga, in 2010, entered an elevator alive with four policemen and came out dead a few floors down with traces that suggest the use of a taser: the expert considers that he died because of an “acute sickle cell crisis” (like Adama Traoré, then...).
♦ Loïc Louise, arrested in 2013 when he was drunk in the street and shot by the gendarmes with a taser. Doctors say he died from “choking” due to “regurgitation of food”, refusing to make a link with the charges received from the taser.
♦ Wissam El Yamni (probably one of the most shocking stories of French police brutality in recent years) died in 2012 after being arrested in Clermont-Ferrand and found with traces of beatings and strangulation but whose death was attributed by doctors to the ingestion of a “toxic cocktail”. ACAT, a Christian human rights NGO set up in 1974 under the name Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, produced a report on this case: “Several medical reports follow one another [on the causes of death] but contradict each other. The first medical reports written in the emergency room mention several fractures and injuries, particularly in the neck, described as possible signs of strangulation. An autopsy report then mentions a death by asphyxiation, involving the practice of “bending”, the effect of which would have been accentuated by a bone malformation of the victim, and excludes any death by strangulation. New medical expertise will subsequently invoke a death due to cardiac intoxication caused by drug use, a hypothesis that had been ruled out by previous medical reports and refuted by a toxicology report commissioned by the family”.
► Medical expertise is not an act independent of the judicial institution and the institutional fabrication of the State lie it organizes to protect law enforcement. It is one of its cogs and must be denounced as such. Moreover, it should be noted that, conversely, when the Traoré family commissioned experts independent of the judiciary, they concluded that Adama had died of asphyxiation.
► The medical lie that gives validation to the State lie is not only intended to cover up the actions of law enforcement officials. It is part of the system that produces the exposure of certain populations to death or violence. To say, as they are trying to do today, that Adama Traoré died alone is to try to prevent us from questioning the practices of the gendarmes and the police, the idea of stopping and searching, the techniques of stopping, the life that is being imposed on those who live in working-class neighborhoods. It then makes the death of other Adama Traorés possible by participating in protecting the structures and practices that are responsible for it.
In this sense, doctors and judges are accomplices of the gendarmes.
Éditions Stock, 2019