Police officers face trial for the assault of a black footballer that caused uproar in France.

Three individuals have been accused of committing acts of violence against Théodore Luhaka in 2017, resulting in his permanent disabilities. The case involves three police officers who are currently on trial in northern Paris. This incident is one of the most notable instances of alleged police brutality against a black man in France over the past decade.

Théodore Luhaka, a 22-year-old footballer, was assaulted after being stopped by police for an identity check in Aulnay-sous-Bois. He was subjected to tear gas, physical beatings on his face and body, and suffered long-term injuries, including incontinence, as a result of a police baton used against him.

The incident created widespread shock in France, leading to nights of unrest and protests in housing estates. Public figures, including actor Omar Sy, showed support for Luhaka, who was visited by then-President François Hollande during his hospitalization.

At the time, Luhaka had no criminal record and was about to embark on a professional football career in Belgium as a young sports mentor. He was part of a group of youths who were conversing near a cultural center on a housing estate when police stopped them to request identification papers. CCTV footage captures the moment Luhaka was forcibly thrown to the ground and beaten for a duration of eight minutes.

Following the assault, Luhaka, bleeding and in pain, was transported to a police station by car. Throughout the journey, he endured racial abuse from the officers. Upon arrival at the police station, an ambulance was called and he was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery for severe injuries to his anus, initially treated as potential rape.

The three officers involved in the incident, who remain employed in desk positions within the police force, appeared in the criminal court of Seine-Saint-Denis at Bobigny for the commencement of a two-week trial. Two officers are charged with aggravated voluntary violence, while the third faces charges of voluntary violence resulting in permanent injury. The latter officer was initially accused of rape but had the charge amended to voluntary violence.

Luhaka was forced to abandon his football career and moved to a different neighborhood. He currently resides with his mother and restricts his outings. Describing the incident, he stated, “I died that day.” He and his family assert their desire for justice and emphasize that the trial should not be viewed as “anti-police” or contribute to tensions in the banlieue (suburbs) north of Paris, where Luhaka grew up. They stress the importance of maintaining calm in the area. Luhaka mentioned another officer who came to his aid at the police station, calling an ambulance, and remaining with him until his surgery that evening.

Lawyers representing the three officers deny any involvement in voluntary violence and maintain that their actions were justified. The officer charged with causing permanent injury to Luhaka’s anus claimed to have intended to target his legs.

Luhaka’s lawyer, Antoine Vey, stated in an interview with Franceinfo that the trial’s crucial message lies in whether the officers are allowed to continue serving in the police force. Vey expressed deep shock regarding their continued employment, saying, “To be clear, Théo lives as a victim of rape, with the same psychological and permanent physical damage… The act inflicted upon him may not fit the legal definition of rape, but it undoubtedly has the psychological implications… It is an injury that has impacted his privacy and virility. His ability to use the toilet has been affected. In addition to that, he has suffered racist and degrading harassment on social media. His recovery has been challenging. He has not yet overcome it. In a matter of minutes, his surroundings and his future were destroyed.”

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