Macron U-Turn Leaves French Police Chief to Take Heat Over Abuse

Emmanuel Macron’s police chief faces a grilling on Tuesday with the French government on the defensive after three officers were filmed attacking a Black man last month.

National Police Director General Frederic Veaux will be questioned by a Senate committee in Paris on Tuesday just a day after Macron’s governing party retreated from plans to criminalize the filming of police officers following a weekend of protests.

The U-turn was a blow to the 42-year-old president who has been pushing for tougher legislation as part of a drive to improve security and crack down on crime. The protests on Saturday drew huge crowds -- as many as 300,000 by some estimates -- and though largely peaceful at the start, violence broke out in pockets later on in the day, with groups of individuals dressed in black attacking police and reports of officers beating protesters.

The mood on the streets of France has soured since a video was posted on social media last week showing three police officers beating Black music producer Michel Zecler during an arrest at the entrance of his Paris studio on Nov. 21 while a fourth throws a tear-gas canister through the window.

The footage contradicted the officers’ account of the events, French media reported, and opponents of Macron’s plan say that it would allow such brutality to go unchecked and infringe on civil liberties.

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche published Sunday, Veaux said he and all his colleagues were shocked by the images, while warning that increasing numbers of officers are themselves victims of violence. Three officers were charged late on Sunday, with two of them placed in custody while the investigation continues into the alleged assault of the music producer.

Government U-Turn

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 rewriting of article, Christophe Castaner, head of Macron’s ruling party in the parliament, said the provision will be entirely redrafted, while insisting that 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 in two years time 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.

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 of Zecler “shames us,” and condemned violence both against and by the police, but he and Darmanin have repeatedly denied systemic racism with the security forces.

Officers who use force in a disproportionate way “must be punished and have no place in the police,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told lawmakers at the National Assembly on Monday evening.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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