France backtracks from ban on chokeholds by police

France backtracks from ban on chokeholds by police
Protesters in Paris on Saturday. Photo: AFP
The French government has suspended a ban on chokeholds by the police, a technique that has been widely denounced by Black Lives Matter activists at rallies against racism.

The French interior minister announced the ban last week, after French protesters took to the streets in demonstrations that echoed those spurred in the US by the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded “I can't breathe” as an officer kneeled on his neck.

But the move sparked furious protests from police unions, who said the long-used technique was essential for ensuring officers' safety, and accused the government of failing to appreciate the perils of their work.

“While awaiting a clarification of the new framework and when circumstances require it, the technique known as a chokehold will continue to be used with restraint and discernment,” national police chief Frederic Veaux said in a letter to staff on Monday, seen by AFP.

READ ALSO: Why have police in France thrown down their handcuffs?

 

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In particular, the technique can be used when a person resists arrest or threatens an officer or other people.

Veaux said a commission would be set up on Wednesday to begin working on possible “substitution techniques”, with recommendations due by September 1st.

Police unions, which have staged angry protests across France that saw officers throw down their handcuffs while rejecting claims of systemic racism or violence, welcomed the reversal.

“It's a step in the right direction, but it won't be enough to dissipate the anger among the police,” said Patrice Ribeiro, head of the Synergie-Officiers union.

“It's a note that comes late but is welcome,” agreed Yves Lefebvre of the Unite-SGP-FO union.

Police threw their handcuffs on their ground in a series of protests across France last week. Photo: AFP

Police forces in several countries are debating the continued use of chokeholds, as protesters call for reforms in the wake of Floyd's death, the latest in a series of black Americans killed in police custody.

This month, the state of New York adopted a chokehold ban among several laws aimed at ending excessive force by officers.

In France, the protests have coalesced around the case of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black man who died at a police station shortly after his arrest in 2016.

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

Traore's family claim he was suffocated as officers held him down, an accusation that medical assessments ordered by French investigators have rejected. 

Prosecutors said this month that the inquiry was still going on.


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