WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING IN FRANCE?
Trigger warning: racism, violence, rape, death
Oh… Sweet France, the land of romance that gave birth to the “language of love”. That is, if you overlook the country’s murderous history and its terrorising present.
Let’s take a step back and have a look at what the self-proclaimed land of human rights has been up to in the past decades to understand the current - outrageous - situation. On the 17th October 1961, Algerians demonstrated in the streets of Paris to boycott the curfew that France had imposed only on its Northern-African citizens. Additionally, Algerians were also demanding their independence, as France had been colonising Algeria since 1830. Their protestation resulted in a bloodbath. The French police violently repressed this demonstration by killing Algerians and dumping their bodies into the Seine, the river that flows through Paris. On that day, over two hundred people either drowned or simply were never to be found again. It is only 51 years later, that French president François Hollande publicly acknowledged in 2012 the event as a “massacre” during which “Algerians who were demonstrating for their right to independence” were killed.
Top photo reads: “Here, Algerians are drowned” Bottom photo reads: “The police kill people and then throw them into the Seine.”
There are more recent examples of France infringing upon human rights. Last Spring, the spotlight was on the USA. It is important to say that the USA is not an isolated case when it comes down to police brutality and racial discrimination. However, Europe and its nations shouldn’t antagonise one country and dismiss the wrongdoings of their own. Just like in the USA, police brutality is well alive in France, the only difference being that the usage of guns is way more regulated over here than in the USA. In France, this kind of behaviour mostly, if not exclusively, targets Black and Arabic people. This shows that racism is still very prevalent within our French institutions.
Let’s rewind back to the 27th October 2005, when Zyed Benna (17 year old) and Bouna Traoré (15 year old) were with their friends when the police suddenly came to racially profile them. The duo tried to hide from the police and died of an electric shock in their flight. Now, some people attempt to defend the police by saying “If they ran away, they must have had something to hide”. What if we rephrased that sentence to: “If innocent boys risked their life to escape from the police, the police must have been really scary.” Their deaths sparked a movement of riots in 2005 which led to furious clashes against the police in Paris’ suburbs. The clashes went on for several days straight and ended on the 3rd of Novembre 2005.
Zyed (left) and Bouna (right)
Despite these days of violent confrontation with the police, police brutality did not decrease in France. On 2nd February 2017, Théodore Luhaka, a 22-year-old man, witnessed a Black youngster being racially profiled by the police and slapped by the latter. Théo stepped in to defend the person, the police then proceeded to beat Théo up and raped him by sticking their police baton inside his anus. They also took a picture of it on SnapChat, Théo says. This sheds light on, not only the abusive acts of the police, but also on how vicious some police officers can be when given the power.
On June the 13th 2020, Boubacar, a 31-year-old Black civilian ombudsman, helped a family find their daughter and the police suddenly pulled up out of nowhere to racially profile him. As he was being obedient, they put him on the ground, almost suffocated him and sexually assaulted him by repeatedly “crushing his nuts”. This violent arrest triggered PTSD in Boubacar and he had to stop working.
In June 2020, Gabriel (14 year old) tried to steal a scooter with a friend. When the police arrived, they beat him up instead of taking him in front of a judge to receive proper justice. Moreover, as soon as he saw the police he gave up and didn't show any reticence to go with them. He thought that he was going to die during this heavily brutal arrest, and had to later receive surgery.
Individual cases aside, the Yellow Vest movement also suffered from violent police repression. Over the last two years, people and journalists have been filming and documenting the Yellow Vest protests. Police forces can be seen assaulting and abusing people who are exercising their legal right to protest peacefully. As time passed, the police got more violent and received more equipment from the government. For what? To fight off people who are legally expressing their dissatisfaction with the current government. As such, more and more evidence has surfaced on the internet, displaying the senselessly barbarous acts from the French police forces. One can then expect the government to have a look into its police training, and reform what being a representative of the French government and the law means inside those violent police officers’ minds.
France finally decided to take action and wrote a law last month, in October 2020. The bill is called “comprehensive safety law” (loi de sécurité globale) and forbids the spread and sharing of images and videos displaying police forces while in their uniforms, so basically anytime they’re working. Did you expect the government to write a law that would force the police system to reinvent itself by reviewing the training programme, including a module to educate about racial violence? The French government decided to side with its murderous police force instead.
French people demonstrating against the comprehensive safety law in November 2020. Credit: BRUT (Online French media outlet)
This new law prevents holding the police officers accountable for their acts and this censorship causes serious harm to freedom of press. The United Nations, Amnesty International and the European Commission have expressed their concern.
In France, it is illegal to spank your child since 2019, which is a progress. And the same country just made it legal for police officers to beat up, rape and torture the people they’ve sworn to protect away from the media’s eyes (minors included).