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French police unions call for ‘total blockage’ over Macron’s plan to tackle discrimination

Two of France's largest police unions have called on their members to stop performing ID checks or even arrests after President Emmanuel Macron laid out a plan to deal with discrimination and violence by police.

French police unions call for 'total blockage' over Macron's plan to tackle discrimination
French police. Illustration photo: AFP

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.

 

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.

READ ALSO Is France really 'colourblind' or just blind to racism?

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.

 

“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.”

 

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.

READ ALSO How did France's relationship with its own police get to bad?

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.

 

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.

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POLITICS

Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

Elisabeth Borne, who is taking the reins of President Emmanuel Macron's government as the first female prime minister in over 30 years, is an experienced technocrat who enjoys the full confidence of the French leader.

Who is Élisabeth Borne, France's new PM?

The 61-year-old engineer proved her loyalty to Macron during his first term, serving as transport, environment and finally labour minister from 2020.

Borne is known for handling controversial transport and benefits reforms, which will be seen as a mighty advantage as Macron seeks to push through a highly-contested bid to raise France’s retirement age during his second mandate.

Borne will seek to make a greater impact than France’s first female prime minister Edith Cresson, who lasted less than a year in the early 1990s.

Macron had indicated he wanted a woman with left-wing and environmental credentials, and Borne ticked many boxes.

The president promised before the runoff vote in presidential elections in April to put the climate crisis at the heart of his second term and to task his prime minister with “ecological planning”.

As labour minister during the Covid-19 pandemic, Borne backed a range of measures to boost employment of the younger generation.

Borne, who is said to discreetly vape at the National Assembly parliament, was regularly on television at the height of the pandemic to remind the French to work from home and to defend the government’s job retention scheme.

Hospitalised due to the virus in March 2021, she was administered oxygen, an experience she described as nerve-wracking.

‘A real technocrat’

Far from being an extrovert figure who could overshadow the president in any way, she is a safe pair of hands who Macron can trust at a delicate time.

“She’s a real technocrat,” said a union source who asked not to be named.

And in the corridors of the ministries where she served, it is said she was nicknamed “Borne out” for her supposed harshness towards her collaborators, a play on words with “burn out”.

France’s second-ever female prime minister was born in Paris and studied at the elite Ecole Polytechnique.

According to an April survey by the Ifop pollster, 45 percent of people polled did not know who she was.

Little is known about her private life, apart from that she was born to a father who died when she was young and to a mother with very little income.

A lover of maths, Borne has said she finds in numbers “something quite reassuring, quite rational”.

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