Police and racism: the risks of blindness

In the demonstration in tribute to Adama Traoré, in Paris, June 2. Michel Euler / AP

World” editorial. The chance collusion between two current events can produce a heavy effect of meaning. The concomitance between the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old American black man smothered during his arrest by a white police officer in Minneapolis (Minnesota), and the publication of new expert reports on the death of Adama Traoré, a black Frenchman 24-year-old, died in 2016 in Val-d’Oise after his arrest by gendarmes, could not go unnoticed. Braving the ban on demonstrations, 20,000 people protested on Tuesday, June 2, near the Paris courthouse, and rallies have followed one after the other.

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Comparison is not right: the status of blacks has been a gaping wound in American political and social history since the time of slavery, prolonged by a de facto apartheid which has never ceased, in the southern states , than in the 1960s; in France, this is both a historical question linked to the slave trade and the colonization of Africa, and a reality following relatively recent immigration. The centuries-old racial divide, the widespread presence of firearms, and recurrent police violence in the United States, which kills 1,000 people a year – compared to around 20 in France – prohibit any simplicity in the analogy.

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Observing these differences should not, however, obscure the reality of the serious uneasiness which is poisoning, in France, the relations between the so-called “visible” minorities and the police. The fear of skidding, or even smearing, is a generalized feeling which makes one fear any contact with uniforms. “I know this feeling that eats from the inside”, testified comedian Omar Sy, remembering the time when, anonymous, he ran as soon as he met police officers. Many white people simply deny this obsession because they have by definition never felt it.

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Amply documented trends

To remain inactive in front of this reality, as the government does, is a doubly dangerous attitude: not only does it tend to aggravate a “racial divide” already materialized by urban ghettos, but it risks validating the thesis, which came from the United States, which makes the police in themselves an instrument of domination structurally led by the Whites to perpetuate a colonial-type power over “racialized” people. Hence the unacceptable treason charges launched by certain demonstrators against a black policeman.

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The question is not to accuse the police as a whole of racism, but to combat within them amply documented tendencies: “systemic discrimination” against young blacks and young Maghrebis recognized in one case by the Defender of rights , Jacques Toubon, State conviction by the Court of Cassation in 2016 for “Facies checks”. Already highlighted during the crisis of “yellow vests”, the violent drifts, they imply a serious reform of the formation, the mode of command and control of the police. The practice of dialogue with the British police population deserves to be imitated. The “traceability” of identity checks, carried out during confinement, could be generalized, as proposed by Mr. Toubon, and systematized video recording, and not prohibited as desired MP Eric Ciotti. Unless the French echo of the Minneapolis tragedy is taken seriously, the government is facing a brutal return from the “world before” the coronavirus, only worse.

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