Macron ‘very shocked’ by video of police beating Black man
President makes views known amid widespread outrage.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to contain outrage over a video showing policemen beating a Black man in a Paris neighborhood, letting it be known on Friday that he was shocked by the footage.
Macron has not commented directly on the heated public debate on police brutality that has resurfaced in France in recent days following two incidents where policemen were filmed using excessive force.
But on Friday morning, an Elysée official said Macron was “very shocked” by the video that spread like wildfire on social media Thursday. The Elysée’s message was conveyed to multiple media outlets.
An official close to Macron said the president and his aides were still considering whether he would make a public statement about the video. They were also considering whether he could speak out directly while also honoring his role as guarantor of state institutions and respecting the independence of an investigation that’s underway, the official said.
Macron’s actions also reflected an effort to strike a balance between pushing back against criticism that he has backed increasingly illiberal policies and maintaining good ties with the police and right wing voters who place a premium on law and order.
The video showed three policemen forcibly entering a music recording studio after seeing a Black man go into the building from the street where he was walking without wearing a mask, which is mandatory under current coronavirus health measures.
The man, Michel Zecler, who owns the recording studio, was unarmed and doesn’t appear to be belligerent toward the policemen in the minutes-long video published by media outlet Loopsider. The three policemen repeatedly punch him, kick him and beat him with their batons. They even fire tear gas into the recording studio at one point.
Zecler says they repeatedly yelled “dirty negro” at him.
Macron met Thursday afternoon with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who has taken a hard line on law and order and standing up for the police. The official close to Macron said the president told Darmanin that “it would be good for things to calm down.”
A few hours later, on a primetime nightly newscast, Darmanin offered a clear condemnation of the violence by the policemen. He said they should be expelled from the force if found guilty by the internal police investigation.
The beating was the second incident involving French police to spark outrage in recent days
Monday night, police were filmed using excessive force to removing hundreds of migrants who had set up tents in a central plaza in Paris. At ont point, a policeman is seen brutally kicking a migrant.
These two incidents come as the French parliament is voting on a proposed “general security bill,” with a controversial provision that aims to make it illegal to “publish, by any means and in any medium, the face or any other identifying feature” of a police officer or gendarme “with the aim of manifestly causing them physical or psychological harm.”
This part of the proposed law has raised alarm among journalists and activists, who say it could deter legitimate scrutiny of police officers and be abused by law enforcement in determining the intent behind filming or taking pictures.
Darmanin had gone as far as saying journalists would need to seek accreditation with police before being allowed to film protests.
Three rapporteurs on the UN Human Rights Council weighed in on the proposed bill saying as it stands it would “significantly undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Policemen and their families have complained of being targeted on social media and threatened for doing their job. Police unions also complain of insufficient staffing, too little equipment and unpaid overtime. In 2018-2019 French police had to deal for months with weekly protests by the anti-establishment Yellow Jackets movement, some of which turned violent, followed by strikes related to Macron’s pension reform plans.
Darmanin told French TV channel BFM at the beginning of November that he had “made a promise, that images of policemen and gendarmes, no longer be published on social media. That promise will be kept.”