France: Racial Profiling By French Police Taken to Court

French police targeted in class-action over racial profiling - France 24
French Protesing Racism

On Thursday, several organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Open Society Justice Initiative Filed a Class Action lawsuit aganist ethic profiling over systemic racial discrimination in France’s highest Court.

France has failed to take necessary steps to prevent and remedy ethnic profiling by the police during identity checks, a form a systemic discrimination.

The suit was brought forward by six French and international human right organizations.

The French goverments has long taken a blind eye to complaints of profiling people of color in France, specifically Black people and people of Arab descent. The issue of racial profiling by French police has been an issue for many years.

The practice of officers performing identity checks on young people who are often Black or Arab decent who live in housing projects, many are checked several times a day.

Quantitative studies have demonstrated that men and boys perceived to be Black or Arab are disproportionately targeted for stop and frisk actions, while qualitative reports have documented the devastating impact of discriminatory policing, including on children as young as 12.

The abuse of indentity check has served for many in France is emblematic of a broder alleged racism within police ranks, with critics claiming that misconduct has been left unchecked or whitwashed by authorities .

Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top court

Police of Color Subject to ID Checks

Some police officers have come forward, saying when they are not in uniform, they are subject to ID checks . “When I’m not in uniform , I’m a person of color” People need alegal basis for their actions, “but 80% of the time they do checks based on heads—–meaning how a person looks.

Omer Mas Capitolin, head of Community House for Supportive Development, a grassroots NGO ( a Non Govermental Organization) is one of many groups taking part in the lawsuit. Capitolin called it a “mechanical reflex” for French police to stop non-whites, practice he said is damagaing to the person being checked and ultimately to relations between officers and the members of the public they are expected to protect.

When you’re always checked, it lowers your self-esteem ” and you become a second class citizen ” Mas Capitolin said. The “victims are afraid to file complaints in this country even if they know what happened isn’t normal ” he said, because they fear fallout from the neighberhood police. Capitolin credits the case of George Floyd with raising consciences and becoming a caralyst for change in France.

“These are practices that impact the whole society” said Issa Coulibaly ,the head of Pazapas-Belleville, another organization taking part in the suit. Like a downward spiral, profiling hurts youths “feeling of belonging ” to the life of the nation and “reinforces prejudices of other in the population.

French Government Proposed a Law that would punish citizens for filming Police

Images of Police beating its citizens of color filled the internet. Last year a video showing Michel Zecler, a Black music producer being beaten by several French Police Officers. The video was seen by more than 14 million viewers, resulting in a public outcry over police actions. There are thousands of cell phone images of blacks and Arabs being beaten by police

Beating of black man fires up French anger over law to protect police

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is pushing a new security bill that makes it illegal to publish images of police officers with intent to cause them harm, amid other measures.

 Global Security Law which could make it an offense punishable by a year in jail and a 45,000 euro($53,000.US) fine to film, post, and identify police officers committing violent actions. April 2021 the French goverment passed a draft of the law which would make illegal.

Any shared videos with malicious intent to identify the spouse, partner, or child of a police or customs officer will also be punished.

Those found guilty could face a sentence of up to five years in prison and a €75,000 ($88,000 US) fine.

This has been increased from the original legislation, which carried a sentence of one year and a €45,000 fine.

The law states that an offending person must have “the obvious aim of damaging the physical or psychological integrity” of the police officer in question.

The proposed law has sparked, nationwide Protest.

The law will now have to be approved by France’s Constitutional Court

The Lawsuit

The groups are asking the Council of State to find the French state at fault for failing to prevent widespread use of ethnic profiling by the police and to order the authorities to adopt necessary reforms, including:

  • Modify identity check powers to explicitly prohibit discrimination in identity checks, abolish preventive identity checks, and circumscribe police authority to ensure that all identity checks, including those based on a prosecutor’s orders, are based on objective and individual grounds;
  • Adopt specific regulations and instructions for stops targeting children;
  • Create a system to record and evaluate data on identity checks and provide those stopped with a record of the stop;
  • Create an effective, independent complaints mechanism; and
  • Change the institutional objectives, guidelines, and training of the police, including with respect to interactions with the public.

The landmark lawsuit comes after years of inaction by French authorities, who have allowed the unlawful practices to continue, affecting a significant number of people. The case rests on significant evidence that police engage in widespread ethnic profiling based on physical characteristics associated with a real or presumed ethnic or racial origin.

The absence of a strict legal framework that respects legal nondiscrimination standards allows the police to use overly broad powers to conduct identity checks in a discriminatory manner. Quantitative studies have demonstrated that men and boys perceived to be Black or Arab are disproportionately targeted for stop-and-frisk actions, while qualitative reports have documented the devastating impact of discriminatory policing, including on children as young as 12. 

The legal complaint filed on July 22 demonstrates how ethnic profiling by the French police constitutes systemic discrimination – defined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights as “legal rules, policies, practices or predominant cultural attitudes in the public sector…which create relative disadvantages for some groups, and privileges for other groups”– and details the French state’s inadequate response to date to put an end to it.