In a wide-ranging interview, the president admitted that there was a problem with police violence in France and with racism, although he added: “I have no problem repeating the term 'police violence' but I deconstruct it, because it has become a slogan for people who have a political project.”
His comments come after France was shocked by the emergence of CCTV footage of police officers savagely beating a black music producer in Paris – the officers then lied on their statements and charged the man with attacking them. Since the emergence of the footage, four officers have been suspended and charged in relation to the assault.
Je réponds en direct aux questions de Brut :https://t.co/0KtPvLFCgC
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) December 4, 2020
Advocacy groups have long said there is a problem with racism and violence from a minority of officers, particularly in relation to contrôles d'identité – ID checks.
Macron told the interview with Brut: “Today, when you have a skin colour that is not white, you are much more likely to be stopped […] You are identified as a problem factor and this is unsustainable.”
The French state's official 'colourblind' policy means that no data is collected on the race of people who are stopped and searched or arrested, but several studies including one published in 2017 by the French Human Rights Defender Jacques Toubon suggests that people of colour are more likely to be stopped by police than white people.
Macron announced the creation of a platform by which people could report discrimination by police, although no detail has been released on how this would work.
But the announcement was enough to trigger the fury of two of France's largest police unions, Alliance and Unité SGP, who immediately issued calls on social media for their members to stop performing any ID checks or responding to call-outs.
Nous sommes violents, n’interpellez plus !
Nous sommes racistes, ne contrôlez plus !
Blocage total !!! pic.twitter.com/WcKcOmGzmq
— UNITÉ SGP POLICE (@UNITESGPPOLICE) December 5, 2020
“You decide to discriminate and cloister people in the suburbs and then make us pay for it? No. It won't happen like that,” said a statement from the Unité SGP union, calling for a 'total blockade'.
The Alliance Union called on its members to stop all identity checks, saying “The presumption of guilt of racism and facial control will not take place.”
Alliance appelle dès maintenant tous les #policiers à ne plus faire de contrôles d’identité !#jesoutienslesforcesdelordre #jesoutienslesFDO #jesoutienslapolicehttps://t.co/LLQmS0ZgeR pic.twitter.com/YfI4PS3W9b
— ALLIANCE POLICE NATIONALE GRAND EST (@ALLIANCE_METZ) December 4, 2020
It is not the first time that attempts from politicians to examine the problem of police violence have sparked anger from unions, in June former Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tried to ban the controversial 'chokehold' technique, and announced plans to suspend officers accused of misconduct.
Police unions responded by organising multiple demonstrations in which officers threw their handcuffs on the ground and the government later backtracked.
Over the weekend thousands of people took to the streets for a third weekend of protest over France's controversial new security bill. The demo in Paris ended in serious violence from Black Bloc hooligans and close to 100 people were arrested.
Black Bloc “casseurs” in Paris today. They once again infiltrated a demo and left cars burned and banks ransacked. Riot police fire tear gas… This has been going on for a few years now… https://t.co/8ydOa13dgF
— Ben McPartland (@McPBen) December 5, 2020
Following widespread protests, the government has said it will 'rewrite' the most controversial section of the bill, Article 24 which would make it illegal to publish identifiable images of police officers if there is “manifest intent to harm their physical or mental integrity” – critics say the vagueness of the bill is open to abuse.