Many of the overwhelmingly young, racially mixed crowd bore slogans linked to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, which has seen large protests in recent days after George Floyd, a black man, was killed by police last week.
The protest near the main Paris courts complex was called by the sister of Adama Traore, who died in 2016 after his arrest by gendarmerie police in a town north of Paris, and supporters.
The demonstration was at first overwhelmingly peaceful and good-humoured, but BFMTV television reported that some demonstrators later blocked the nearby Paris motorway ring road and lit fires before being dispersed by police.
Police spokeswoman Laetitia Vallar told BFMTV that about 20,000 people took part in the protest.
However, prominent human rights lawyer Arie Alimi, speaking on BFMTV, accused the police of provoking trouble by firing tear gas on peaceful protesters.
In the crowd before trouble started, one protester, who gave his name as Cyril, said he was there because of the mistreatment of black people worldwide, “notably in the United States with the George Floyd case and in France with the Adama Traore case.”
According to Adama Traore’s sister Assa Traore and French media reports, forensic reports ordered by judges and by the Traore family have reached differing conclusions as to whether Adama Traore died because he was asphyxiated by three gendarmes forcing him to the ground or as a result of a pre-existing heart condition.
Paris police forbid the protest citing coronavirus restrictions that ban gatherings of more than 10 people.
They also argued that the “tone” of the protest call aroused fears of trouble in a sensitive location.
But as large numbers of young people headed towards the location, they appeared to content themselves with monitoring the crowd.
The protest comes amid ongoing controversy about alleged racist discrimination by French security forces, notably a series of alleged acts of police violence in poor suburbs during the country’s recent coronavirus lockdown.
Cyril told dpa that, as a black resident of a public housing estate in the Paris suburb of Boulogne, he had not personally suffered police violence but was frequently subjected to discriminatory checks and insults from police.
“The media won’t be able to close their eyes any more because there are more and more people who are aware of what’s going on,” the 30-year-old agency manager said, predicting a “snowball effect” from the protest.
Marches against police violence, racism and social injustice have gripped United States cities for the past week, with solidarity protests held in Britain, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among other places.
Edited by Emmanuel Yashim