French-Algerian actress causes storm with comments about ‘systemic racism’ in French police

A French-Algerian actress' claims of systemic police racism have sparked a storm in France, reigniting the debate on police violence.

French-Algerian actress causes storm with comments about 'systemic racism' in French police
Photo: AFP

Camelia Jordana, who was born in France to Algerian parents, had said in a talk show on Sunday that people “get massacred” by the police in the Paris suburbs simply due to the colour of their skin.

Her comments were condemned by police unions and the Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who said her comments were “deceitful and shameful”.

Jordana, 27, who rose to fame as a singer, has appeared in a dozen films and won the prestigious Cesar award for most promising actress for her role on the 2017 comedy “Le Brio”.

Jordana had said that men and women who work in the suburbs “get massacred for no other reason than the colour of their skin. It's a fact”.

“There are thousands of people who do not feel safe in front of a policeman.

“And I am one of them,” she added.

READ ALSO Why France is being forced to have a conversation about police violence


Camelia Jordana was born in France to Algerian parents. Photo: AFP

Writing on Twitter, Castaner denied that this was the case and said: “These deceitful and shameful statements feed hatred and violence. They merit unmitigated condemnation.”

The French police union Alliance said in a statement that Jordana had made “unacceptable accusations against the police” and added it was filing a complaint with prosecutors.

But anti-racism group SOS Racisme said in a statement it backed the “analysis” made by the actress.

“We regret that the interior minister, by placing the emphasis on the use of the term 'massacre', decided it was useful to condemn the statements by Camelia Jordana,” it said.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. Photo: AFP

“This attitude – shared by several police unions – is symptomatic of the impossibility in our country of dealing with the unfortunately real subject of racism within the police force,” said Dominique Sopo, the president of SOS Racisme.

The issue of violence and racism within the police is an extremely sensitive one in France, where activists claim that police officers – particularly those who work in the low-income suburbs – have a history of violence.

Police unions and authorities say these are isolated incidents and not indicative of a culture within the police.

Tensions flared between police and locals in the Paris suburbs during the lockdown in April after a motorcyclist was seriously hurt during a police stop. There followed several nights of running battles with police in which a school was torched.

There was more trouble earlier in May in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil after an 18-year-old motorcyclist died in a collision with a police car.

At the end of April an investigation was launched after a Paris police office was caught on camera making what appeared to be racist comments during an arrest.

Police violence became a major part of the 'yellow vest' protests when officers were accused of being heavy handed in policing the protests, although many police officers were also injured during the months of weekly demonstrations. 

READ ALSO Is the punching of a Paris protester a one-off or part of a wider problem with French policing?



Member comments

  1. This would be better addressed by asking the government what sort of programs are in place for police training in race relations/cultual awareness. It would be more measurable and show that the police/government cares. Instead both sides start shouting matches. Adrenaline rush with no lasting changes. Just angry people on both sides. Sigh.

  2. Racism in France is deeply entrenched. It will never be managed and reduced if the French cannot admit that it exists. A bit like their history in North Africa, far too many are in complete denial about this issue which allows it to persist at all levels of society.

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ANALYSIS: Who is winning the battle over French pension reform?

As the French government and unions continue their increasingly bitter struggle over pension reform, John Lichfield looks at who is winning the battle for public opinion and which side will back down first.

ANALYSIS: Who is winning the battle over French pension reform?

Over one million people took to the streets of France again on Tuesday to protest against the “cruelty” and “brutality” of a modest pension reform.

The crowds – 1.27m  in total –  were probably the biggest of their kind since December 1995 when the late President Jacques Chirac was eventually forced to dump a similar (but more radical) change in the French retirement system.

On the other hand, a second 24-hour strike against the wicked notion of working to the age of 64 was substantially weaker yesterday.  Trains, schools, oil refineries, power stations and government offices were disrupted but much less so than on the first “day of action” on January 19th.

Who is winning the war?

The government has certainly lost the communications battle. It had hoped that opposition to its pension reform would be melting by now. The numbers opposing the change have grown on the street and in the opinion polls.

And yet President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne show no signs of giving way.

Cold feet among the government’s parliamentary troops and allies on the centre-right will no doubt grow colder. There will be some extra concessions for women who have broken their careers to start families and, maybe, for people who started work in their teens.

But Macron is determined to stand by the “cruel, brutal, unjust” proposal that by the year 2030 French people should work officially until they are 64 – when most Europeans  already work until they are 65 are older.

He has little choice. He has painted himself into a corner.  His second term, scarcely begun, will be a domestic wasteland if he gives way.

We are therefore only at the start of the conflict. There will be two further days of action, or inaction, on Tuesday, February 7th and Saturday, February 11th. The text of the reform will go before the National Assembly on Monday.

The country is likely to be disrupted, periodically and maybe continuously, until the end of March.

Both sides now face awkward decisions on strategy.

The eight trades union federations have been unusually united so far. They have agreed a pattern of one-day strikes and marches of increasing frequency in the hope that rising numbers on the streets will somehow convince Macron that he cannot reform France against its will.

The small increase in the size of marches nationwide on Tuesday was a victory for the unions of sorts. But it fell short of the kind of mass revolt – 1,500,000 or more on the streets – that some union leaders had hoped for.

Radical voices within the union movement, including Philippe Martinez, the leader of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) now suggest that it is time to shift to a strategy of continuous strikes in key industries, from railways to oil refineries to power plants. Some sections of his federation are already threatening open-ended stoppages to try to bring the country to its knees.

It was, they point out, long strikes on the railways and elsewhere which forced Chirac to back down in 1995, not the scale of the marches on the street.

The more moderate union voices, led by Laurent Berger of the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT), say such a strategy would be a calamity. Long queues at petrol stations or a long shut-down on the railways and Paris Metro would anger public opinion.

The February holidays are approaching. A collision threatens between two French popular obsessions: the right to go on holidays and the right to retire early.

If the unions disrupt holiday travel, Berger points out, they will lose the support of part of the public on the sanctity of early retirement.

There is therefore a strong possibility that the united union front will shatter in the next couple of weeks.

Macron also face a strategic choice between soft and hard lines. That choice may already have been made.

Macron and especially his Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne have tried so far to make the consensual argument that reform is needed to make the state French pension system more “fair” and to protect it from eventual collapse. That may be true but it is not immediately true.

Their hope was that voters of the centre and moderate left could be persuaded reluctantly to support a just and necessary reform. That approach has failed.

There are signs that Macron is switching to a different argument.

The French pension system is in permanent, massive deficit – €33 billion a year, equivalent to half the defence budget, is taken from general taxation to stop the pensions system for retired public workers from going bust.

The present system is a kind of official Ponzi scheme which only survives if active workers and their employers  pay the pensions of the retired. But there is a  permanent imbalance, which will grow worse in the years ahead. Only massive subsidies from the taxpayer keep the Ponzi scheme alive.

The pension system therefore acts as a ball-and-chain on the French economy, Macron and his government argue. It needs to be reformed, not just for the sake of future pensioners but for the sake of creating jobs now.

There is a great deal of truth in that. But it is, in French terms, the kind of unashamedly “right wing” or liberal argument, which Macron and Borne had hoped  to avoid.

The new government communications strategy abandons all hope of persuading the broad Left. It is aimed at centre-right voters and especially at centre-right opposition deputies whose votes the government needs to push the reform through the National Assembly.

The centre-right Les Républicains have long made exactly the economic argument about pension reform that Macron is now making. He hopes to galvanise, or embarrass, the waverers in their ranks.

Whether that works any better than the previous “just reform” argument remains to be seen. The French centre-right has never been celebrated for its consistency.

In any case, the government appears to be preparing not just one but two constitutional “jokers” or “trumps” to ensure that it wins the parliamentary card game on pension reform.

On top of Article 49.3 (which allows some legislation to be approved by decree without a normal vote), the government is considering cutting debate in the Assembly to 20 days by using the rarely employed “guillotine” powers under Article 47.1.

Either would be cue for much shrieking by the opposition and much anger, and some violence, on the streets. Macron’s popularity, already shrinking, would doubtless collapse.

In a sense, he has nothing to fear. He cannot run again. Après moi le déluge. It would be left to his potential centrist successors to pick up the pieces in 2027 against an emboldened Far Right.

But what a mess. What extreme methods – and what potentially extreme consequences – to enact what is, in all conscience, a sensible and modest reform.