‘We feel insulted’: French police protest against chokehold ban

A police officer protests in Nice, France, on Thursday, June 11, 2020.
A police officer protests in Nice, France, on Thursday, June 11, 2020. © Reuters / France 24

Police in France protested this week over a government ban on using chokeholds to restrain suspects, with the technique coming under scrutiny following the deaths of George Floyd in the US and a string of similar incidents in France.

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In cities across France on Thursday police threw down their handcuffs to show their anger over the ban, announced by French interior minister Christophe Castaner on Monday.

“Today colleagues feel insulted, they are angry. That’s why they decided to go out with handcuffs on the ground, to show their displeasure,” Xavier Leveau, a police union representative, told AFP at a protest in Lille.

More protests were held in Paris on Friday, with a procession of police in vehicles and on foot along the Champs-Élysées.

The use by law enforcement of chokeholds, where pressure is applied to the neck to cut off the supply of blood or air, has long been controversial. But the death of Floyd, who was killed after an officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, has brought the issue back into sharp focus.

Floyd’s death has sparked protests across the US and around the world. In France, demonstrations have also been fuelled by anger over the death of Adama Traoré who died while being restrained in police custody in 2016.

“What’s happening in the United States today echoes with France. What’s happening in the United States has unfortunately brought to light what’s happening in France,” Assa Traoré, Adama Traoré’s sister, told a rally in Paris on June 2.

“They were both put in chokeholds, Adama took the weight of three policemen on him, George Floyd took the weight of three policemen on him. They had the same words: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

Chokeholds have been banned in several European countries and a number of US cities, including Los Angeles and New York.

But in France the technique was used 2,350 times in 2019 alone, equal to six times a day and a rise of 30 percent on the year before.

Such restraint techniques have been cited as a factor of numerous deaths in France in recent years, including that of Cédric Chouviat, a delivery man who died after being restrained by police in Paris in January.

But French police argue chokeholds are a vital tool in carrying out arrests.

“Head restraint is very important during handcuffing. We’re not going to hold him down for eight minutes, we’re going to hold him down just for the handcuffing,” Leveau said at Thursday’s protest.

“And today we don’t have a substitute technique. So they need to explain to us what we’re supposed to do.”

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