The video attack plunges Michel Zecler and French police into the spotlight

Paris – A video, Michel Zecler believes his case would have been reduced to short news at most.

Maybe something like, “A black man in a black sweater and hood, shoulder bag, tried to seize abused cops,” Mr. Zecler said in an interview on Thursday.

“If I didn’t have cameras, I would be in jail today,” he added, referring to the security cameras in the lobby of the building where he holds his music studio.

The footage from these cameras, which shows that the police beat the well-known producer in the world of French rap, 41-year-old Zecler, for free, instead fueled the political crisis in France and once again highlighted the issue of police brutality, especially against the country’s minority citizens.

“The shock to me the best is not that there are racist elements in the police force,” Mr Zecler said. “It’s a wonder they felt confident enough to go that far with their actions and words.”

Mr. Zecler spoke with The New York Times in his studio, his first extensive interview since he came to the forefront of a national uprising that forced President Emmanuel Macron’s government to scrap and rewrite a security bill that would have restricted police rotation. .

During the two-hour interview, Mr. Zecler injured his injured left arm and sometimes grinned painfully. He had just returned from one of his many visits to the hospital due to multiple injuries he suffered, including a tendon rupture in his arm, a head wound, and bruises on his face and body. On Friday, he underwent surgery to repair his tendon.

Credit…Michel Zecler / Gs Group, through Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Critics say one of the provisions in the security bill was aimed at accurately suppressing police cell phone videos that roughened protesters and put them under new, intense scrutiny.

A video of Mr. Zecler’s beating was posted on social media on November 26 by a French online news site, Loopsider, something they could have made illegal if the law came into force.

But instead of a distorted version of his attack appearing in a brief news, Mr. Zecler slammed badly and a picture of his bloody face was visible all over France.

In a Friday interview with Brut, a popular news site among young people, Mr. Macron said there was no excuse to justify the beating. They contested the controversial provision of his security bill, which was part of a coordinated political shift aimed at strengthening the right wing of the president from nationalist challengers.

The effect was that some now draw parallels with a clip in the U.S. about the murder of George Floyd, which has sparked protests over racism and police brutality around the world, including in French cities.

Mr. Zecler said he still has trouble sleeping. His mind kept coming back to the attack, he said, and their eyes focused on “the look of the cops, the hatred” and the racial slander used against him, “dirty” with the N-word.

He was held in police custody for two days, but the video quickly released him, contrary to the original testimony of the three police officers.

According to the Paris prosecutor, officials who denied the use of racial slander said Mr Zecler drew their attention because he did not have a mask and because he smelled strongly of marijuana. He was accused of forcibly involving them in the studio, causing violence against them and resisting the arrest.

The video and Mr. Zecler tell another story.

On the evening of November 21, Mr. Zecler – who said he forgot to wear the mask required by the pandemic guidelines – said he walked to the entrance of his wealthy studio, Black Gold, in District 17. In Paris.

The video then shows three police officers who broke into the entrance to the studio, according to Mr Zecler, without a verbal warning. Mr Zecler, who said he had repeatedly told officers he was in his own shop and asked why they were inside, said he was not even sure if they were real police officers at first.

According to the video, the officers, unable to pull out, closed the door behind them. Then, inside the narrow entrance, they can see him being beaten – according to the Paris prosecutor for a total of six minutes.

The video shows officers repeatedly hitting and kicking Mr. Zecler and hitting him with a baton, even when he delivered the punches without retaliation.

Although there have been high-profile cases of police brutality against blacks and Arabs in recent years, it is difficult to pinpoint the problem because it is illegal to retain racial data in France.

But a rare official investigation in 2017 by the Defender, an independent official body, found that young men who were thought to be black or Arab were 20 times more likely to verify their identities. About 80 percent reported having undergone at least one inspection in the past five years, compared to only 16 percent of the rest of the population.

In an interview with Brut on Friday, Mr. Macron admitted that “today, when his skin color is not white, he is checked more often,” adding that such a fact was “intolerable”.

Since the video was released, Mr. Zecler, accustomed to discretion, said he was embarrassed by the storm he rushed into and was wary of being exploited politically.

He has received widespread support from ordinary people, political leaders and celebrities, including the world’s most popular Francophone singer, Aya Nakamura, who tweeted, “Thank you Michel for the cameras and the courage.”

But some far-right media, including those aggressively courted by Macron, have challenged his credibility, emphasizing the criminal record of his youth.

According to the prosecutor, Mr. Zecler had a small amount of 0.5 grams of marijuana in his shoulder bag. Mr. Zecler said he did not smoke and that one of his artists left marijuana in his studio.

After authorities examined the security camera footage, Mr. Zecler was indicted and the officers are now under investigation.

Although clarified, Mr. Zecler said he wants to understand why he was targeted.

“I need to know,” he said, wondering if it was because they saw “a black man who seemed to come from a working-class district of the 17th in a particularly well-off district.”

It turned out that the beating took place half a day after their business partner, Valérie Atlan, uploaded a new anti-violence video with the message “love is stronger than hate”.

After spending the first few years of his life on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, Zecler grew up with his mother and brother in low-rent apartments in Bagneux, a Parisian banlieue or suburb. His mother, a health assistant, often worked at night, and the family always lacked money.

Maybe because they were newcomers and because he was black, his mother always told him to be discreet, ”Mr. Zecler said.

“Don’t notice yourself,” her mother often told her. – We are very discreet.

He kept the advice. “If we invite us to a party, I won’t get up to eat, never the first one,” he said.

As a teenager, as he earned the easy money his peers earn in Bagneux, he committed armed robberies, he said, was jailed at the age of 17 and came out at the age of 24.

In the world of rap music, some may have spent their time in prison as badges of honor. But he said he never talked about it, he felt “ashamed.” Seventeen years after his release from prison, he wanted to focus on the company he was building and the success he had gained.

“I left Bagneux and got to 17th place,” he said. “I’m proud of it.”

Olivier Cachin, a journalist specializing in the genre, said Mr. Zecler was “highly respected in the world of rap. He is one of those people in the shadows. Not someone’s face appeared in the newspapers.

Having successfully rebuilt his life, Mr Zecler said he believes in justice and does not want to lose faith in him because of the beating. He didn’t want the young artists he was making to be filled with hatred. He listed the cops as his friends and said he knew there was a lot of good in the force.

“It’s very important,” he said. “Certain elements need to be fixed. But we can’t talk about everyone in one sentence.

Antonella Francini contributed to the research.