Seven times videos revealed police violence in France

Seven times videos revealed police violence in France
A police officer aims a 40-millimetre rubber bullet launcher LBD (LBD40) during a 'yellow vest' protest in Paris, on January 5th 2019. Photo: AFP
As French MPs begin to debate a controversial bill that would restrict the right to publish images of police, we look at some of France's most infamous police violence cases where video played a key role.

The security bill, Loi de la sécurité globale, comes before the French parliament on November 17th, and is a broad legal document targeting a string of security issues and policing, several of which have drawn criticism.

Proposed by ruling party La République En Marche (LREM) MPs and backed by French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin as an essential means to protect law enforcement officials, the law proposal has caused uproar.

At the heart of the controversy was article 24, a clause that would criminalise the publishing of any images where a police officer or gendarme could be recognised, if it was found there was intent on the part on the part of the publisher to harm the physical or mental integrity of the officer.

Those disseminating the videos, whether on social media or via news sites, would risk one year in prison and a €45,000 fine.

Critics, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Amnesty, the United Nations and France’s human right’s defender, say “intent” is a vague term that opens for both misinterpretations and misuse. RSF have called it an attack on press freedom that could have dangerous spillover consequences by preventing reporters from doing their job. 

BACKGROUND: France proposes bill to restrict photos and videos that identify police officers

Proponents of the bill say journalists will be able to keep doing their job as usual, and that the bill would rather seek to do away with the practice of publishing videos of officers directly on social media.

But many of France’s most notorious revelations of police violence were prompted by such videos, often amateur footage shot by regular citizens who directly uploaded them online. 

Here's a look at some of the most famous examples, as revealed by France Info.

1. The video that inspired Les Misérables

France's first police violence case sparked by an amateur video was shot in 2008 by Ladj Ly, who later went on to create the Oscar-nominated film Les Misérables.

Ly captured on camera the arrest of 20-year-old Abdoulaye Fofana, in Montfermeil, an impoverished part of the Parisian suburb Seine-Saint-Denis.

Police accused Fofana of having thrown cobblestones and shot fireworks at a police car together with others in the neighbourhood. They beat the young man during the arrest – which included pointing a gun at him while handcuffed – which Ly's video revealed. 

Two police officers were sentenced in 2011 to four months in prison and Fofana received €3,600 in damages.

2. The video that sparked Benallagate

Alexandre Benalla, formerly President Emmanuel Macron’s chief of staff, was caught on camera roughing up a young man during a protest in the heart of Paris, on May 1st 2018. The person filming the video that would cause one of the biggest scandals of Macron's presidency, was Taha Bouhafs, an activist later turned journalist who would go on to document several incidents of police violence. 

Benallagate – l'affaire Benalla in French – made France question its whole law enforcement system, as Benalla, who was not a serving police officer, should never have been able to find himself among on duty law enforcement officials during a protest.

 

3.The video documenting the Burger King beat-up 

The third ‘yellow vest’ protest in Paris, on December 1st 2018, was especially chaotic and violent.

It was the day of the vandalism of the Arc de Triomphe, when police were caught off guard by some of the ‘yellow vests’ rampages and cracked down with force to restore calm in the capital.

At one point, police entered a Burger King, not far from the Arc de Triomphe, where some 30 protesters and journalists had sought refuge. Several videos showed how the officers beat those inside with batons, an act that “did not seem justified”,  according to the institution in charge of investigating police violence in France, the IGPN.

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

4. The video of the 'yellow vest' who was hit in the eye

Jérôme Rodrigues, a ‘yellow vest’ leading figure, was filming himself when he was hit in the eye by a projectile that several media investigations have concluded was a rubber bullet shot from an LBD (lanceur de balle de défense). 

The incident, which occurred during a ‘yellow vest’ protest on January 26th 2019, at Place de la Bastille in Paris, was filmed by Florent Marcie, a documentary filmmaker who himself was struck in the face by an LBD bullet on an earlier occasion.

Police said Rodrigues was hit by a projectile from a tear gas grenade, not an LBD bullet, but – thanks to the videos shot on scene – the IGPN in February 2019 opened a case to investigate the matter.

5. The video of a policeman throwing a brick at protesters

At a ‘yellow vest’ protest on May 1st 2019, just across from the Paris hospital Pitié-Salpêtrière, a police officer was filmed as he picked up a brick and hurled it towards protesters. 

 

The video, shot by a journalist on scene, did not show where the brick landed, but the officer in question was handed a four-month suspended prison sentence. 

OPINION: French police are not just thugs, they are being placed in an impossible situation

6. The video when a man said 'I can't breathe' seven times

Cédric Chouviat was a 42-year-old delivery man who died at the hands of French police during a routine road stop on January 3rd, 2020.

Three videos, one shot by Chouviat himself, another by a police officer and a third by the driver, made it possible to piece together what happened. On one of them, Chouviat is heard repeating “I can’t breathe”, seven times, before he died. The officers said they had not heard his Chouviat’s calls for air.

The IGPN have placed three police officers under investigation for involuntary manslaughter and a fourth as a standby witness.

7. The video showing police officers' racist slurs

Around 1.30am on April 26th, in the Paris suburb Seine-Saint-Denis, a man threw himself into the Seine in an attempt to escape the police officers chasing him as a suspect of a theft, according to AFP reports.

An amateur video, shot by a passersby and published by Bouhafs, the journalist behind the Benalla video, shows what happened when the police got him back up on dry land.

Dark and shot from afar, the video does not show much, but the sounds – the police officers' racist slurs and laughter mixed with the man's screams – are chilling enough.

“You should have strapped a weight on his foot,” one police officer said, suggesting that the man might sink to the bottom, to roars of laughter from his colleagues. Another officers calls the man un bicot, which is a racist slur derived from abricot (peach), used in a pejorative way about someone with North African origins. 

The IGPN opened an investigation into the matter for racist and violent behaviour by officials on duty. One of the officers will be sentenced on a charge for racist behaviour on March 4th 2021. Two of the officers in question were suspended.

 


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