September 24, 2020

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France police to ban chokehold arrest as protest anger mounts

France said on Monday it would ban the controversial chokehold method used to detain suspects, after the death in custody of George Floyd in the United States intensified anger over the behaviour of French police.

A wave of global protests in the wake of Floyd’s fatal arrest magnified attention on the 2016 death in French police custody of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black man, and renewed controversy over claims of racism and brutality within France’s police.

The country’s police watchdog said on Monday it had received almost 1,500 complaints against officers last year — half of them for alleged violence.

Seeking to take serious action after a string of protests in recent days, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced the chokehold method “will be abandoned”.

“It will no longer be taught in police and gendarmerie schools. It is a method that has its dangers,” he said in a televised press conference, while stressing he would pursue a policy of “zero tolerance” for racism in law enforcement.

“Racism does not have a place in our society and even less in our Republican police,” said Castaner, adding too many officers “have failed in their Republican duty” in recent weeks, with several instances of racist and discriminatory remarks revealed.

“It is not enough to condemn it,” said Castaner. “We have to track it down and combat it.”

Earlier on Monday, President Emmanuel Macron urged his government to “accelerate” steps to improve police ethics.

The presidency said Macron had met Castaner and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Sunday after some 23,000 people protested in several French cities on Saturday to demand “justice” for victims of crimes allegedly committed by police officers.

– ‘Crisis of confidence’ –

The French demonstrations started in response to an expert report clearing the three officers who arrested Traore.

This was in spite of one of the officers having told investigators the young man had been pinned to the ground with their combined body weight, and a report commissioned by Traore’s family finding he had died due to the police members’ actions.

Some 20,000 people rallied in Paris last Tuesday to demand justice for Traore and Floyd, defying a coronavirus ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people, followed on Saturday by more protests in several French cities.

Floyd had similarly died after being pinned to the ground while under arrest.

Media outlets last week published the contents of a private Facebook group on which French police members repeatedly used racist and sexist terms and mocked victims of police brutality.

The IGPN watchdog said on Monday that complaints against officers rose by nearly a quarter last year, when police were deployed for months of weekly “yellow vest” anti-government protests.

The rallies often sparked tense confrontations that left several officers injured by rioting protesters, but also civilians beaten or struck by rubber bullets.

According to an official count, about 2,500 demonstrators and 1,800 law enforcement agents were injured in yellow vest protests.

Activists say two dozen people lost an eye as police used rubber bullets to rein in the rallies, and five lost a hand to stun grenades.

Just this year, video footage showed a riot officer punching a bloodied protester held down on his back, another tripping a woman, and yet another firing a rubber bullet at point-blank range.

Last month, a 14-year-old boy was seriously injured in one eye in a police operation in the poorer northern suburbs of Paris. He said they struck him.

Macron has instructed Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet to look into Traore’s death, and Castaner to step up measures to “improve the ethics” of the police force, the presidency said.

The IGPN report said nearly 40 percent of cases reported last year arose from police action during protests, and 13 percent during identity checks and 14 percent during detention.

Also on Monday, France’s human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon raised the alarm over a “crisis of public confidence in the security forces” and urged a reversal of what he described as a “warring mentality” in law enforcement.

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© 2020 AFP