(AP) — Lawyers for 15 French people, either black or of Arab descent, have filed a lawsuit against the state for abusive identity checks based on alleged racial profiling.
The plaintiffs' lawyers said this was the first such collective action in France to tackle abusive identity checks, a problem documented by several studies. The lawsuit against the French state targets the Interior Ministry, which oversees police.
The 15 people who sued the state allege that they were subjected to police checks between September and February. Their names were among those who responded to a hotline set up by the collective Stop Racial Profiling for people who felt they were unjustly checked by police.
They have no police record but were subjected to police identity checks, body searches, insults and humiliation because, to police, they appeared suspicious because of their skin color or origin, attorney Felix de Belloy said.
One of the plaintiffs, a 32-year-old black who identified himself by his first name only, Bocar, said police grabbed him as he left the family home in the northern Paris working class suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis even though he was with a younger sister and brother.
They “put me in front of a wall and … said, ‘If you don't cooperate we'll Taser you,’ waving the Taser gun at him, he said. They then patted him down.
The legal action is backed by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Union of French Lawyers and the Stop Racial Profiling group.
A study conducted in Paris by the Open Society Justice Initiative with France's National Center for Scientific Research showed that blacks have six times more chance of being subjected to police checks than whites and those of Arab origin have eight times more chance.
A report from Human Rights Watch on abusive identity checks, released in January said that black and Arab men and boys as young as 13 were singled out for abusive identity checks. That report was based on dozens of interviews in Paris, Lyon and Lille.
In Great Britain, meanwhile, police chiefs in London and Northern Ireland said they suspended officers from duty following a series of new investigations into alleged racism, including some cases reported by police staff to their superiors.
London's Metropolitan Police, Britain's largest police force, said it was dealing with 10 new race-related complaints involving 20 staff, among them an allegation that an officer used a racial slur while arresting a black man in the aftermath of England's riots last August.
Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey said a total of eight officers have been suspended while the cases are investigated by the country's police standards watchdog.
In Northern Ireland, four police officers were suspended from duty after the discovery of racist and sectarian text messages.
Meanwhile, London police have long attempted to tackle allegations of racism. A major report commissioned in the wake of the 1993 death of a black teenager concluded that Scotland Yard was “institutionally racist” and had failed to properly investigate the killing because of its hostility to London's black community.
Superintendent Leroy Logan of the National Black Police Association said that while race relations have improved since that report, he was “disappointed” by the Met's apparent failure to take effective action following years of feedback from black communities.
“Young people have been saying how they believe they are being dealt with disrespectfully, not shown enough dignity, (and) casual racist comments were being used,” he said. “We were telling the Met Police, some two or three commissioners back, this is what is coming up. But, like so many things, it lands on deaf ears until such a time as a free press — the media — get hold of it and forces people into action.”
Logan, who has more than 30 years of policing experience, said the force needs to “get its act together” and put race “back on the agenda.”
Mackey said the fact that police officers themselves had reported allegations of racism showed that attitudes inside the force had changed.
“Whilst any use of racist language is abhorrent, what is reassuring for me is that in the 10 cases that have been referred … six involve other officers who have stood up and raised concerns, showing that we are an organization that will not stand for any racist behavior,” he told reporters.