French police under investigation for leaked racist comments

Leaked contents from a private Facebook group for French police officers, published by the online media outlet StreetPress.
Leaked contents from a private Facebook group for French police officers, published by the online media outlet StreetPress. © Facebook (screen grabs via StreetPress)

Leaked comments from a private Facebook group for police officers have fuelled outrage over racism among French law enforcement, prompting Paris prosecutors to open an investigation on Friday. 

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Even as Black Lives Matter protests have swelled in France along with those taking place around the world, online media outlet SteetPress published contents on Thursday from a private Facebook group reserved for police officers.

Members of the group repeatedly used racist and sexist terms, even mocking victims of police brutality.

“If the facts are proven to be true, these comments are unacceptable and seriously damage the honour of the police,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.

Castaner pledged on Wednesday that “every mistake, every excess, every word including racist expressions” by police would be “the subject of an investigation, a decision, a punishment”.

Paris prosecutors opened an investigation on Friday.

In a separate case, a black police officer filed a complaint against six white colleagues in December 2019 after discovering an abundance of racist messages on a private WhatsApp group, often concerning him.

The officers involved will face a disciplinary hearing, national police chief Frédéric Veaux told AFP on Thursday.

"The French police isn't racist," he said. "It suffers from behaviour which in no way corresponds to the republican values it defends."

Government officials say incidents of racism are the deplorable actions of individuals whereas critics say there is a systemic problem.

Protests banned

Protesters gathered late Saturday afternoon near the Eiffel Tower in Paris using the slogans, "Let us breathe" and "No justice, no peace", echoing the words used since George Floyd's May 25 death sparked demonstrations across the US. 

French authorities had tried to ban an earlier demonstration against police brutality Saturday in front of the US embassy in Paris, citing a coronavirus restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people. That demonstration went ahead despite the ban. 

Calls for new demonstrations in France followed a tense 20,000-strong rally in Paris on Tuesday to commemorate the death of black 24-year-old Adama Traoré, who died in police custody in 2016. His death has long been a rallying cry for critics of the French police.

His case contains sad parallels to the George Floyd case. Traoré ran from the police during a dispute over an identity check before being apprehended. He died after he was pinned to the ground under the combined body weight of three arresting officers, according to the testimony of one of them.

Last Friday, French medical experts said Traoré did not die of "positional suffocation", ruling out that the officers pinning him to the ground were the cause of his death.

But on Tuesday, a new probe commissioned by the Traoré family said his death was caused by the arrest technique used.

Several thousand youths dressed in black gathered in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Friday night to remember Floyd, an AFP journalist said. "The real virus is racism," they chanted, with many holding placards copying US slogans such as "Black Lives Matter". 

There have also been calls for demonstrations in Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Nantes and Metz to go ahead on Saturday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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