Macron on the Defensive as Pressure Mounts Over Police Abuse
(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron’s government is holding its line over police violence despite mounting criticism from civil society and parliamentarians.
The tense relationship between the police and the public, and minority communities in particular, is becoming a major issue in France with the 42-year-old president pushing for tougher legislation as part of a drive to improve security and crack down on crime. Macron was forced to retreat from plans to make it harder for people to post images of the police on social media after protests on Saturday drew huge crowds -- as many as 300,000 by some estimates.
In the days before the demonstration, a video showing three officers beating Black music producer Michel Zecler at the entrance of his Paris studio lent credence to those arguing that such footage has a role to play in holding the police to account and exposing abuses.
Questioned by a Senate committee in Paris on Tuesday, National Police Director General Frederic Veaux said the French police force doesn’t have a problem with racism or violence.
“By saying this, I’m not in denial or stonewalling, I’m describing what I see and what I hear,” he said.
The police chief condemned violent incidents and said those responsible were harshly sanctioned. Violence against police agents and their families meanwhile is on the rise, he said, echoing recent comments by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.
Speaking to the National Assembly on Monday evening, Darmanin blamed the attack on the music producer on “individual behavior,” while acknowledging shortcomings in the training of officers.
“I do not share the view that there is a divorce between the police and the population,” he said.
Three officers were charged late on Sunday, with two of them placed in custody while the investigation continues into the alleged assault of Zecler.
On Monday, the French government announced that it will rewrite Article 24 of the “global security law” that would have made it a crime punishable by a year in prison and a 45,000-euro ($54,000) fine to publish the face or any other identifying feature of a police officer with intent to cause them “physical or psychological harm.”
In announcing the complete rewriting of article, Christophe Castaner, head of Macron’s ruling party in the parliament, insisted the aim remains to better protect the police and to defend freedom of the press both for professional journalists and for citizens posting images on social media.
“France should be the country of no violence or any infringement of any freedom whatsoever,” he said.
Macron has been trying to position himself as the law-and-order candidate in a country where campaigning for presidential elections two years away has already begun.
In the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 16 beheading of a teacher by an Islamist militant he saw a bounce the polls, but enthusiasm for his tough stance was short-lived and Macron is now under fire on multiple fronts as he tries to respond to the resurgence of jihadism and contain the spread of the coronavirus.
His approval rating has dropped by 5 points to 41, according to a recent Ifop poll, with a 17-point fall among those under 25 years of age.
Macron had sought to douse the anger over the video on Friday, asking his government to come up with proposals to restore the public confidence in the police. He said the beating “shames us,” and condemned violence both against and by the police, but he and Darmanin have repeatedly denied systemic racism with the security forces.
The French leader himself will give an interview on Thursday to Brut -- an online channel that addresses young people.
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