Paris, France – On May 1, 1995, skinheads rallying with the far-right National Front (FN) threw Brahim Bouarram, a 29-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent, into the River Seine and disappeared into the crowds.
Unable to swim, Bouarram – a father of two who had been simply walking with his girlfriend – struggled to stay afloat and drowned.
Since then, activists have gathered each year at the scene of the murder in the French capital to pay tribute to Bouarram and all the victims of racist attacks.
This year, however, was different.
Crowds, slightly larger than usual, gathered on Monday to protest against xenophobia with a presidential election due in less than a week.
On Sunday, millions of voters will choose between frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, and Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, in the final round of France’s presidential vote.
Both won most votes in the April 23 first round.
The last time the far-right made it this far was in 2002, when Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was up against the right-wing Jacques Chirac, who ultimately won.
At the time of Bouarram’s death, Jean-Marie Le Pen described the incident as “minor”.
“You might as well ask me why I don’t condemn rain, hail, traffic accidents or earthquakes,” he said at the time, according to the New York Times.
Eager to highlight the racist roots of the National Front’s ideology, both Macron, the frontrunner in Sunday’s vote, and Jean-Luc Melenchon, the left-wing losing candidate of the first round, attended Monday’s gathering.
“We have been commemorating Brahim’s death every May 1 since his death,” said 56-year-old Driss El Kherchi, of the Association des Travailleurs Maghrebins de France (ATMF), who has lived in France for 34 years.
“Our objective is to say no to racism, no to the violence that is killing people,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that he has been fighting against the FN for more than 20 years.
“We always felt we have to remain cautious about the FN, and we can see now why we were … There has been a normalisation of racism over the past 24 years. Even politicians who are not in the FN use the same kind of rhetoric that targets immigrants and refugees … Young Arabs here are French citizens, but they are worried about the promotion of hatred and violence.”
Several anti-racism activists spoke at the event, which included a minute’s silence, and called for the rights of Africans, Roma, Arabs, Jews and Muslims of France to be protected.
Others threw flowers into the river where Bouarram lost his life, as protesters chanted: “No space for the fascists, Brahim Bouarram – we don’t forget and we don’t forgive”.
"No space for the fascists, Brahim Bouarram – we don't forget and we don't forgive" pic.twitter.com/qvjPbXChwE
— Anealla (@anealla) May 1, 2017
“The FN is an anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic party,” said Abdallah, also of the ATMF.
“The normalisation of the ideas of the NF is worrying us. Even more so, it scares us that a large proportion of the army, gendarmerie and police vote for Marine Le Pen. We are scared for our kids who have brown, black and Arab faces when they get stopped by the police.”
He described the attendance of politicians at this year’s memorial as opportunistic.
“It’s a facade to get our votes. Macron will not get mine,” he said. “A lot of my comrades will vote for Macron to stop Le Pen, but I’m sick of the blackmail, the strategical vote. I think I will abstain.”
One of Bouarram’s killers was sentenced to an eight years in prison in 1998, and three others to five-year terms.
Letitia Lallemand, who attended Monday’s memorial, was adorned with homemade cardboard placards.
She said: “I’m here today because I’m a human being, and I happen to be white. I’m a white person who is privileged by my whiteness, at the expense of non-white people. And I’m really fed up.”
Additional reporting by Naima Bouteldja in Paris.