A police murder was caught on video. Protests and riots fueled by long-simmering tensions over law enforcement’s treatment of minorities. Demands for accountability.
Events in France, following the death of a 17-year-old boy shot dead by police in a Paris suburb, parallel the racial discrimination in the US sparked by law enforcement’s killings of George Floyd and other people of color.
Despite the differences between the cultures, police forces and communities of the two countries, the shooting in France and the outcry over it broken out There it became clear this week that the US is not alone in its fight against systemic racism and police brutality.
“These are things that happen when you are French but have foreign roots. We are not considered French and they only care about the color of our skin and where we come from, even though we were born in France,” said Tracy Ladji, an SOS Racisme activist. “Racism in the police force kills, and far too many of them have far-right ideas, so… this needs to stop.”
In an editorial published this week, French newspaper Le Monde wrote that recent events “commemorate” Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020, which sparked months of unrest across the United States and internationally, including in Paris.
“This act was committed by a police officer, filmed and broadcast almost live, and involved an iconic representative of a socially discriminated category,” the newspaper wrote.
The French teenager, identified only as Nahel, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on Tuesday. The video showed two officers at the window of the car, one pointing a gun at the driver. As the teenager drove forward, the officer fired once through the windshield.
Nahel’s grandmother, whose name was not given, told Algerian television Ennahar TV that her family has roots in Algeria.
Preliminary charges of first-degree manslaughter have been filed against the officer accused of pulling the trigger, although this has done little to stem the riots that have spread across the country and led to hundreds of arrests. The officer said he feared he and his colleague or someone else could be hit by the car as Nahel tried to flee, a prosecutor said.
Officials did not provide information on the official’s race. His attorney said he did what he felt was necessary at the moment. Speech on French TV channel BFMTVThe attorney said the officer was “devastated,” adding that “he really didn’t mean to kill.”
Nahel’s mother, identified only as Mounia M., told France 5 television that she was not angry with the police in general. She is angry with the officer who killed her only child.
“He saw an Arab-looking little child. He wanted to take his own life,” she said.
Police shootings are significantly less common in France than in the US, but have increased since 2017. Several experts believe this is linked to a law easing restrictions on officers using deadly force against drivers following a series of vehicular terrorist attacks.
Officers may shoot a vehicle if a driver fails to comply with an order and the driver’s actions are likely to endanger their life or that of others. The French police are also regularly criticized for their violent tactics.
Unlike the US, France does not store data on race and ethnicity Doctrine of color blind universalism – an approach that pretends to see everyone as equal citizens. Critics say the doctrine has obscured generations of systemic racism.
“I can’t think of a country in Europe that has longer-lasting or worse problems of racism, brutality and police impunity,” Paul Hirschfield, director of the criminal justice program at Rutgers University, said of France. Hirschfield has published several articles comparing police practices and killings in America to those in other countries.
Experts said video of the shooting – which appeared to contradict initial police statements that the teenager had been driving towards the officer – urged those responsible to quickly condemn the killing. French President Emmanuel Macron called the shooting “inexcusable” even before charges were brought against the officer.
This is nothing new for Americans, who, even before the agonizing footage of George Floyd’s death from under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, had seen many videos of violent clashes with police, often recorded by witnesses and in some cases contradicting original police statements.
“I have never seen a case where the Home Secretary was so quick to condemn a shooting. There have been riots at previous killings, but there was no video. It changes everything,” Hirschfield said.
Police in France typically undergo training that lasts around ten months, which is long training compared to many US cities but among the shortest training requirements in Europe.
However, experts said they do not believe French police are receiving training equivalent to the implicit bias training required by many US police officers to improve policing in various communities, although many US critics have questioned the effectiveness of the training have questioned.
France and other European countries have growing African, Arab and Asian populations.
“There is a stigma attached to being in a country with a colonial past. And of course, if that’s painful enough that you can’t stand the conversation about race, there will be no equivalent training for public officials,” says Stacie Keesee, co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity, who works at the United Nations International Expert Mechanism for the Advancement of Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement.
Bertrand Cavallier, the former commander of France’s national gendarmerie training school, said French law enforcement agencies should not be judged on the actions of a single officer.
“This is the case of a police officer who made a mistake and didn’t have to do it. But he was arrested and I think that should be a clear signal of the government’s will,” he said.
Associated Press writers Alex Turnbull and Jeffrey Schaeffer of Nanterre, France, contributed to this report.