Unidentified French demonstrators protest President Emmanuel Macron’s Global Security Bill that grants greater power to the police force.
On November 17, French President Emmanuel Macron presented the “Global Security Bill” as part of a growing initiative to give more power to the police. The bill has been met with mass protests and criticism across France due to its violation of privacy laws and police accountability infringement.
Three articles of the bill have raised concern among French citizens, two of which are Articles 21 and 22. These articles allow the police and paramilitary forces to film citizens using body cameras and drones with facial recognition. This footage will be live-streamed to a command post.
Also controversial is Article 24, which penalizes the publishing of images of on-duty police officers if the images are published with the intent to harm their “physical or psychological integrity.” The article also states that any offenders could face unprecedented punishment: up to a year in prison and fines of €45,000.
While the articles were met with public anger when first proposed, two events in late November further exacerbated negative public sentiment.
On November 23, footage of police clearing a temporary migrant camp in central Paris showed police tipping migrants out of their tents and chasing them through the streets. The migrants, who claimed they were forced to live on the streets, were joined by protestors. They linked arms and created a crowd of several hundred people, chanting “papers for all, accommodation for all!” The police countered such protests with riot shields, shoving, tear gas, and batons.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, declared this incident “unacceptable” and accused the police of using a “brutal and disproportionate use of force.” The Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin tweeted a similar response, saying that the footage was “shocking,” and ordered a full report on the police’s actions.
The second event was first reported on November 26 and involved the racial abuse and beating of a black man. Michel Zecler, 41, a music producer famous in French rap, was walking to the entrance of his music studio on the evening of November 21. Mr. Zecler said he had forgotten to wear a mask in a breach of France’s pandemic guidelines. Video footage from Mr. Zecler’s studio shows three officers abruptly entering the studio without any verbal announcement. The police claimed that they detained Mr. Zecler on charges of violence and resisting arrest because he was not wearing a mask and smelled like marijuana. The video footage says otherwise.
After storming into Mr. Zecler’s studio, the police officers proceeded to beat him for six minutes and call him racial slurs. Mr. Zecler was detained and released only after the footage was published on November 26 by a French news website, Loopsider. After Mr. Zecler was released, an investigation began into the police officers accused of abusive behavior.
The extreme force used at the migrant camps and the racial abuse and beating of Mr. Zelcer lead to widespread protests throughout France. Citing this footage as evidence, protesters say that police officers would not be held accountable without video footage, and, such as in Mr. Zecler’s case, citizens would still be unrightfully detained. Since the bill was first proposed, the interior ministry estimates that about 52,350 people have protested around France, led by media freedom and human rights groups. In response, Macron’s party announced they would rewrite Article 24, but protestors insist that the bill needs to be scrapped altogether—not rewritten. The United Nations’ human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, urged France to review and ultimately withdraw the article.
For many protestors, this bill also represents the government’s slow shift to the right since the beginning of Macron’s presidency. Macron’s political party, La République en Marche (LaRem), is a centrist and liberal party founded by Macron. The French President will be running for presidency again in 2022 and will face right-wing politicians. Marine Le Pen, a part of the National Rally political party, will likely be Macron’s largest competitor. Le Pen’s far-right political stances have had her labeled as a neo-fascist. Progressive French citizens are becoming increasingly upset as Marcon tries to appeal to more conservative voters but is abandoning any chance of having a left-centered president.
As the article is rewritten and the “Global Security Bill” is further discussed, French voters will scrutinize Macron’s future actions, as they may be vital to his reelection in 2022. Similarly, the world will also bear witness to France’s response. As police brutality has become an increasingly important social justice topic, France may provide guidance on what to do. Or contrastingly, what not to do.
By Lorelei McCampbell