Paris (AP) – French activists fear the proposed new security law will deprive them of a powerful weapon against abuse – mobile phone videos of police activity – threatening their efforts to possibly document police brutality, especially in an impoverished immigrant neighborhood.
The government of French President Emmanuel Macron is putting forward a new security bill that makes it illegal to publish pictures of police officers with the intent to harm them, among other measures. Critics fear the new law could violate press freedoms and make it harder for all citizens to report police brutality.
“I was lucky to have videos that protect me,” said Michel Zecler, a black music producer who was recently beaten by several French police officers.. More than 14 million viewers saw the videos, first posted on the French website Loopsider on Thursday, sparking widespread outrage over police action.
Two of the officers are in prison while they are being investigated, while two others, also under investigation, are on bail.
The draft bill, which is still being debated in parliament, has sparked protests across the country, invited by press freedom advocates and civil rights activists. Tens of thousands of people he marched in Paris on Saturday to reject the measure, including the families and friends of people killed by police.
“For decades, descendants of post-colonial immigration and residents of populated areas have condemned police brutality,” anti-racism activist Sihame Assbague told the Associated Press.
Public videos helped show the wider audience that “there is a systemic problem with the French police force abusing, hitting, beating, mutilating, killing,” he said.
Activists say the bill could have an even greater impact on people other than journalists, especially those with an immigrant background, who live in areas where relations with the police have long been strained. Images posted on the Internet have been key in condemning the misconduct and racism of officers in recent years, they say.
Assbague expressed fears that under the bill, those who post videos of online police abuse could be brought to justice, where they face a year in prison and a € 45,000 ($ 53,000) fine.
“I tend to believe that a young Arab man from a poor suburb who posts a video of police brutality in his neighborhood may be at greater risk of guilt than a journalist who made a video during a demonstration,” he said.
Amal Bentounsi’s brother, Amine, was shot in the back in 2012 and killed by a police officer. The officer was sentenced to five years in prison. Along with other families of the victims, in March it launched a mobile phone application called Emergency Police Violence to record abuses and bring cases to court.
“Some police officers are already feeling impunity. … The only solution now is to make videos, ”he told AP. The application has been downloaded more than 50,000 times.
“If we want to improve public confidence in the police, that doesn’t hide the truth,” he added.
The bill is partly a response to demands from police unions to provide greater protection for officers.
Abdoulaye Kante, a black police officer with 20 years of experience in Paris and its suburbs, simultaneously supports the bill and strongly condemns the brutality of police officers and violence against officers.
“What people don’t understand is that some people use videos to put the faces of our (police) colleagues on social media to identify them, for intimidation or incitement to hatred,” he said.
“The law does not prohibit journalists or citizens from shooting the police … It prohibits these images from being physically or mentally damaged,” he argued. “The lives of officers are important.”
A tiny fraction of the population is fueling anger and hatred against the police, said Jean-Michel Fauvergue, a former leader of the elite police force and legislator for Macron’s party, who co-authored the bill. – We have to find a solution.
Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti acknowledged that “the intention (to hurt) is difficult to determine” and the government appears ready to support part of the bill.
Activists see the bill as another step in a series of security measures taken by French lawmakers to extend police powers to the detriment of civil liberties.
According to a statement signed by more than 30 families and friends of victims of police abuse since 2005, “all adopted security laws have continually expanded the area of law that allows police impunity”.
The riots of 2005 revealed France’s long-standing problems between police and young people in public housing projects with large immigrant populations.
In recent years, a number of security laws have been passed in response to attacks by extremists.
Critics have noted that police tactics have hardened during protests or arrests of individuals. Hundreds of complaints were received against officers during the yellow vest movement against social injustice, which exploded in 2018 and witnessed violent clashes over the weekend.
According to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, out of 3 million police operations a year in France, about 9,500 will go to the government’s website condemning abuses, representing 0.3%.
France’s human rights ombudsman, Claire Hedon, is one of the most prominent critics of the bill, which she says “carries a significant risk of undermining fundamental rights”.
“We will achieve our democracy when the population no longer trusts the police,” he told Parliament.
John Leicester, author of AP, from Le Pecq, France, contributed.
Follow all AP stories about racism and police brutality at https://apnews.com/Racialinjustice