Shoot it Down: The French Rebel Against Broken Policing

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French fighter fighters responding to rioters (Image Credit: CNN)

On June 27th, 2023, a police officer shot Nahel Merzouk, a 17-year-old of Algerian and Moroccan descent, during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. This has ignited a wave of outrage and caused many French citizens to revolt violently and passionately against police brutality against minorities in France. This particular incident has brought this long-standing issue to the forefront of French politics, where nationwide discontent and anger are out in the open, and the citizens of France are now demanding permanent and transformative change.

France’s troubling history regarding police brutality against immigrants has resulted in the rise of anti-police sentiment emerging, which is especially pronounced in poor and racially mixed suburbs of the French cities (known as banlieues). Since the riots began, France has seen over 5,000 cars being torched, 1,000 private properties being burned down and around 250 police stations being attacked. 

This chaos has resulted in a mass deployment of around 45,000 police officers tasked to get the rioters under control and mitigate the damages being caused. Many important figures in France, such as Gérald Darmanin (France’s interior minister), have come out and stated that “no circumstances justify disorder and delinquency”. Furthermore, Darmanin criticized the parenting of those who allowed their children to be exposed to this chaos, stating that “it’s not up to the national police to the gendarmerie or the mayor or the state to solve the problem of a 12-year-old setting fire to a school. It’s a question of parental authority”. These statements, while completely justified in their content, were delivered at an inopportune moment: Darmanin’s criticism of the rioters and the parents only fueled the desire of people to go out and wreak havoc since they felt that their calls for change weren’t being properly addressed.

Against the backdrop of a nation grappling with a significant immigrant population and a rising tide of nationalist sentiments, the influence of figures like Marine Le Pen, who espouses anti-immigration rhetoric, further exacerbates this divide.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, has played a significant role in increasing negative attitudes against immigrants within France by capitalizing on fears and insecurities surrounding national identity within France. Le Pen effectively taps into the idea that Frenchness is under attack by pointing out the increasing multiculturalism and deeming it a threat to France’s values and traditions. By framing her stance in a way which encourages the preservation of French culture and national identity, Le Pen is able to reach a large contingent of the French population who feel lost in a country experiencing huge societal changes. She argues and emphazises the notion that a homogenous France is a more prosperous France and that immigrants cause criminal activities and other public safety concerns. However, she ignores the many benefits immigrant communities bring to the culture and atmosphere of France’s cities. By promoting division and spreading hateful notions to the French public, Le Pen creates a tribalism mentality which contributes significantly to the poor treatment of immigrant communities.

How would this divide be fixed?

In order to combat this huge divide within France, forging bridges and advancing social cohesiveness require cultivating intercultural discussion and social integration. Promoting activities that encourage communication and understanding amongst individuals with different backgrounds can aid in dismantling stereotypes, confronting prejudices, and fostering a feeling of shared identity and belonging.

Another crucial element to mitigating this issue would be making changes to the police system. It is crucial to develop trust between law enforcement organizations and the communities they serve, especially in a country like France, where negative emotions against the police are celebrated and considered normal, especially among the new generations. A commitment to transparency and accountability in policing is likely the first step in gaining the public’s trust, alongside enhancing community policing tactics and putting a strong emphasis on de-escalation and respect for human rights in rigorous training programs. 

Through nationwide change to some of the institutions and organizations and through the promotion of cohesion and integration, I think that France will be able to make a lot of headway on some of the huge social divisions and problems which they face today.

Written by Vincent Kikano

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