Paris: French police marched Friday through central Paris to protest what they see as a lack of government support, choosing the famed Champs-Elysees avenue that was scene to violent clashes with protesters just a few months ago to protest a new ban on chokeholds and limits to what they can do during arrests.
The decision to ban chokeholds is part of government efforts to stem police brutality and racism in the wake of global protests over George Floyd’s death in the U.S. But police have especially taken issue with any implication of systemic racism among French police.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said earlier this week any “strong suspicion” of racism would be punished, in response to investigations into racist comments on closed Facebook and WhatsApp groups for police.
Friday’s protest was small but highly visible, with honking, flags and blue smoke blowing under rainy skies. It came after police outside Paris laid their handcuffs on the ground outside some police stations.
Police unions met Thursday and Friday with Castaner to discuss changes to police tactics after the minister announced Monday 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 immobilization techniques have come under growing criticism since Floyd’s death. But French police say the new restrictions go too far.
“He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about,” said Jean-Paul Megret, a police union leader. “Sometimes you can’t just ask people to follow you to be arrested. Every day, you’re dealing with people who are completely insane.”
France has seen several anti-police protests sparked by Floyd’s death, and another is planned Saturday. Friday’s protest on the Champs-Elysees was striking because the avenue was repeatedly the scene of violence between police and the “yellow vest” protesters late last year.
Last week, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into racist insults and instigating racial hatred based on comments allegedly written in a private police Facebook group.
Website Streetpress published a string of offensive messages that it said were published within the group, though acknowledged that it is unclear whether the authors were officers or people pretending to be police. Some of the reported comments mocked young men of color who have died fleeing police.
Separately, six police officers in the Normandy city of Rouen are under internal investigation over racist comments in a private WhatsApp group. Both incidents have prompted public concerns about extreme views among French police.