A group of five people, their faces smeared with black make-up, beam exaggerated grins from under frizzy-haired wigs in a series of online photos.
But by the time these images, which reportedly feature five suburban Paris police officers, reached black rights’ groups and the bosses last week at police headquarters no one was laughing.
The photoshave prompted an internal investigation from France’s national police inspector, the Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale, and the officers from the Paris suburb of Kremlin-Bicetre are due to be grilled soon, French daily Le Figaro reported.
“If the police officers who have the responsibility to fight against racism are more busy making fun of black people than defending them, it could explain why things have advanced so little in this domain,” Louis-Georges Tin, president of black group Conseil Representatif des Associations Noires, told Le Figaro on Wednesday.
In the wake of the photos' publication Tin has asked for a meeting with France’s top cop, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. Tin noted, “The black people of this country don’t have to put up with racial profiling by day and blackface by night.”
The images first came to broader light on the Facebook page of former racial equality official Claudy Siar. He learned of the photos through a friend who had in turn discovered them posted on another friend’s Facebook page.
Siar said he was standing in the room when his friend called up the woman who posted the images to share her horror. Taken by surprise, the poster claimed the photos were “just for fun” between some friends who decided to have a “negro party”, Le Figaro reported.
It wasn’t clear from Siar’s comments whether the woman who posted the photos was one of the police officers involved in the racially-themed event.
“She immediately took down the photos, but the screen grabs were already done,” Siar said. “Convinced this was not a hoax, I decided to publish them.”
The blacked up photo scandal comes after a string of high-profile racist taunts directed at France’s black Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. Far-right weekly magazine Minute published in November 2013 a cover page with the headline "Crafty as a monkey, Taubira gets her banana back".
Just a month prior a candidate in municipal elections running under the banner of the anti-immigrant National Front posted a photo on Facebook that compared Taubira to a monkey.
“I’d prefer to see her swinging from a tree than in government,” the candidate, who the National Front later dropped, told France TV, while denying she or the photo were racist.
“I have friends who are black,” she added.