Covid-19 defined the year 2020 and we can still see and feel its grasp on the new year, 2021. However, there was another event that shook the world globally and similarly we can still feel its effects on today’s world. In May 2020, the death of George Floyd sparked global outrage regarding race, police brutality and problematic figures in history. The United States experienced protests in various cities around the country due to the release of a video of police officers pinning Floyd to the ground despite his pleas that he could not breath, resulting in his death. In the wake of these protests and the message of Black Lives Matter being globally disseminated, Europeans began holding their own demonstrations and expressed their support for the movement. In this insight piece, I will examine France’s proposed amendments to Article 24 and its reception by members of Parliament and the public. In order to understand the scope of the issue, one must look at the events that occurred in the last 9 months that propelled this into the public sphere.
In the United Kingdom, we saw the toppling of the statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June of 2020. Over 10,000 Black Lives Matter protestors gathered to express their outrage over the immortalisation of these problematic figures in history. Many believe that this action was inspired by the removal of Confederate monuments across the Southern United States. In France, the phrase “Justice pour Adama”, Justice for Adama also resurfaced in June 2020. Adama Traoré was a Malian-French man who died in custody after being restrained and apprehended by police in 2016.
Former Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced on Monday, 8 June that the chokehold method taught and used to detain suspects will be abandoned after protests in Paris gathered 20,000 at the Justice Tribunal in Paris despite the ongoing ban on demonstrations due to Covid-19. Less than a week later, Castaner backtracked on his statement due to demonstrations held by the French police on the 12th of June who believed they were being abandoned by his announcement. The next day, on the 13th of June, in a joint message against police brutality and the fight for justice at the Place de la République, supporters of both the Justice Pour Adama and the Black Lives Matter movement protested together.
On the 20th of October 2020, two members of French parliament, Alice Thourot and Jean-Michel Fauvergue from the President Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) leading party presented the “Loi Relative à la Sécurité Globale”, Global Security Law. Many defied the demonstration ban in several cities in France to protest and voice their opposition to the amendment of Article 24 in November. Under this law, it would make it illegal to show the face of officers on duty “with the aim of damaging their physical or psychological integrity” with a maximum fine of €45,000 and a prison sentence of up to one year. The public maintains that in order to keep police officers accountable for their actions, they must be allowed to film their actions. Journalists have also expressed concern over whether they will be able to perform their duties and inform the public of police brutality or misconduct.
Previously there have been two examples of where filming police brutality was essential to holding those accountable for their action, the first was the death of Cédric Chouviat in January of 2020 who, upon the release of a bystander’s video in July 2020, appeared to have been held in a chokehold by police and was heard saying “J’etouffe”, I am suffocating. The second was in late November of 2020, in which police assaulted Michel Zecler inside his music studio after failing to wear a mask in public. In the video, the police officers enter the studio and begin to assault him, they also throw in a tear gas canister. Zecler maintains that without the video, he would have been in prison without the video proof of police brutality and misconduct.
Shortly after the Zecler affair, Christophe Castaner, leader of the LREM party announced that the security law would be rewritten. Despite this, the European Commision reminded France that journalists should be able to “do their work freely and in full security“. The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued warnings and published a communication stating that France must revise their security bill as it would be incompatible with international human rights law. The bill would leave citizens reliant on the police and judiciary determining whether a particular film was taken with malicious intent or not.
If passed, the Global Security law could have detrimental consequences for the public and press, and could even violate international human rights law. How can one define what constituents as malicious intent? Claire Hedon, France’s Defender of Rights said, “The publication of images relating to police interventions is legitimate and necessary for a functioning democracy”. The IGPN, inspector general of the national police is a government funded auditor/watchdog of France’s police system to oversee and conduct inspections. They reported that during 2019, the number of complaints against officers rose due to the “Gilets Jaunes”, yellow vests demonstrations that began to take place in late 2018. The IGPN has also reported deaths and injuries from the use of taser guns and have announced that they will do a systematic inspection to ensure that the voltage on taser guns does not seriously injure those being detained.
In addition to this inspection, French policymakers and government institutions should implement more rigorous training methods in police academies. The regulation and monitoring of the use of pepper spray, taser weapons, and other detention methods are needed to ensure the safety of all citizens. The Global Security law would prevent citizen journalism from taking place which helps in documenting the mistreatment or excessive force received from police forces. This has proved essential in the investigation and prosecution of certain officers who abuse their power. However, questions remain over whether Macron, the LREM and supporters of the bill prioritise the public safety or the 2022 elections. The public, national and international institutions are calling for a fair criminal justice system that ensures and protects all citizens.
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Limon, A. R. (2021) France’s Article 24: Civilian journalists and the fight against police brutality, IDRN, 26 February. Available at: https://idrn.eu/international-security/frances-article-24-civilian-journalists-and-the-fight-against-police-brutality [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].