France fights against systemic racism and new security law as protests rock the country

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France has been agitated for days, with mass protests and collective outrage, over a security bill that would criminalize recording or photographing police behavior with “a clear intention to harm their physical integrity and psychological ”in the public arena.

The proposal has sparked such an extreme backlash, with thousands taking to the streets to oppose the legislation, that President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party has promised to rewrite the bill.

The recent unrest was ignited by the beating of black music producer Michel Zecler by four police officers in Paris on November 21. CCTV footage that captured the incident shows officers kicking and punching Zecler for several minutes. Zecler accused the police officers of racial bias and the four police officers are currently under criminal investigation.

French jurists to rewrite bill banning the use of police images after their release

Meanwhile, the French police union urges prosecutors to charge Zecler with resisting arrest.

Nonetheless, protesters and Zecler supporters argue that the new security law would prevent such tragedies from unfolding.

Opponents claimed the bill was too vague and prevented citizens from holding police officers to account, while supporters of the bill argued the law would help protect police from targeting and online abuse.

Despite a potential rewrite, the mere proposal of such a draconian security law calls into question France’s dedication and commitment to accountability and stemming police brutality.

The backdrop for France’s security bill comes in light of this summer’s global Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked after the death of George Floyd, a black man, while in custody in Minneapolis in broad daylight on May 25.

Brutal scenes of police officers firing tear gas and beating protesters across France have once again highlighted repressive police tactics and systemic racism, some of the many themes associated with a tumultuous 2020.

France, like the United States and other multiracial societies, has long struggled to defend its universal and democratic ideals of racial equality enshrined in its egalitarian constitution and reality on the ground. The recent tragedies of police violence against black and Arab citizens in France have led to a national movement to change France’s race neutral policy.

A protester holds a poster reading “Land of rights for the police” during a demonstration against a security law Saturday, November 28, 2020 in Paris. Thousands of critics of a security bill that would restrict the sharing of images of police officers in France gathered across the country in protest, and of officers in Paris who had been urged to behave responsibly during the protests fired tear gas to disperse the rowdy protesters into the largely peaceful crowd. . The cause has gained new momentum in recent days after the broadcast of images of French police beating a black man, triggering a national outcry. (AP Photo / François Mori)

Floyd’s death and the protests that followed Black Lives Matter brought identity politics and France’s long history of colonialism and racial inequality into public consciousness. Major cases of excessive police force captured on film in recent times, such as the beating of Zecler, have been directed against people of color.

The African and Arab minorities in France have felt betrayed and marginalized by a system that reinforces institutional racism not only in police and security relations, but also in state-society relations.

French law since 1978 also does not recognize race, ethnicity or religion, but rather the citizen or immigrant, a “color blind” approach that effectively ignores identity.

There are no race-conscious public policies that cater to disaffected minority communities and France ignores national statistics based on race or ethnicity that would help tackle systemic discrimination as it does. the US Census Bureau.

French public policy focuses on French national identity as a means of integrating its minority populations and this approach creates an environment of systemic discrimination as there are no reliable indicators of social, economic or political inequalities.

FRENCH PROTESTERS DECRY BILL BANNING THE USE OF POLICE IMAGES

In France, identifying with something other than French is considered a threat to the French collective identity.

“As a result, historically the French have been unable to collect information on, for example, university applicants, because if someone designated that they were Algerian-French, it would differentiate them from other French nationals and would be therefore problematic, ”said Professor Elizabeth Carter, an assistant professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. “The idea is that all French nationals are equal. But of course they are not treated that way.

Outside, in the suburbs of the largest cities in France, there are often underdeveloped communities, called suburbs, where there is a long history of tension between the police and the inhabitants of these areas – and sometimes the response to police behavior results in riots.

“So you have a situation where marginalized communities are often in specific geographic communities, and there is a strong perception of excessive use of force,” Carter said.

Article 24 of France’s Global Security Law also calls into question the democratic makeup of France at a time when democracy is being eroded and shaken all over the world, including, many say, the United States, where the President Trump refuses to concede in the election to President-elect Joe Biden.

Human rights experts immediately spoke out against the bill, calling it incompatible with international human rights law and democratic standards. United Nations human rights experts have also stressed that public video surveillance is an essential tool to hold authorities accountable in a democratic society.

“These are very timely reminders that images of police abuse captured by the public play a vital role in the monitoring of public institutions, which is fundamental for the rule of law,” the experts said.

Benjamin Haddad, director of the Initiative for the Future of Europe at the Atlantic Council, warns that despite the fervent outcry over the legislation, part of the misunderstanding is that the bill was drafted in haste and did not was not properly explained to the public.

“Part of the confusion is that people were saying it would be illegal to film police – but that only criminalizes sharing police content with online threats,” Haddad said.

Along with the more recent unrest in the streets, France has often seen mass mobilization after public disaffection with French public policy, and many often turn violent.

The yellow vests movement, or the yellow vests movement, is a big part of the police motivation to seek broader powers. The yellow vests movement was born in 2018 after Macron announced an environmental tax on fuel. The initially peaceful protests quickly turned violent with widespread looting and vandalism throughout Paris.

A protester wearing a yellow vest clenches his fist as protesters open toll gates on a highway near Aix-en-Provence, in south-eastern France, Tuesday, December 4, 2018. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday announced the suspension of fuel tax increases. a major turnaround in an attempt to appease a protest movement that radicalized and plunged Paris into chaos last weekend. (AP Photo / Claude Paris)

“During the yellow vests protests, some of the protesters filmed law enforcement and shared messages on social media with names and addresses,” Haddad said. “There were many death threats against them and some police officers were attacked in their homes. ”

The Global Security Act is an extension of efforts by police unions after the yellow vests movement to protect the police and allow them to do their jobs safely.

Haddad also argues that the recent civil unrest and promises to rewrite the law are an example of where democracy works.

“I think the government is listening to the public reaction and debate and will take more time to explain the bill and include more groups,” he said. “These are really difficult and divisive questions, and you have to be as inclusive as possible when you write these security bills and it’s a good thing to step back and listen to the outcry. ”

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Yet even amid the uncertainty surrounding section 24 of the Global Security Act, other problematic clauses remain in the bill. Section 21 allows police to film their interactions with citizens, and Section 22 allows police to use drone technology to monitor the public.

“It is important not to miss the fact that the rest of the law, including the problematic articles 21 and 22 on body cameras and drones allowing real-time facial recognition and identification, will continue,” said Kartik Raj, researcher for Western Europe. to Human Rights Watch.

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