Teams Put French State on Authorized Discover Over Police Racism

PARIS – Six non-governmental organizations notified the French state on Wednesday to force it to deal with “systemic discriminatory practices by the police,” a rare collective legal measure the government will conduct for reasons unknown.

The organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, accused the French government of neglecting its duty to end discriminatory police identity checks – a practice they described as “widespread and deeply rooted in policing”.

They also called on the authorities to “introduce structural reforms and take concrete action to stop these practices,” a statement said.

It is the first time since its introduction as a legal instrument in the country in 2014 that such a collective action has been taken against the French state in relation to the police.

In accordance with French procedures, the non-governmental groups, which represented dozen of plaintiffs, first sent a formal notice calling on the Prime Minister and Ministers of Interior and Justice to address the problem of discriminatory police practices within four months. If the government does not take satisfactory action by then, the organizations can file a class action lawsuit.

Changes requested by the organizations include amending the French Code of Criminal Procedure to expressly prohibit discriminatory identity checks, the introduction of specific rules for verifying minors and the creation of a comprehensive database of identity checks.

It is difficult to get an accurate measure of the racial profiling by the police as ethnic statistics are tightly regulated in France. However, a 2017 study by the State Guard for Civil Liberties found that “young men who are perceived as black or Arab” were 20 times more likely to undergo police identity checks than the rest of the population.

Several studies by non-governmental organizations, including a Human Rights Watch report published last June, also pointed to systematic police discrimination. In 2016, the French Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the police identity check of several young men based on their “real or presumed origin” constituted “serious misconduct involving the state”.

Police officers and trade unions have long ignored these reports, and various French governments have refused to push for a police overhaul. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has insisted that cases of police racism are the work of “individuals” rather than a systemic problem.

But members of the police have also started to raise the alarm.

“It’s a fact – there is racism in the police force,” said Noam Anouar, a whistleblower official who in 2017 exposed racist messages from his superiors. He accused police authorities of regularly looking for ways to retrospectively justify practices that could be viewed as discriminatory.

“The government has legalized illegality,” said Anouar.

By driving the government into a legal corner, the collective action of the organizations aims to end these practices.

Slender Ben Achour, one of the lawyers representing the groups, said the move “confronts the state with its responsibilities,” which he described as his passivity in solving the problem.

Ben Achour said the move was inspired by several class action lawsuits in the United States, such as Floyd v City of New York, which resulted in a significant decline in police practices in 2013.

Unlike the lawsuits in the United States that target local police forces, Wednesday’s move affects France’s national police force and could result in changes that affect a wide range of officials.

“We have the opportunity to change people’s lives across the country,” said Ben Achour.

The problem of police racism, which has recently surfaced in other parts of Europe, has particularly resonated in France, where large African and Arab populations from its former colonies have not been fully integrated. After the police murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last May, tens of thousands gathered in Paris to protest police violence.

The police, who beat a black music producer, Michel Zecler, last December, also forced a settlement within the French government. After officers beat Mr. Zecler, Mr. Macron said in a letter to a police union that there was “an urgent need” for an overhaul of the security forces and called for a conference to review police working conditions and their relations with the French public.

The conference, which will be attended by police, elected officials and citizens, started on Monday and is expected to last until the end of May.

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