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Fatal shooting intensifies spotlight on police violence in France

A fatal police shooting in Paris has thrust the issue of violence by security forces to the heart of an increasingly close French parliamentary election battle between a new left-wing coalition and allies of centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

Fatal shooting intensifies spotlight on police violence in France
Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

Police killed a passenger in a car in northern Paris on Saturday after the vehicle failed to stop when summoned by officers and then allegedly drove towards them at speed.

Saturday’s shooting came just a week after police were widely condemned over their conduct at the Champions League final in Paris, where security forces teargassed fans and failed to stop street crime by local youths.

Images of passengers being teargassed outside a Paris train station over the weekend after rail services were cancelled also fed questions about their methods.

The debate has now entered the political discours ahead of parliamentary elections on June 12th and 19th.

“If you vote for me, I’ll change the doctrine governing the use of force by the police in our country,” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Nupes left-wing alliance, told France Inter radio on Tuesday.

“It’s not normal that we kill someone for failing to stop,” he added, saying that four people had died in such circumstances in four months.

“The police kill,” he tweeted on Saturday, sparking condemnation from rival politicians and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

The three officers involved in Saturday’s shooting say they opened fire on the car in self-defence and their lawyer claims there is video evidence to back them up.

The 38-year-old driver, who has been hospitalised with a throat injury, has a long criminal record and no driving licence, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

A woman in the front seat was hit in the head by one of the “eight or nine shots” fired in the capital’s 18th district.

The use of force by French police is a divisive political issue in France, with Melenchon and other left-wingers frequently criticising security forces.

Darmanin said Monday that police “deserve respect” and that “insulting them dishonours those that want to govern”.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Tuesday that Melenchon “is always on the side of thugs, of criminals. He’s never on the side of the security forces.”

“It’s not because someone has died that the police have done something that is open to criticism,” she told Franceinfo, adding that police had the right to defend themselves.

The killing of police by jihadists as well as suspected drug dealers in recent years has led to public sympathy for their plight.

A policewoman was killed in southwest France in July 2020 when a car refused to stop and drove through a checkpoint, prompting an outcry at the time.

Police unions also complain about poor pay for officers and difficult working conditions, particularly in low-income suburbs where hostility to them is deeply rooted.

Campaigning ahead of Sunday’s vote is set to intensify this week, with Macron making several trips around the country to lend support to his centrist Ensemble (Together) coalition.

Surveys suggest Ensemble is on course for a narrow majority, but the results are viewed as hard to forecast because abstention is predicted to reach record levels of around 50 percent.

Mélenchon and the Nupes alliance — which groups his far-left la France Insoumise party, the Socialists, Greens and Communists — are hoping to block newly re-elected Macron by winning a majority.

The first results — for 11 constituencies representing French people living overseas — were published on Monday.

After a first round of voting at the weekend, they showed Macron’s candidates finishing top in eight out of the 11 as expected, but Nupes candidates making major gains compared with the last polls in 2017.

Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party and allies have upped their attacks on Melenchon in recent days, which analysts see as a sign of nervousness.

Senior MP (and former interior minister) Christophe Castaner said the former Trotskyist promised a “Soviet revolution”, while Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire called him a “French Chavez” in reference to late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Melenchon is promising to lower the retirement age to 60, introduce wealth taxes on companies and high-earners, and hike the minimum wage by around 15 percent.

Macron needs a parliamentary majority in order to push through his domestic agenda of tax cuts, welfare reform and raising the retirement age.

The 44-year-old defeated Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election on April 24th, winning a second five-year term.

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Do French police have the right to see my ID?

French police have some quite surprisingly wide-ranging powers that apply to everyone in France, whether resident or visitor.

Reader question: Do French police have the right to see my ID?

The Local subscribers in France are no doubt, responsible and law-abiding people – but, even so, it is very possible that they will find themselves in situations that involve contact with the police.

One reason for police to stop an ordinary civilian is for a contrôle d’identité (identity check). This is when a police officer stops to check your identity. 

This can only happen under certain conditions: 

  • the officer suspects you have committed or will commit a crime; 
  • you are in a ‘dangerous’ location where crime is known to occur; 
  • the public prosecutor has ordered a particular area to be watched; 
  • or you are operating a motorised vehicle (a contrôle routière).

If you’re driving, officers have the power to pull you over for an identity check – even if you were driving safely and within the speed limit – and a search of the vehicle and/or luggage may be carried out.

If you refuse to provide proof of identity, the police can find you guilty of refusing to obey or find you guilty of contempt and rebellion. Really.

READ ALSO ‘Don’t mess with French cops’ – Top tips for dealing with police in France

If you are not carrying any document that could prove your identity, the officer can take you to a police station to check your identity there. If this happens, the verification process must not last longer than four hours from the first request for ID – in Mayotte, this period is eight hours.

If you maintain your refusal to be identified, or if there is no other means of establishing your identity, the public prosecutor or the investigating judge may authorise the taking of fingerprints and photos.

Refusing to submit to fingerprinting or having a photograph taken is punishable by a fine of up to €3,750 and three months in prison.

Activists and NGOs argue that police practice racial profiling when they perform ID checks and it’s true that these ‘random’ checks seem to happen more frequently to people of colour.  

READ ALSO What to do if you are arrested in France

Non-French citizens who are resident in France may also have to prove their right to residency – a passport or residence permit is acceptable as, importantly, is the confirmation of anyone with you who is either a French citizen or legally resident in France.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: What are your legal rights as a foreigner in France?

In France, it is strongly recommended that you carry some form of ID at all times, just in case you are stopped by officials. In fact, no text obliges you to have an identity card but if you are subject to an identity check, the procedure will take longer if you cannot present an appropriate document.

French citizens have ID cards, but if you’re not French then a passport or residency card such as a carte de séjour are the most usual ways to prove ID. 

Equally, you may be required to prove your identity for any number of administrative reasons – which makes it easier to have some form of ID with you.

These include, for example, the following situations:

  • Examination or competition;
  • Registration at Pôle Emploi;
  • Registering on electoral rolls and voting in elections;
  • Certain banking operations (payment by cheque, withdrawal at the counter of your bank);
  • Picking up a parcel from the post office
  • A trip abroad
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