“France’s Deadly Riots Reignite Debate on Police Targeting of Ethnic Minorities”

The recent riots in France have reignited the debate about whether French police unfairly target ethnic minorities. While French authorities deny systemic racism within the police force, research and statistics suggest otherwise. Racial profiling and discrimination are prevalent in identity checks and police violence in France, particularly in poor, multi-ethnic suburbs. Numerous cases of police violence against people of color have been recorded, sparking public outrage. The police force’s denial of systemic racism only perpetuates the issue, and experts argue that more comprehensive training and reform are necessary to address these deep-rooted problems. Sarah Elzas reported

The recent riots in France, sparked by the police shooting of a young man of North African descent, have reignited the debate about racial discrimination within the French police force. While French authorities deny the existence of systemic racism, research and statistics suggest otherwise.

Political scientist Jacques De Maillard, who studies policing in France, argues that racism and discrimination are prevalent in police forces worldwide, including in France. He emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the problem in order to address it effectively.

The riots began after the shooting of Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old with Moroccan and Algerian heritage, during a traffic stop. These events mirror the riots in 2005 that were triggered by the deaths of two teenagers of African and North African descent during a police chase. Both incidents have highlighted issues of police violence and racism in France.

Accusations of racial profiling in identity checks and disproportionate targeting of minorities in police searches and violence have been made against the French police force. Lawyer Arié Alimi notes that the victims of fatal police shootings during traffic stops in France over the past 18 months have predominantly been men of color.

Despite these concerns, Paris police prefect Laurent Nunez denies the existence of systemic racism within the French police force. However, studies and surveys contradict this assertion. A 2017 survey conducted by France’s civil liberties ombudsman found that 80% of people perceived as black or Arab reported being stopped by the police in the previous five years, compared to 16% of the rest of the population.

French President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged the problem of racial profiling, stating that people with non-white skin color are stopped more frequently and labeled as part of a problem. Several notorious cases of police violence in recent years, including fatal shootings and instances of assault, further highlight the issue.

The French Foreign Ministry has defensively rejected accusations of racism or systemic discrimination in the police force. De Maillard argues that France’s tradition of republican universalism, which denies the existence of race and racism, contributes to the denial of systemic racism within the police force. Political pressure to defend the police against criticism also plays a role.

Observers agree that there are problems within the French police force, whether systemic or caused by a few individuals. Issues with training, guidelines, and communication with the population have been identified. Despite lessons that could have been learned from the 2005 riots, little has changed in how the police handle situations in the banlieues.

The police have faced significant pressure since the 2015 terror attacks and the Yellow Vest protests, leading to a feeling among officers that they are unappreciated for their work. In the banlieues, police often view themselves as at war with a hostile population, which has led to resentment and hatred towards the police among some young people.

During the recent riots, officers reported being directly attacked, leading to a further escalation of tensions. Unions have also contributed to the hardening attitude among police officers, with some adopting a defense-only stance and referring to the population as “savage hordes.”

This hardening attitude has also coincided with a shift towards the far right among some police officers. While it is not clear that the far right has infiltrated the police, there has been a convergence of views between some officers and far-right ideologies.

In order to address the issue of racial discrimination within the French police force, it is crucial to acknowledge its existence and take concrete steps towards reform. This includes improving training, guidelines, and communication, as well as promoting accountability and addressing the deep-rooted issues of racism and discrimination..