French Black activist fined for defacing colonial statue

International

Franco Lollia, an activist from a group called the “Anti-Negrophobia Brigade» waits for his verdict at the Paris courthouse, Monday, June 28, 2021 in Paris. French activist Franco Lollia for Black rights is on trial in Paris for defacing a statue of a historical figure from France’s colonial, slave-trading past. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

PARIS (AP) — A French court on Monday convicted and fined a Black rights activist for defacing a statue he sees as an insult to democracy and to the descendants of slaves.

Franco Lollia’s lawyer accused France’s justice system of being apologists for slavery and trying to make his client “look like a delinquent” instead of a fighter for racial justice.

The court stuck to the incident in question, and convicted Lollia on Monday of defacing property. In June 2020, the French activist had painted and sprayed “State Negrophobia” in red paint on a statue of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a 17th-century royal minister who helped write rules governing slaves in French overseas colonies.

Among other cruelties, Colbert’s notorious “Black Code” allowed for slaves to be branded, have their ears cut off and be executed for escape attempts. The vandalized Colbert statue stands prominently outside the lower house of Parliament in Paris.

Lollia said his act was purely political.

“We feel deeply insulted. They spit in our face democratically every day with this statue in front of the National Assembly, the so-called house of the people,” he said.

The Paris court ordered the spokeperson of the militant Anti-Negrophobia Brigade to pay a fine of 500 euros ($597) and damages to the French Parliament of 1,040 euros ($1,241). That was less than the 800-euro fine the prosecutor had sought.

Guy Florentin, Lollia’s attorney, announced they will appeal the decision and have asked the state to remove the Colbert statue.

“State negrophobia has won a battle but not the war. We will continue our fight,” he told reporters. “We are also going to sue the authorities for defending crimes against humanity” over the French state’s role in slave trading.

The vandalism came a month after the killing of American George Floyd at the hands of U.S. police, which galvanized anti-racism activists in France and other countries.

During the May 10 trial — which coincided with France’s annual commemoration of the abolition of slavery — Lollia’s defense team had put France on trial, detailing and denouncing colonial atrocities.

After the verdict, the activist said he wasn’t disappointed.

“One of the reasons for this action, why we did it, was to make this trial a platform,” he said. “It was to force white French justice to take off its mask of so-called democracy, equality for all and social and racial justice for all.”

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