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French Police March Against Government Attacks

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French police marched shoulder to shoulder on Friday on the Champs-Elysees in protest of new limits on arrest tactics and suspicion of racism in their ranks.

France this week announced a ban on police chokeholds 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.

Friday’s protest was small but highly visible, with honking, flags and blue smoke blowing under rainy skies.

The protesters walked unimpeded to the interior ministry, which is next to the presidential palace and has been barricaded since the 2018 yellow vest protests that frequently ended in violent clashes.

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Uniformed guards did not intervene. After a minute of silence for slain police officers, they sang the French national anthem, spoke briefly and dispersed.

“French police are the most controlled in the world, so when there are certain lapses by a tiny minority, don’t stigmatize all police,” the National Police Alliance’s Fabien Vanhemelryck said.

He accused politicians of responding hastily to a crisis in the United States “that has nothing to do with us.”

Police unions met Thursday and Friday with Interior Minister Christophe 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.

Should police chokeholds be banned?

Such immobilization techniques have come under 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,” according to Jean-Paul Megret, another 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.”

Unions floated the idea this week of widening the use of stun-guns, which are only available to a handful of specialized officers.

France has seen several anti-police protests sparked by Floyd’s death, and another is planned Saturday. Friday’s protest began on the Champs-Elysees avenue, which was repeatedly the scene of violence between police and the “yellow vest” protesters last year.

Last week, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into racist insults based on comments allegedly written in a private police Facebook group.

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Six police officers in the Normandy city of Rouen are also under internal investigation over racist comments in a private WhatsApp group.

Castaner said earlier this week any “strong suspicion” of racism would be punished.


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