Ange Dibenesha: Death of black man in custody sparks online storm

Ange Dibenesha
Ange Dibenesha's family was not told of his arrest or injury for more than 24 hours

A major controversy has erupted over the death of a young black man after he was detained by police in Paris.

Ange Dibenesha, 31, was arrested in the French capital on Wednesday evening after his car was stopped by police.

His family said they heard nothing from him until they received a phone call from a local hospital on Friday, informing them that he was brain dead.

An autopsy revealed he died of a heart failure. Police said he swallowed an unknown substance during his arrest.

News of Mr Dibenesha’s death, which was formally announced on Sunday, was met with anger online, with social media users demanding an explanation using the hashtag #JusticePourAnge.

As the demands mounted, many French people drew parallels to the death of young black men in police custody in the US – a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.

What happened to Mr Dibenesha?

At approximately 01:50 local time (02:50 GMT) on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, police stopped a man’s BMW vehicle. They found that he was driving without a valid licence and also tested positive for alcohol.

Some 20 minutes later, as police were waiting on a vehicle to take the man into custody, he “ingested an unidentified substance”, the statement said.

He shortly began convulsing and was rushed to hospital.

On Monday, Mr Dibenesha’s autopsy results found that he had died of a heart failure, possibly as a result of a toxic substance.

In a statement to the media – which does not name Mr Dibenesha – police said the young man had ingested an unknown substance during the police stop.

Several French media outlets have reported that the substance was a narcotic, citing police or judicial sources. But no official cause has yet been announced, pending test results.

His family was not notified until Friday, by which time he was reportedly brain dead, and doctors were planning to switch off life support.

What has been the response?

The online outrage began after his mother released a video explaining the situation and the lack of information about her son’s arrest.

The delay prompted a storm of allegations about police violence leading to the death of the young man, and allegations of racial profiling.

Even senior politicians raised concerns. Former education minister Benoît Hamon said: “When a young man is the subject of a police check, is placed in custody and is returned to his family 48 hours later in a state of cerebral death, society has a duty to call for lights to be shed on the facts, and the state has a duty to answer it.”

As the controversy exploded, Mr Dibenesha’s mother released another video message, in which she thanked people for their support- but asked that they not spread false information about her son’s death.

French news outlet Franceinfo reported that the delay in notifying his family was not for any sinister purpose, but rather due to the “several identities” Mr Dibenesha was known by.

His car contained “documents bearing several names, which complicated the task of the police”, it said, citing a judicial source.

Some social media users continued to express concern over Mr Dibenesha’s death despite the police statements.

Police in France have faced a wave of criticism in recent years and allegations of unnecessary force.

The case of Adama Traore, who died in police custody in 2016, prompted protests amid allegations of a police cover-up – and was frequently referenced by social media users criticising the police over the death of Mr Dibenesha.

Then, in early 2017, the alleged rape of a young black man resulted in clashes with police in the streets amid protests. Further protests followed a month later when police shot and killed a Chinese man after responding to a domestic dispute.

In the past several months, allegations of violence against protesters of the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) movement have also plagued France’s police.


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