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George Floyd's Death In Minneapolis Forces Change In France

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Assa Traore has become a celebrity these days. Her signature afro is hard to miss, and people stop her on the streets of Paris to thank her.

(CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: We duck into her friend's shop to find a quiet place to talk. Traore says she couldn't watch the full George Floyd video because it would have been like watching her own brother die. Adama Traore died while being detained by police in July 2016 in a Paris suburb.

ASSA TRAORE: (Through interpreter) Adama took the weight of three policemen on his back after they threw him to the ground. He said, I can't breathe. It was his 24th birthday. He had put on his Bermuda shorts, a flowered shirt and a cap to take a bike ride and be free. But that day, my little brother died like a slave.

BEARDSLEY: Traore ran from police doing an ID check because he didn't have his documents with him. Assa Traore says her brother died under the weight of three cops and a racist system. A state medical examiner said he died from an underlying heart problem. The officers were transferred to new jurisdictions. None of them has faced charges. After her brother's death, the 35-year-old former special education teacher formed an advocacy group. She's been fighting ever since.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

TRAORE: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Smart and passionate, she denounces racism and police violence on TV shows and in magazines. Civil rights lawyer Slim ben Achour says Assa Traore is making some people uncomfortable.

ROKHAYA DIALLO: And what Assa Traore did was to say, hey, we also have racism and police brutality in France. So if you cover what's going on in the U.S., you need to speak about what Black and brown people are going through here.

BEARDSLEY: Assa Traore has since become the face of Black Lives Matter in France.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: She denounces racism and police violence on TV shows and in magazines. Civil rights lawyer Slim ben Achour says Assa Traore is making some people uncomfortable.

SLIM BEN ACHOUR: She's changing the game. She's also the target of all the racism. A lot of media are making her a stereotype of an American thing. She has - you know, the hair - she's Angela Davis. And that bothers a lot of people.

BEARDSLEY: Geoffroy de Lagasnerie is a sociologist and philosopher who published a book with Traore last year called "Adama's Fight." He says her movement took off after George Floyd's killing because, for years, she had built support traveling the country and organizing at the grass-roots level.

GEOFFROY DE LAGASNERIE: Spoken with families, with mother, with young guys, with young women - and so - and they were there the 2 of June because she was there for them when they needed help.

BEARDSLEY: Traore has allied with climate activists, students, health care workers and yellow vest protesters. She says the Justice for Adama movement cuts through race and class.

TRAORE: (Through interpreter) Even those from nice neighborhoods who don't experience police violence are with us now. And that's our force.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

BEARDSLEY: Traore's growing protest movement is having an effect. Last week, a Paris court announced that judges will reinvestigate the death of Adama Traore.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST SONG, "MULAGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.