Four French officers detained over black music producer’s beating

Published November 28, 2020
This video grab taken on November 27, shows producer Michel Zecler being beaten up by police officers at the entrance of a music studio in Paris. — AFP
This video grab taken on November 27, shows producer Michel Zecler being beaten up by police officers at the entrance of a music studio in Paris. — AFP

PARIS: Four French police officers were detained for questioning on Friday after a video showed them beating up a black music producer in Paris, sparking outrage from the government and celebrities, a source close to the case said.

The officers, who have 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, the source said.

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.

Images published by the Loopsider website show how music producer Michel Zecler was repeatedly beaten by police for several minutes and subjected to racial abuse as he tried to enter his music studio on Saturday evening.

The incident was condemned by football World Cup winners Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

A presidential official said on Friday that President Emmanuel Macron, too, was “very shocked” by the images.

The incident raised questions over the future of Paris police chief Didier Lallement, already in the spotlight after the forced removal of a migrant camp in Paris earlier in the week which has been widely condemned.

It also put the government on the backfoot as it tries to push through controversial new security legislation that would restrict the right of the media to publish the faces of police agents.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is in charge of the police forces, told French television that the officers “had soiled the uniform of the republic” and that he would press for their dismissal.

Police sources said four officers had been suspended.

The four, all men, have been summoned for questioning at France’s National Police Inspectorate General (IGPN) which has launched an investigation into use of violence and making a false statement, a source close to the investigation said.

Zecler was initially himself detained for causing violence, but prosecutors threw out that probe and instead began investigating the police themselves.

Macron on Thursday held talks with Darmanin to call for tough punishments for those involved in the beating, a government source added.

“Nausea,” said the front page headline in the leftist Liberation daily over a close-up picture of Zecler’s swollen and bloodied face.

“The new video of a rare ferocity... adds to a problem fed over the last months by a succession of blunders and a tendency to revert to authoritarian tendencies,” it said.

The death in US police custody of George Floyd in May and the Black Lives Matter movement have reverberated in France where allegations of brutality against police officers are commonplace, particularly in poor and ethnically diverse urban areas.

“Unbearable video, unacceptable violence,” Mbappe wrote on Twitter next to a picture of the injured producer. “Say no to racism.”

The outcry comes after the lower house of parliament on Tuesday evening approved a security bill which would restrict the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces.

Media unions say it could give police a green light to prevent journalists from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses, as well as stopping social media users from posting incriminating footage.

A protest against the draft law, which has yet to pass a Senate vote, has been called for Saturday in Paris.

In a sign that the government was possibly preparing to backtrack, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced late on Thursday that he would appoint a commission to redraft Article 24 of the law that would restrict the publication of images of the police.

But this in turn sparked accusations that the prime minister was trying to bypass the legislature.

“It is not for the government to substitute the work of an external committee in the place of parliamentary prerogatives,” the speaker of the lower house Richard Ferrand told Castex in a phone call, his office said.

Macron swept to power in 2017 as a centrist who rallied support from across the political spectrum. But with the new security law, critics and even some supporters accuse him of tilting to the right as he seeks re-election in 2022.

“Already accused of attacking public freedoms through the security bill... the executive faces an accumulation of cases of violence and police abuse, the images of which have disturbed even the ruling party,” said Le Monde daily.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2020

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