“I might gladly have damaged your legs.”
That’s what a French police officer instructed Souleyman Adoum Souleyman, a Chadian scholar who had simply been arrested throughout a nighttime protest in Paris final month towards the federal government’s unpopular pension overhaul. A minute later, one other officer ordered Mr. Souleyman, the one Black particular person among the many folks rounded up, to “wipe that smile off your face” earlier than slapping him.
Mr. Souleyman was ultimately launched with none costs. However the officers’ threats and humiliations have been recorded in an audio clip that has reignited a fierce debate about police brutality in France.
The audio recording — which was revealed by French information retailers a couple of days after the arrest, and which The New York Instances obtained and authenticated — has struck a chord in France after a latest historical past of tough and generally discriminatory police techniques.
It has additionally highlighted what attorneys for these arrested and some judges see as a broader development of abusive arrests geared toward deterring the demonstrators, who’ve taken to the streets for weeks towards the overhaul of the pension system, which raised the authorized age of retirement to 64 from 62.
Pictures of armor-clad police charging into crowds, swinging golf equipment or randomly arresting folks on the street, have drawn condemnation from each the United Nations and the European Union’s human rights watchdog.
Olivier Fillieule, a sociologist learning legislation enforcement, stated the French police had used extra intimidating techniques with protesters for the reason that pension legislation was handed, in an try “to scare them, discourage them from coming.”
“Why did they arrest me? Why did they deal with me like that?” Mr. Souleyman, 23, who migrated to France in 2019 and has a residence allow, stated in an interview. He has stated he was not participating within the protest however solely making an attempt to go away the world. “I really feel assaulted, abused, humiliated.”
The difficulty of heavy-handed police techniques has surfaced repeatedly throughout varied France’s varied protest actions, particularly for the reason that Yellow Vest uprisings of 2018 and 2019, when a number of protesters misplaced eyes after being shot with rubber balls by officers. A 12 months later, the nation was caught in a political storm over costs of systemic discriminatory police violence, prompting giant demonstrations.
The protests towards the pension overhaul have been largely peaceable on this 12 months’s early months. However for the reason that authorities rammed by its pension invoice with no full parliamentary vote in mid-March, they’ve at occasions grown violent.
The ensuing crackdown has been criticized by human rights teams and safety consultants alike as disproportionate and arbitrary.
Lawmakers from the hard-left France Unbowed get together, the chief of the left-wing opposition within the Nationwide Meeting, the extra highly effective home of Parliament, have been busy making an attempt to carry the federal government to account. They peppered ministers with questions, monitored police exercise throughout protests and promoted a petition to dissolve a unit accused of violence.
The strain has been such that final week Gérald Darmanin, the French inside minister, was referred to as in to reply for the police techniques earlier than Parliament. He dismissed criticism and blamed “ultraleft” militants who allegedly infiltrated the protests to wreak havoc. Since mid-March, some 2,500 fires have been lit by protesters and practically 300 public buildings vandalized, he stated.
“There isn’t a police violence,” Mr. Darmanin lately instructed the French radio station RTL, pointing as a substitute to officers’ proper “to make use of power to guard folks and property.”
The officers heard talking within the recording belong to a particular bike unit, the Motorized Brigades for the Repression of Violent Motion, generally identified by its French acronym, BRAV-M, that has an extended report of heavy-handed strategies.
BRAV-M models — which include officers driving in pairs, with an operator leaping off the bike to chase suspects — have been created in 2019 to assist include the Yellow Vests, a motion towards a gasoline tax improve that ultimately grew violent.
However they’ve been usually accused of arbitrarily beating folks, drawing comparisons with “Les Voltigeurs,” a motorbike riot squad that was disbanded in 1986 after three of its members beat a French-Algerian scholar to dying.
BRAV-M models have been particularly busy in latest weeks chasing younger folks in so-called “wild protests,” nightly marches marked by heavy vandalism which have unfold in Paris as the federal government refused to again down on the pension overhaul.
It was within the midst of 1 such protest that Mr. Souleyman and 6 different younger folks have been arrested in an upscale neighborhood of central Paris, on March 20.
Movies and photographs obtained by The Instances present pairs of BRAV-M members swooping in on the youth in a dimly lit avenue. The group was then seated on a sidewalk, surrounded by some 15 law enforcement officials whose faces have been largely coated by helmets and balaclavas. They flashed shiny lights at residents peeking by home windows to forestall them from filming.
Different individuals who have been arrested with Mr. Souleyman acknowledged becoming a member of the protest however stated they weren’t concerned in vandalism.
Février Hendly, a neighborhood resident who filmed the arrest from his condominium window, stated the youths have been calmly strolling by the neighborhood simply earlier than being apprehended.
Nonetheless, the law enforcement officials have been aggressive from the beginning, stated Salomé Rio, a 22-year-old social science scholar who was amongst these arrested. Ms. Rio stated she was insulted and slammed towards a wall after officers handcuffed her, a scene confirmed by a waiter from a close-by restaurant who witnessed it.
“Your life is hanging by a thread,” Ms. Rio stated she was instructed.
Ms. Rio and three of these arrested stated the officers bullied them, mocking their look and warning them they might quickly face trial. “It was utterly arbitrary,” stated Miguel Garcia, 21, who recorded the remarks in a 23-minute audio clip.
The recording reveals that the BRAV-M members particularly focused Mr. Souleyman. Officers instructed him that he would quickly be deported and bodily threatened him.
“I can let you know that we’ve damaged elbows and faces,” an officer is heard saying. “Subsequent time we come, you received’t get within the bus to go to the police station. You’ll get in one other factor referred to as an ambulance to go to the hospital.”
Laurent Nuñez, the pinnacle of the Paris police, stated he was “very shocked” by what he referred to as “unacceptable” feedback. An administrative inquiry and a judicial investigation have been opened into the incident.
The law enforcement officials concerned within the incident attributed their habits to “bodily and ethical fatigue” attributable to lengthy shifts, in keeping with inside police experiences obtained by Agence France-Presse.
Mr. Nuñez rejected calls to disband BRAV-M models, as requested by an internet petition that gathered greater than 260,000 signatures, saying that they have been fulfilling a vital mission to regulate protests which have grown more and more menacing.
The French authorities stated that greater than 1,000 law enforcement officials and firefighters have been injured since mid-March. The presence of protesters hurling rocks and glass bottles on the police has elevated throughout latest protests.
Mr. Fillieule, the sociologist, stated the French police relied closely on power and intimidation to deal with protests, reasonably than making an attempt to defuse conditions. He stated new legislation enforcement techniques enacted in 2021 have “set in stone the methods of brutalization examined in the course of the Yellow Vests motion.”
Because the protests towards the pension legislation have grown extra violent, Mr. Fillieule stated, the French police had been given orders to be extra intimidating with protesters. “The order is to power folks to go house,” he stated.
A part of the brand new technique is to conduct what attorneys say are preventive and arbitrary arrests — detaining protesters on obscure suspicions of violence earlier than releasing them with out cost.
That is what occurred to the youths arrested on March 20, who have been let loose after spending the night time in a police station.
Mr. Darmanin, the inside minister, instructed lawmakers final week that just about 1,200 folks had been arrested in the course of the protests since mid-March. However he acknowledged that solely 16 % of them have confronted prosecution.
“It’s a little bit of an acknowledgment of the vacancy of the accusations towards these folks,” stated Aïhona Pascual, one in every of a bunch of attorneys that filed 100 complaints to denounce arbitrary arrests.
Mr. Nuñez, the pinnacle of the Paris police, denied final week that the police have been conducting arbitrary arrests. “It’s not true,” he instructed the France 2 tv channel, including that these arrested have been “teams of people that kind with the intention of committing violence or harm.”
Each Mr. Souleyman and Ms. Rio filed complaints towards the officers who arrested them, on costs of violation of the fitting to private freedom, insults and violence.
Ms. Rio stated she now feels concern when attending giant demonstrations. “The objective is to psychologically break the demonstrators,” she stated.