“Ici on noie les Algériens” - “Here we drown Algerians”
-Graffiti on the Saint-Michel Bridge, after the massacre
The Paris Massacre of 1961
In 1961, France found itself embroiled in a fierce counter-revolutionary war against its colony of Algeria. The war started in 1954, and as it dragged on, anti-Algerian laws and attitudes seeped into mainland France. In retaliation of the brutal suppression of the Algerian independence fighters, several police buildings were bombed in Paris. French police began to ruthlessly target Parisians with Algerian backgrounds; other minorities, like Moroccans, Tunisians, Spaniards, and Italians, were sometimes targeted out of ignorance. Those stopped by police were met with harsh interrogation and outright violence - a disturbingly common method used by French police was to beat, handcuff, then throw a suspect into the Seine, effectively executing them through drowning. Established law followed this trend, and by 1961, it was illegal to merely protest against the Algerian War.
On October 5th, a general curfew of 8:30 PM was enforced against all “Algerian Muslim workers,” “French Muslims” and “French Muslims of Algeria.” Pro-Algerian movements urged Parisians to protest this curfew on the night of the 17th. French police responded by mobilizing some 8,000 + police officers and riot suppression specialists and blocking access to the capital by severing all routes of ingress and egress. Out of the 150,000 Parisians who had Algerian backgrounds, about 40,000 assembled to protest on the night of the 16th. French police cracked down, arresting some 11,000 of the protestors.
However, some 4,000 protestors avoided arrests and were able to peacefully protest on the Grand Boulevards. Stopped by police at the Opéra de Paris, the protestors turned around and reversed their route.
The massacre began shortly after. Near the Rex Cinema, police open fired on the crowd with live ammunition, then charged. A similar scene unfolded on the Neuilly-sur-Seine, with protestors being shot and beaten without cause. French police began to throw dead or unconscious protestors into the Seine, sometimes within sight of the Notre-Dame.
Other protestors were arrested and brought to different locations, like the Palais des Sports, Stade Pierre de Coubertin, or various police headquarters. For almost a week, the prisoners were beaten and tortured, or outright executed. French police who carried out the acts were noted to have stripped all identification off of their uniforms. Bodies and half-alive prisoners were dumped into the Seine at night.
For weeks, bodies washed up on the banks of the Seine. The entire massacre was deliberate and planned, penned and ordered by the head of the Parisian Police, Maurice Papon. Papon would receive the Legion of Honour from Charles du Gaulle later that year.
France never officially recognized the existence of the massacre until nearly four decades later, in 1998. However, official statements only mentioned 40 dead, when other estimates place the toll at closer to 200.
In 1998, Maurice Papon was first convicted of crimes against humanity due to his aiding in the deportation of French-Jewish citizens during the Vichy Regime. In 1999, he was also found guilty of perpetuating the 1961 massacre. He lost all rank and decorations, including his Legion of Honour, but was released in 2002 on the grounds of ill-health.