The death of an 85-year-old man from hypothermia in a busy Paris neighborhood after falling down and spending nine hours sprawled and ignored during a bitterly cold night has sparked outrage in France and beyond.
Swiss photographer René Robert, known for his shots of some of Spain’s most famous flamenco stars, died last week after slipping during one of his nightly walks around the bustling central Paris, where he lived, local press outlets reported Friday.
Robert fell over on Rue de Turbigo, between the Place de la République and Les Halles, according to his friend and journalist Michel Mompontet, who stated in a series of tweets that the victim has “suffered a dizzy spell and fell.”
“Unable to get up, he lay rooted to the spot in the cold for nine hours until a homeless person called the emergency services,” Mompontet added. “Too late. He had hypothermia and couldn’t cling on to life. Over the course of those nine hours no passerby stopped to check why this man was lying on the pavement. Not one.”
C’était un ami doux sensible et humaniste. Aussi discret que sensible. Dans la nuit du 19, en plein centre de Paris, le grand photographe René Robert est tombé, victime d’un malaise. Incapable de se relever il est resté cloué au sol dans le froid 9 h durant avant qu’un SDF— Michel Mompontet (@mompontet) January 23, 2022
Robert was “killed by indifference,” said Mompontet as he recounted the circumstances of his friend’s death on France TV Info, pointing out that many people – himself included – often looked the other way when it came to people on the street.
“If this awful death could serve some purpose, it would be this: when a human is lying on the pavement, we should check on them – no matter how busy we may be. Let’s just stop for a second.”
The death, which occurred in an area of Paris where many homeless people sleep rough, has again triggered a debate about civic responsibility and basic human decency.
“A lot of people are talking about the awful story of René Robert,” tweeted the Olivar Association, an agency that has worked with young homeless people in Madrid for more than 30 years, saying that it was saddened but not surprised by his death.
“But the reality is that this is the cruel, day-to-day experience of those who live and die on the street,” it added. “What is happening to us as a society that something like this can happen?”
According to homeless associations across France, nearly 600 people die on the streets of the European country every year.
A headline in French daily Le Figaro further read, “The photographer René Robert, dead in the indifference of the middle of the street.”
Robert was also remembered by one of his more recent subjects.
“Very sad at the loss of René Robert, who I was lucky enough to meet and be photographed by,” said the Grammy-winning flamenco singer Arcángel. “I can’t understand why no one helped him; I don’t want to think that we live in a society with so few values.”