It started in the late evening hours of October 17, 1961, when 30,000 Algerians swarmed throughout the city of Paris protesting a curfew imposed upon them earlier in the month by the city’s police chief. Before the night was over, almost two hundred Algerians died at the hands of the Parisian police force.
And almost no-one knew or cared.
Violent exchanges had become common between the Parisian contingent of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) movement, whose mission was to free Algeria from colonial rule, and the French police. Over a period of three months, twenty police officers had been killed, which did not sit well with Maurice Papon, Police Chief of Paris, whose second claim to fame was his role as a Nazi collaborator. He was determined to find the FLN members responsible, and to crush their organization for good, so help him Hitler.
Papon proclaimed that the police would return “Ten blows to every Algerian blow”, and he was as good as his word. He ordered raids on their communities, enacted the aforementioned curfew, and executed five Algerians who reportedly were not even connected to the FLN.
The Algerian community rose in defiance of these actions. 30,000 Algerians, mostly citizens of France, converged around the great landmarks of Paris including the Place de la Concorde, the Champs-Elysées and the Eiffel Tower to protest the injustices they suffered at the hands of the French government.
The police immediately sprang into action. Thousands of people were herded up and bused to holding centers. Hundreds were brutally beaten and murdered in cold blood by officers who were free from any danger of prosecution thanks to the protection of their boss — Hitler’s Homie Police Chief Maurice Papon.
In 1998, Raoul Letard, a police officer on duty that evening, described a 2-hour search hunting down Algerians in the suburbs of Colombes, “We were waging war, and our adversary had been named as the Algerians.”
The official numbers the police released the next day were three dead and sixty-seven wounded from the incident, but this figure was immediately discounted by anyone unlucky enough to witness the dead bodies littering the city and floating down the Seine. Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir recalled in her memoirs Force of Circumstance:
“The police waited for the Algerians to come up out of the métro stations, made them stand still with their hands above their heads, then hit them with truncheons.
Corpses were found hanging in the Bois de Boulogne, and others, disfigured and mutilated, in the Seine. Ten-thousand Algerians had been herded into the Vél d’Hiv [stadium], like the Jews in Drancy once before.
Again I loathed it all — this country, myself, the whole world.”
No judicial inquiry was ever made into the bloody melee that cost so many innocent people their lives. Most French citizens blamed the deaths on Algerian in-fighting and terrorism. Maurice Papon was finally brought to trial for crimes against humanity — for his actions during World War II. He never had to answer for the atrocities he committed against the Algerians in 1961.
It wasn’t until 2001 that the French government would even acknowledge that a massacre had occurred, proving that the United States hasn’t cornered the market on police brutality and xenophobia, no matter how hard we try.
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