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The Impact of Riots and Public Perception in France



France has been grappling with ongoing protests and riots triggered by police violence against ethnic minorities. The recent killing of Nahel M, a 17-year-old of Algerian origin, in a Paris suburb has once again exposed the deep-rooted issue of racist police brutality in the country.


While the incident has sparked outrage and led to widespread protests, it is essential to recognize that this problem is not new. For decades, racialized individuals, particularly those living in suburbs, have been subjected to discriminatory treatment by the police.


The emergence of video footage capturing police violence has played a crucial role in exposing the truth and challenging the police's official narratives. In the case of Nahel M's killing, the bystander's video contradicted the police's version of events, leading to an official investigation and charges against the involved officer. While this incident did not become a "George Floyd moment" for France, it has highlighted the longstanding issue of racist police brutality in the country.


Previously, police violence primarily affected racialized individuals in suburbs, leading to limited media coverage and denial from mainstream politicians. However, in recent years, as heavy-handed police tactics have been employed during political demonstrations in city centers, a broader cross-section of society has become exposed to police brutality. This shift has resulted in increased criticism of the police and a growing recognition that anyone could be a victim. The term "police brutality" is now being used more frequently in the media.


Racism within the French police force is an endemic problem. Ethnic profiling and discriminatory practices against Arab and Black individuals are widespread, as highlighted by multiple reports from human rights organizations. Despite ample evidence and court rulings acknowledging the discriminatory nature of police ID checks, the government has failed to take significant action. The United Nations Human Rights Office has specifically called on French authorities to address these deep-seated issues of racism and discrimination within law enforcement.


Efforts to reform the French police force have faced significant challenges. The politicization and growing influence of far-right-leaning police unions have hindered progress. Police unions, which were historically aligned with left-wing parties, have increasingly aligned themselves with far-right agendas. Their co-management powers and ability to resist reforms have resulted in the perpetuation of systemic issues.


While riots may draw attention to the issue of police violence, they often work against the interests of the marginalized communities they aim to support. The destruction of public buildings, looting, and burning of vehicles and property may alienate the public and provide fodder for right-wing politicians. The absence of clear political objectives among the rioters also undermines their cause and limits the potential for meaningful change.

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