A French court on Monday cleared two police officers accused in the 2005 deaths of two teenagers outside Paris that sparked weeks of riots [JURIST news archive] throughout the country. The court in Rennes ruled [AP report] that officers Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein were not responsible for the deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna that occurred in October 2005 when they were chased by police, entered a power substation to hide and were fatally electrocuted. After three weeks of rioting and thousands of arrests, a state of emergency was declared and a curfew was imposed. Gaillemin and Klein were accused of failing to assist someone in danger and were facing up to five years in prison. While the victims’ families argued that the lives of the boys could have been saved by the officers, who knew the boys were in potential danger, the officers insisted that were not to blame. The court determined that neither of the officers had a “clear awareness of grave and imminent danger” as required by French law.
There are now fears that the verdict may lead to violent protests similar to those seen recently in the US. Several groups in France’s suburbs have already planned for gatherings on Monday after the verdict. The deaths of the teens exposed deep-seated tensions in France’s poor suburbs, where neighborhoods of immigrants feel alienated from French society, and scores of Muslim and black youths commonly clash with police. In 2005, as the riots spread to poor immigrant neighborhoods around the country, the French government authorized emergency powers [JURIST report] for local governments struggling to control the violence. The state of emergency was finally lifted [JURIST report] in January 2006.