France set for new anti-racism protests as government vows zero tolerance in police

France set for new anti-racism protests as government vows zero tolerance in police
Photo: AFP
French cities braced for another round of anti-police brutality protests on Tuesday, a day after the interior minister promising "zero tolerance" for racism among the country's police forces.
“It's a step forward, but there is still a long way to go,” one protester told France Info on Tuesday morning, referring to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner's speech on police brutality and alleged racism the night before.
 
In a long-awaited press-conference on Monday, after a week of government silence on the on-going protests against police brutality and alleged racism,  Castaner said there would be “zero tolerance” for racism among the country's police forces.
 
“Racism has no place in the population, nor in the police,” he said, announcing to scrap the controversial detainment tactic known as 'chokehold' as well as increasing the independence of institutions set up to scrutinise allegations of police violence.
 
 
New protests are planned in Paris and several other big cities on Tuesday evening during the funeral of George Floyd – the African-American man whose death at the hands of a white police man in the United States sparked worldwide protests.
 
SOS Racisme France has called for everyone to wear masks during the protests, as France only recently eased a strict nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
 
Racist social media groups

The death of Floyd hit a nerve in France and the public mood was further inflamed last week when media outlets published the contents of a private Facebook group on which police members repeatedly used racist and sexist terms and mocked victims of police brutality.

In another closed group on Whatsapp police officers mocked a fellow black officer with racist language. The officer has spoken to French media anonymously.

Castaner asked the gendarmerie and national police departments “that a suspension be systematically considered for each proven suspicion of a racist act or statement.”

Too many officers “have failed in their Republican duty” in recent weeks, Castaner said, with several instances of racist and discriminatory remarks revealed.

“It is not enough to condemn it,” said Castaner. “We have to track it down and combat it.”

But police unions questioned the changes.

The impression given is that “everyone is nice except the police who are mean,” said Philippe Capon of the Unsa-Police union.

Frederic Lagache on the Alliance Union said he feared that police will be reduced to “street fighting or the use of tasers”.

France, like countries all over world, has seen masses taking to the streets over the past week to protest alleged racism by law enforcement. Photo: AFP

'Chokehold' banned

The interior minister also said a police detainment practice known as 'chokehold' would be scrapped amid ongoing public anger over the death of a young black man named Adama Traoré in 2016 after he was pinned to the ground.

READ ALSO Who is Adama Traore and why are there protests in his name around France?

The practice “will be abandoned,” said Castaner. “It will no longer be taught in police and gendarmerie schools. It is a method that has its dangers,” he added.

He did however not ban the technique known as plaquage ventral – best translated to 'bodyslam' – where officers pin a suspect to the ground with the help of their bodyweight, because Castaner said, this technique is not taught to French police officers in school.

Adama Traoré's family claim he was killed as a result of the plaquage ventral technique used by his arresting officers.

Assa Traoré has been a front figure for the movement against police violence since her brother died in police custody in 2016. Photo: AFP

'Not a racist institution'

While the interior minister announced a tough stance on individual racist acts by police, he denied allegations that police in France suffered from institutional racism.

“I refuse to say that the institution is racist, but yes, there are racist police officers,” he said, reiterating what has been a common refrain in French rhetoric on racism and state institutions – individuals can be racist, not institutions of the Republic.

“We will never stop defending the honour of the police,” he said, stressing that “France is not the United States.”
 
Far right leader Marine Le Pen accused the interior minister of putting the police “at the mercy of the worst defamation”.
 
“This is the age of the suspicion and presumption of guilt for our security forces. It has nothing to do with the law”, said the president of the National Rally party.
 
Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “the police are not racist”, but racism, anti-Semitism and violence ran through society and the security forces “unfortunately do not escape these phenomena”.
 
1,500 complaints

Castaner's speech came the same days as France's police watchdog IGPN said it had received almost 1,500 complaints against officers last year, half of which were for alleged violence against civilians.

The IGPN report said nearly 40 percent of the cases reported last year arose from police action during protests, and 13 percent during identity checks.

Castaner said the government would “increase the independence” of the police watchdog to make it easier to intervene in specific cases.


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.