Macron Denounces Police Violence, Bigotry in Bid to Sway Youth

President Emmanuel Macron condemned violence by police officers, announced the creation of a national hotline to tackle racism and discrimination and defended France’s approach to secularism, in an outreach to younger voters on Friday night.

“I want to be an ally on the topics that concern you, an ally to fight against inequality, injustice, to try to go faster on the climate,” Macron said. “And for everyone to succeed in building up what it means to be French, that is our greatest challenge.”

The 42-year-old president was speaking to Brut, an online French media outlet that mostly targets young people, in a wide-ranging -- and at times feisty -- 2.5 hour interview that covered Islam, ecology, the coronavirus pandemic and student finances.

Macron Denounces Police Violence, Bigotry in Bid to Sway Youth

But it was the tense relationship between the police and the public, especially minority communities, that the French leader dwelt on longest. The topic is becoming a major issue in the country, with Macron pushing for tougher legislation as part of a drive to improve security. He was forced to make a U-turn over plans to make it harder for people to broadcast or publish images of the police after protests on Saturday drew huge crowds.

Land of Freedom

In the week before the demonstration, videos showing three officers beating a Black music producer in Paris and police dismantling a migrant camp in the capital lent credence to those arguing that such footage has a role to play in holding security forces to account and exposing abuses.

“There’s violence in society and there are violent police agents,” Macron said when discussing the incidents. “Nothing justifies violence, when the police intervenes it must do so in an exemplary way.”

He assured viewers that “citizens will be able to keep filming, we are in a land of freedom.”

Even though the controversial provision is being reviewed, new demonstrations are planned this weekend, and a recent Ifop poll showed the French leader’s popularity dropping by 17 points among those under 25.

Macron didn’t give a clear answer when pressed if he would run for re-election in 2022, saying “If I put myself in the position of a candidate, then I’d no longer be able to make the right decisions.”

Macron has tacked right ahead of the election, with his renewed focus on law and order as well as fighting terrorism and Islamist extremism. He recruited hard-line Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to restore trust between the police and the government, rather than between the police and citizens.

Lack of Trust

The president said police will get new body cameras from June that will protect both the public and officers, and called for more training and strengthening of police oversight.

He said there’s a lack of trust in “the most difficult neighborhoods” and that part of the population feels left out because of “a failure to integrate in the French way.” Discrimination in job hiring and housing access feeds that sentiment.

The government will organize a “major survey” in January to gage racism and discrimination in French society, and plans a national platform to report incidences of discrimination, Macron said. He repeated his support for France’s model of secularism -- that the expression of religion should be private and kept out of the public sphere -- and freedom of expression.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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