Do French police target ethnic minorities? - GulfToday

Do French police target ethnic minorities?

French Police officer wearing a face masks checks documents of a man in Paris. AP

French Police officer wearing a face masks checks documents of a man in Paris. AP

The news agency Reuters survey in France based on police records reveals that fines, and higher fines, are imposed on ethnic minorities, which shows traces of discrimination and even veiled racism. The news agency had to correlate data collected from the police records with census data because in France police do not identify the people fines for various violations of law.

The police records themselves would not show any bias or discrimination. But Reuters used France Strategie, a government think tank which identified immigrant population in urban neighbourhoods, and when correlated with the police records of fines imposed, it was found that the larger number of fines were imposed during the pandemic months of quarantine of March-April 2020 in areas where immigrant populations are based. Reuters says, “…Paris police have tended to fine people at a higher rate in the five districts with highest percentages of residents of non-European descent.” It showed that 58 fines per 1,000 populations were imposed in districts with the highest immigrant population compared to 42 fines per 1,000 populations in the other districts where immigrants are smaller in number. The exception is the 8th district of Paris, where Champs Elysee is located and which is a shopping centre, where the highest number of fines were imposed though the immigrant population here is negligible.

The question can be asked whether this is inadequate evidence to infer ‘systemic racism’, which French President Emmanuel Macron denied. It is now an accepted fact the police force in the United Kingdom and in the United States do have entrenched institutional biases against ethnic and religious minorities. The Reuters investigation had to cross several hurdles because the interior ministry would not disclose data sought by Reuters. The agency sought the data under the provisions of freedom of information. And despite the permission given, the data was not disclosed. So the agency had to correlate data collected by France Strategie with that of the police records detailing the fines imposed.

The immigrants burdened with fines face greater financial difficulties because of their relatively hardened economic circumstances. An example is that of Mohamed Assam from Epinay-sous-Senarrt, a town near Paris, who went out shopping in April 2020 and by the time he returned home incurred 900 euros in fines. He came to know about the fines later.

The French have empowered the police to impose fines without resort to law courts. Though this saved the courts from the clutter of petty offences, it increased the discretionary powers of the police which could be misused. Does the French police take a harsher stance against immigrants? There is no direct evidence but the data shows that there is a definite pattern of immigrant populations getting fined more.

In Epinay-sous-Senart, Reuters found that of the 478 reports recording fines, 403 were from neighbourhoods in the town where many “ethnic minority families” lived. Augustine Dumas, municipal police chief in Epinay-sous-Senart in the first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown in April-May 2020, denied the charge of discrimination. He told Reuters, “If someone is doing something wrong, you need to act.” Dumas is now an elected official.

Sociologists suggest that the pattern of larger number of fines could be due to greater policing where the poor and the ethnic minorities live because of the apprehension of greater crimes in these areas. Aline Daillere, sociologist who studies policing at the Paris Saclay University, says that it is difficult to prove discrimination because the data does not exist. But the Reuters investigative report shows the burden of larger number of violations of law, minor ones, where the police impose remote fines, does create greater problem for the poor and the ethnic minorities.

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