French policemen detained for racially abusing, beating black man

PARIS: French authorities have detained four police officers suspected of beating and racially abusing a black music producer in Paris.

A video released by a website shows how music producer Michel Zecler was repeatedly beaten by officers for several minutes and subjected to racial abuse as he tried to enter his music studio last weekend.

Celebrities including football World Cup winners Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann condemned the beating, while French star singer Aya Nakamura said she wished the producer strength and thanked those who filmed the incident.

President Emmanuel Macron called the incident an “unacceptable attack” that “shames us” and asked the French government to come up with proposals to fight against discrimination. “France must never allow hate or racism to spread,” he said.

A presidential official said earlier that Macron was “very shocked” by the images which have sparked fresh accusations of systemic racism in the French police force. Zecler told reporters outside police headquarters where he lodged a formal complaint that the police racially abused him several times and punched him.

In one of the videos, a neighbour who filmed the scene from above said a plainclothes policeman punched a kneeling Zecler in the face “maybe seven times”. The policeman “hit him so hard that his hand hurt”, the witness told a news agency. 

The incident has raised questions over the future of Paris police chief Didier Lallement, already in the spotlight after the controversial forced removal of a migrant camp in Paris earlier in the week. It also put the government on the back foot as it tries to push through new security legislation that would restrict the right of the media to publish the faces of police officers.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is in charge of the police forces, told French television that the officers had tarnished the reputation of France’s security forces. The four officers, all men, were detained for questioning on Friday.

The officers, who had already been suspended from duty, were being held at the National Police Inspectorate General (IGPN), and prosecutors opened an investigation into violence by a person in authority and false testimony.

Three of the four were being questioned on suspicion of “violence with a racist motive” committed intentionally in a group, prosecutors said. The fourth is being questioned on suspicion of using violence but is not accused of racism. Zecler was initially himself detained for causing violence but prosecutors dismissed the probe and began investigating the officers.

The outcry comes after the lower house of parliament on Tuesday evening approved a security bill that would restrict the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces. In the southern city of Toulouse protesters took to the streets on Friday evening brandishing placards with slogans like “police everywhere, justice nowhere” while there were protests in western Nantes.

In a sign that the government could be preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that he would appoint a commission to redraft the law that would restrict the publication of images of the police.