French journalist recounts police violence and racism as undercover officer

Racial or homophobic insults, gratuitous violence, a colleague's suicide: a journalist on Thursday detailed his undercover experience in France's police force where he said abuse was commonplace, if only among a handful of officers.

French journalist recounts police violence and racism as undercover officer
French journalist and 'Flic' author Valentin Gendrot. Photo:AFP

In his new book “Flic” (Cop), Valentin Gendrot recounts two years as a junior officer in the capital's northeast, which has several rough neighbourhoods where crime and drug use is rife.

Its publication comes as French police are facing growing calls for reform after years of claims of systematic abuse, in particular against the country's black and Arab minorities.

“The violence is recurrent – it's not a daily thing, I wouldn't go that far, but in any case it is recurrent,” Gendrot told AFP in an interview.

The 32-year-old, who has made a career of infiltrating tough jobs such as a factory line or supermarket worker, says he was given only a cursory three months of training after applying to the national police force – using his real name – in 2017.

“At no point did they do an internet search of my name, at no point did they dig a little deeper into my background,” he said.

He eventually joined a police station in the 19th district of Paris in March 2019, just as the force was being roiled by claims of heavy-handed tactics against the “yellow vest” protesters staging weekly rallies against the government.

READ ALSO: How the 'yellow vests' made France have a national conversation about police violence

Gendrot spent much of his time on neighbourhood patrols, where he says he was “absolutely stunned” from the start.

On his first day, he said, “an officer struck a man in custody for questioning” because he was making too much noise, and a woman was sent home when she tried to file a complaint against “death threats” by her husband.

Yet he also recounts the daily strains for officers dealing with ageing cars and decrepit locales, and facing an often hostile population during long workdays – one of his colleagues commits suicide.

A French police officer throws a tear gas canister towards protesters during a rally as part of the 'Black Lives Matter' worldwide protests against racism and police brutality, on Place de la Republique in Paris. Photo: AFP

In one of the book's most explosive incidents, Gendrot recalls a confrontation that quickly escalates with a group of youths playing loud music in front of an apartment block.

An officer who begins by tapping one person on the face eventually starts punching him several times before bringing him to the station for an ID check.

After the teenager files a complaint, Gendrot admits that he helped falsify an internal report exonerating the officer, so as not to blow his cover.

“I saw plenty of violent and racist behaviour, but it was always on the part of a minority. In my brigade, the J3, there were 32 of us, and maybe four, five or six who acted this way,” he said. “But the most shocking thing is that the majority of officers cover up this behaviour.”

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Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”