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French police stage Champs-Élysées protest over ban on chokeholds

Police officers rally on the Champs-Elysées in Paris to protest against a ban on chokeholds on June 12, 2020.
Police officers rally on the Champs-Elysées in Paris to protest against a ban on chokeholds on June 12, 2020. © Gonzalo Fuentes, REUTERS
3 min

French police protested on Friday against a ban on chokeholds and limits to what they can do during arrests, part of new government efforts to stem police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of global protests over George Floyd’s death in the United States and a reckoning in France over the 2016 death of Adama Traoré, who died in police custody.

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Police officers rallied on the French capital's famed Champs-Élysées avenue on Friday, parking dozens of vehicles at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in protest against new restrictions on restraint holds they can use. 

One van carried a poster reading "No police, no peace". Another carried graphic images of injuries sustained by police officers attacked in the line of duty, with the words: "Who is massacring who?"

The protest came as police unions were due to hold talks on Friday with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to discuss changes to police tactics, after Castaner announced earlier this week that police would no longer be taught to seize suspects by the neck or push on their necks.

Castaner stopped short of banning another technique – pressing on a prone suspect’s chest – that also has been blamed for leading to asphyxiation and possible death.

Such immobilisation techniques have come under growing criticism since Floyd’s death. But French police say the new restrictions go too far.

"Colleagues can't take this any more," Fabien Vanhemelryck of the National Police Alliance union told reporters after Friday's protesters arrived at the front gate of the interior ministry.

"We need to be protected, respected, supported. The police are never above the law, but they should never be left below the law," Vanhemelryck said.

French police protest chokehold ban, suspensions for officers suspected of racism

Officers from the union Unité SGP Police FO laid their handcuffs on the ground outside police stations around France on Thursday night in a symbolic protest.

“They want to prevent us from working,” Unité SGP Police FO representative Yves Lefebvre said on BFM television. “Mr. Castaner appears to have heard us, but not heard us enough.”

‘Zero tolerance’ for police racism

France has seen several protests sparked by Floyd’s death and another is planned Saturday.

Floyd’s killing by a white police officer in Minneapolis has evoked comparisons with the case of 24-year-old Adama Traoré, whose death while in police custody in July 2016 sparked days of clashes in the Paris suburbs. Two autopsies and four separate medical examinations have offered conflicting reasons for Traoré’s death, with his family maintaining that he suffocated under the weight of the three officers who used a controversial technique to restrain him.

Earlier this week, Jacques Toubon, France's human rights ombudsman, raised the alarm over a "crisis of public confidence in the security forces", urging a reversal of what he described as a "warring mentality" in law enforcement. 

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

The Élysée presidential palace said Monday that President Emmanuel Macron had urged cabinet ministers to come up with proposals to improve policing practices and address accusations of racial prejudice.

Announcing the chokehold ban, Castaner pledged “zero tolerance” for racism in the police force, adding that the use of body cameras would be beefed up.

>> France vows ‘zero tolerance’ of police racism after wave of protests

"Racism has no place in our society and even less in our Republican police. I will not let the hateful actions of some [officers] stigmatise the police as a whole,” Castaner told reporters. He added: “I refuse to say that the [police] institution is racist, but yes some police officers are racist.”

Though Castaner spoke at length in support of the police, his acknowledgement of racist incidents marked a rare concession from a minister who had so far strenuously denied police malpractice.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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