French journalist who joined the police denounces racism and violence | France

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A French journalist who infiltrated the country’s police force described a culture of racism and violence in which police officers act with impunity.

Valentin Gendrot says the violence was so frequent that it has become almost commonplace and describes an incident where he was forced to help falsify evidence against a teenager who was beaten by an officer.

“It really shocked me to hear police officers, who are state officials, calling people who were black, Arab or migrant” bastards “, but everyone did,” he said. .

“Only a minority of officers were violent … but they were still violent.”

Gendrot also says he was shocked to find out how poorly trained and paid police recruits are and how the constant stress, hostility and violence they face on a daily basis lead officers to depression and suicide. .

A selfie of Gendrot. He says he received his uniform and weapon after only three months of training.

The journalist spent nearly six months in a police station in one of the harshest neighborhoods north of Paris. boroughs where relations between the law and the inhabitants are strained.

In his book, Flic (Cop) published Wednesday, Gendrot reveals that he was given a uniform and a gun after only three months of training, then sent on patrol.

He says he saw officers attacking young people – many of whom were minors – almost daily. Gendrot describes a “clan” system which guarantees officers to close ranks to protect their own, which leads to a feeling of impunity.

“They don’t see a young person, but a delinquent… once this dehumanization is established, everything becomes justifiable, like beating a teenager or a migrant,” he wrote, adding: “What surprises me… is how they feel untouchable, as if there is no superior, no oversight by the hierarchy, as if a policeman can choose – depending on his free will or how he feels at the time – to be violent or not.

“In my police station, there were racist, homophobic and macho comments every day. They came from certain colleagues and were tolerated or ignored by others.

Valentin Gendrot's police diploma
Police diploma from Gendrot. He joined the force under his real name and says recruiters haven’t researched his background. Photograph: provided

Flic is published by Editions Goutte d’Or, a niche company that produces three books a year. It was published in the utmost secrecy. It was printed in Slovenia and bookstores in France ordered it without knowing the details.
The Guardian is one of three publications – along with Le Monde and Mediapart – authorized to read the manuscript at the publishers’ attorney’s offices and interview the author.

Gendrot, 32, from Brittany, worked in local newspapers and on the radio after graduating from a journalism school and conducted several undercover investigations – including on a Toyota production line and in a supermarket Lidl – before joining the police.

“I wanted to go undercover in a police station so that I could show what we never see. In France, there are two big taboos: police violence and abuse and police suicides. In France, people love the police or hate them. I thought it needed to be more nuanced, ”he told The Guardian.

“This book is not anti-police. It is a factual account of the daily life of a policeman in a difficult district of Paris.

Gendrot joined the National Police as security assistant – a “special gendarme” under contract and employee – in 2018 under his real name.

A Google search reveals that Gendrot doesn’t have a big footprint on the internet or social media, but in any case, he says, police recruiters haven’t delved into his story. He changed his round glasses to look less “bookish”.

After three months of training at the police school in St-Malo, Brittany – he finished 27th out of a class of 54 – Gendrot was transferred to a police psychiatric unit for 15 months before landing a job in a 19th station in Paris. arrondissement.

Here, as officer number 299145, he received his uniform and pistol. The station covers one of the most gravelly districts of Paris with 190,000 inhabitants and a particular problem of juvenile delinquency, drugs and prostitution.

On one of his first patrols, he describes how a colleague beat a migrant teenager in the back of the police van. “Two weeks in uniform and I am already an accomplice in the beating of a young migrant,” he wrote. The incident was never written down. “What happened in the van stays in the van,” he notes.

On another occasion, Gendrot and his patrol were sent to investigate after a complaint about young people with a loudspeaker. When his colleague humiliated one of the youths and the youth responded verbally, the youth was beaten, arrested and charged.

“We could have confiscated the speaker and left. Or say nothing and leave. Instead, it intensified and he was beaten, ”says Gendrot.

Worse yet, when the battered boy filed a formal complaint against the police, Gendrot’s colleagues concocted a story and insisted that he gave false evidence under oath to internal investigators, exposing him to a forgery charge. evidence, punishable by a heavy fine and imprisonment.

Gendrot says he struggled with his conscience before signing the false statement, but refusing would have blown his blanket.

“The officers reported on the event to explain his injuries. Then the child filed a legal complaint. Whatever happens, we had to close ranks, ”he wrote.

Gendrot said officers were often in the snow with forms and random “targets”, worked in run-down offices, drove damaged cars and often had to buy essential supplies out of their own pockets, resulting in high levels of depression.

In 2019, 59 police officers committed suicide, a 60% increase from the previous year. A Facebook group set up to support agents “in distress” had several thousand members in just a few days.

Cop hits French bookstores as police face criticism on multiple fronts. Liberal and often random use of tear gas and rubber bullets for more than a year vests yellow the protests have been widely criticized. The death of George Floyd in the United States rekindled anger in France after the death of Adama Traoré in police custody in 2016. In January of this year, Cédric Chouviat, 42, died of a heart attack allegedly caused by the asphyxiation suffered during his arrest. by the Paris police.

“I can only say what happened at this police station while I was there. I cannot speak of other police stations or the police in general. This book is a factual account of my time with the police, ”says Gendrot.

“Everyone knows there is a problem, that the police department is not a happy place and that it is time to do something. Maybe the book will make a difference.

“As Montesquieu says: give power to a man and they will use it. The police have the power. The uniform gives power. And they use it.

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