Justice and truth for Angelo
At the end of September 2016, Angelo Garand, my brother, who is serving a sentence for theft in Poitiers-Vivonne prison, was granted a one-day leave of absence to “maintain family ties”. He decides not to return to prison.
For six months he lives in his car. He comes to see us from time to time. On 30 March 2017, he comes to share lunch with his family on the land where I live with my parents, my other brother and his family, our uncles and my three children. At around 1 p.m., fifteen gendarmes from the GIGN (Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale) brigade arrived on the family’s land, helmeted and armed. They brutally put all the members of the family on the ground and start to search everywhere, breaking down the doors of the houses and caravans. Angelo manages to hide in a small shed, but a noise escapes. Five armed men rush in and immediately start shooting. Angelo is hit in the chest by five bullets that were aimed at his vital organs. He dies there, at the age of thirty-seven. Our family is a civil party.
In September 2017, two alleged shooters were indicted for “intentional violence with weapons resulting in death without intent”. They claimed that my brother had attacked them with his knife.
On 10 October 2018, the investigating judge in Blois dismissed the case in favour of the defendants, citing an act of self-defence. Our family’s lawyer appealed. On 7 February 2019, the dismissal was confirmed by the Orléans Court of Appeal. On 26 June 2020, our appeal was rejected by the Court of Cassation.
In December 2020, our family filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for ‘violation of the right to life’. It is still under consideration at the time of writing.
Since Angelo’s death, the justice system has still not answered our questions: why did they pass Angelo off as a dangerous fugitive, when he had been granted a leave of absence? Why call in the GIGN, a unit specialised in extremely dangerous operations, when Angelo had not resisted during his previous arrest? Why did they shoot without warning, without even giving him the opportunity to surrender? After six years of struggle, our questions remain unanswered and the gendarmes who killed Angelo continue to do their job. This article tells the story of our struggle to demand justice and truth for Angelo.
Drawing of Angelo Garand by Kkrist Mirror
Shortly after Angelo’s assassination, the idea of a march came immediately, it seemed obvious to us that we had to speak out in the street. It was a Saturday afternoon in the centre of Blois, twenty-two days after Angelo’s death. We marched to demand the indictment of the GIGN men and to denounce the lies of the state. For me, as for many of the Travellers present, it was the first march of our lives. All the children were there, Angelo’s, mine, their cousins. We were all wearing the black T-shirts provided by the Voice of the Roma with the inscription “Justice and Truth for Angelo”. Raymond Gurême, who was one of the last survivors of the internment of gens du voyage in France during the Second World War, was present, as were other activists. Buoyed by this collective strength, I could finally shout our truth to the world: they executed Angelo Garand, like so many others whom they did not consider worthy of living. Some time later, we founded the collective Justice for Angelo with associative and anti-racist militants, in order to unite our forces in this fight. It was with this collective that we organised the following marches in Blois, which often took place on 30 March, to commemorate the death of my brother.
Three months after my brother’s murder, I went to Paris for the big march commemorating the tenth anniversary of Lamine Dieng’s death. Lamine was twenty-five years old when he died of suffocation in a police van in Paris on 17 June 2017. For thirty minutes, he was tackled on his stomach, crushed under the weight of five police officers, handcuffs on his back and his feet strapped. As with my brother, the court dismissed the case. When I arrived at the rally that day, I found several sisters of victims. We recognize each other. We all hug each other, they cry for Angelo with me. We cry together, for our brothers, it is strong and it feels good. We carry the same pain, the same demands, the same violence inside us. When we start marching, I start shouting: “When we march for one, we march for all”. I noticed that day that it was mainly women who mobilised. We all go through the same problems: endless procedures, arbitrary court decisions, killers who get away without even having to explain themselves in a public trial… So we know that when it’s over for the justice system, it will never really be over for us; we have to keep fighting for those who are still alive, because it can’t go on like this. All these encounters and the power of this march convinced me that I was not crazy, that I was not alone, and that we were right to fight and to demand accountability. With the Blacks, the Arabs, the Roma… all of us! All discriminated communities. For us, there is no freedom or equality, only fraternity. Since they did that to us, I really became aware that I was a ‘racialised’ person, like the Blacks, the Arabs, the Asians…
For centuries, Travellers have been labelled: lazy, unsocial, thieves, violent, welfare scroungers, liars… We are suspected in advance. Because of this we cannot defend ourselves. And because of that you die. My brother was shot because in their eyes he was just a “gypsy on the run”, to use the expression used by the media after his murder. His origin was enough to make him a threat to society and his death is a sad example of the inequality of life. This was also proven by the judicial process that led to the dismissal of the gendarmes’ case: not all individuals are treated equally and not all words have the same value, especially when gendarmes are involved and also when the complainants or the accused are Travellers. When the case is dismissed by the courts in 2019 (which means that the gendarmes who killed my brother will never be prosecuted) the French state assumes: yes, it was our agents who killed Angelo Garand and yes, it is completely legal. The justice system used an article of the “Internal Security Law” of 2017 to say that the gendarmes had had the right reaction to “the danger of death or serious physical harm” that my brother represented. One man alone facing 5 armed gendarmes specialised in the fight against terrorism… This is the first time that this new article of law, article L435-1, has been used to justify a dismissal. This article represents a real licence to kill for the police, and it has been used since Angelo’s death on many occasions to justify crimes committed by the police.
When we were able to access the file on my brother’s death, the first things we discovered were photos of Angelo’s body lying on his back, his knife next to his right hand, his chest riddled with five bullets. To make it look like Angelo was a real danger to them, they had to invent a weapon. It was never denied that he had a penknife on him, we all carry one in the family, but there were no fingerprints on his knife, only his DNA – which proves that he didn’t have it in his hand when they shot. The only explanation for the presence of the knife in the photo is that after they killed my brother, they searched him, found his penknife and then opened it and placed it in the extension of his arm, to make it look like my brother had attacked them with his knife. This knife allowed the gendarmes to say that they had acted in self-defence, thus saving them from going to court.
I came to accept that I would never be able to look into the eyes of those who targeted Angelo’s heart and that I would never be able to hear the truth coming out of a courtroom. We had to look for the answers on our own, but we couldn’t do it alone. On 30 March this year, GENI, an independent counter-investigation group that works on state violence, released a video with its findings on my brother’s death. Based on concrete elements, and in particular ballistic reports, they managed to demonstrate in a detailed 3D reconstruction what really happened in the shed: Angelo was never a threat to the police and the latter were not in self-defence. We know that the French justice system will never admit the truth and this is why we have taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). We hope that a court will finally say: Angelo Garand should have lived, the French state agents had no right to execute him for nothing, their statements are false, the state is guilty. I will continue to fight as long as it takes, so that justice is finally done for my brother Angelo and for all the victims of police violence, for all those people who can be killed with impunity just because of their origins.
Aurélie Garand at a march organized on June 27, 2020 in Blois by the collective Justice for Angelo.
©LaMeute – Jaya/Graine
Written by: Aurélie Garand