Young men in France who are considered Black or Arab are 20 times more likely to be stopped by the police than the rest of the population, according to the country’s human rights ombudsman. Racial profiling runs deep in the French police force, but unlike in the US and Canada, little action is taken to prevent this form of discrimination.
The warning signs are there. Non-profit organizations, anti-racism activists and experts in France have been sounding the alarm for decades – lbefore the police killing of Nahel, a 17-year-old French boy of Moroccan and Algerian descent, sparked days of nationwide unrest.
The video of an unarmed police officer fatally shooting an unarmed teenager during a traffic stop has renewed calls from leftist politicians. – and UN – for the French police to acknowledge its racial profiling problem.
Young men who identify as Black or Arab are 20 times more likely to be stopped for identity checks than the rest of the population.
However, French authorities deny the existence of systemic racism. While some efforts have been made to address racial profiling, such as training police on potentially discriminatory behaviors, no concrete policies or laws addressing the issue have been implemented.
Faced with a similar contrast between theoretical colorblind policing and unfair targeting of minorities, the US and Canada have tried to curb such racial profiling – with little success so far.
Court decisions not enough to change ‘broader police culture’
In 1996, New Jersey became the first state to legalize racial profiling after its court ruled that troopers unfairly targeted and arrested minorities on the New Jersey Turnpike. A few years later, the Justice Department asked state police departments to track racial disparities in turnpike enforcement and placed 2,500 troopers under a federal consent order to ensure they complied. of the regulations.
But allegations of racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike persist. Thirty years after the initial ruling, an audit found that Black drivers were still routinely subject to searches, arrests and the use of force during police traffic stops. A report by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) found that in 2018, black people in New Jersey were 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white residents, despite same usage rate.
“[The ruling] didn’t change the broader culture of the police,” said Jean Beaman, Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara who researches state violence in France and the US.
“Just look at the law passed in New York [to reform] stop and hurry,” Beaman said.
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Body cameras and liability
A few miles north of New York City, former mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to fight racial profiling. And he did, to an extent. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that New York’s stop and practice practice was racially biased. The practice previously allowed police officers to stop, question and search residents on the sole basis of “reasonable suspicion”.
The New York Police Department has been ordered to make several reforms in policies, training and practices to end racial discrimination cases quickly and effectively. Officers are required to wear body cameras and monitoring is put in place for accountability.
“It’s a big win,” Beaman said. According to the New York Times, de Blasio was able to reduce the total number of arrests, criminal summonses and pedestrian stops by 82%. Crime rates also fell.
But it is not enough. A 2020 report by the Data Collaborative for Justice found that Black neighborhoods continue to be policed at higher rates than white ones. Racial disparities persist, with Black and Hispanic people more likely to be stopped and arrested than white people.
While Beaman acknowledges the positive effects of the ban, he says it “doesn’t change the overall racial profiling practices of the police, in the sense of who they’re more likely to harass or think about.” which may be suspected of criminal activity”.
“You can change practices but the logic of policing … which sees some individuals as criminals or suspects, not regular citizens … cannot be changed,” he explained.
‘Remove tool that prompts racial profiling’
French sociologist Anaïk Purenne, who works on youth-police relations with a focus on discrimination and police profiling, agrees that the larger “policing logic” referred to by Jean Beaman is a possible explanation. -awan for the shortcomings of the reform. “We have to think about the bias that certain public policy priorities can have,” Purenne said. If “fighting crime” is a priority for a police force, he said, it’s important to look at what prejudices are instilled in police officers.
But there is another case that Purenne is very interested in. In a book titled “Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship”, researchers observed police behavior during traffic stops in Kansas City and surveyed 2,300 drivers over several years. They found that there was little or no racial profiling by the police in stops made after a driver committed a traffic violation. based on “reasonable suspicion”, racial profiling is strict.
“[The authors] concluded that the device itself, the investigative police will stop, must be broken … that the police instrument must be eliminated completely,” said Purenne. “I find it an interesting idea. Removing the tool that prompts racial profiling would be very beneficial.
And this method has been tested in some parts of the world such as Canada, the sociologist explained. In Nova Scotia, police have not been allowed to conduct random ID checks on the street since 2019. “It’s too early for us to really measure the effects,” Purenne said, “but it’s a something to watch out for.”
Step one: Identify the problem
There are many ways to reform policing to end racial profiling. The examples from the US may not be perfect, but they are a start.
When it comes to reforms the French police can implement to prevent racial profiling, both Beaman and Purenne are pessimistic. Both sociologists agree that an important first step is for the French authorities to recognize that there is a problem.
“It’s very easy,” said Purenne, “we start by recognizing that there is a problem and naming it”.
He added that “Being open to the idea that there are structural factors driving this behavior” within the police force is also important.
For Beaman, France and the US “need a whole accountability mechanism for police officers”.
“Part of that is recognizing how systematic you are [racism or discrimination] The truth is, that even in the United States we’re a little bit shy of dealing with, but that’s the first step,” he said.
However, Beaman knows that achieving accountability in France will be challenging. It is illegal to compile racial statistics in France, for example. “If there’s no infrastructure to talk about race, you can’t talk about racial profiling,” he said.
Read moreFrance sees itself as colorblind – so how do the French talk about race?
Lack of statistics
In addition, the police in France are not obliged to keep a record of the pedestrian stops they make. “The police only fill out a stop form if they think the information they’ve gathered is relevant or interesting. [for another case],” Purenne said. “We need more transparency.”
NGOs and anti-racist activists have made countless proposals to prevent police violence and racial profiling in France. In low-income neighborhoods like a young Nahel, for example, there is talk of “proximity police”. French sociologist Julien Talpin told FRANCE 24 in a TV interview that “residents are asking for ‘proximity police’, officers who are in the neighborhood every day and who can really trust those resident”.
In July 2021, six NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch filed a class action suit in the highest administrative court of France to finally end racial profiling, due to the inaction of the authorities on the issue. They accused French police of targeting minorities when choosing who to stop and search, saying the practice was rooted in a culture of systemic discrimination.
The case is still pending.