French teen shooting: ‘Systemic racism, Islamophobia, license to kill all at play’
Last week’s fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Nahel M. has shed light on the wider issue of systemic racism in French society, which is deeply rooted in the country’s colonial past and continues to permeate its institutions, researchers say.
Police and other law enforcers have systematically targeted people of color in France, particularly those of African and Middle Eastern descent, according to Emmanuel Achiri, a policy and advocacy adviser at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), and Rayan Freschi, a researcher for the UK-based advocacy group CAGE.
Citing ENAR data on police brutality in France, Achiri said a staggering 90% of all people “killed as a result of confrontations with police over the last decade have been persons of Black and Arab descent.”
“It’s not just an issue of systemic racism within the police. It’s an issue of systemic racism within French society,” said Achiri, stressing the need for authorities to recognize the racial component in the death of Nahel, a teenager of Algerian and Moroccan descent.
Freschi, a Muslim who lives in Paris, explained how French law enforcement today has strikingly similar attributes and functions to the colonial era.
“During the colonial time, the function of the police was to subdue the Indigenous population, the non-white population, the colonized, to make sure that they submitted to the republic’s rule,” he said.
“We don’t say colonized anymore, we say immigrants, but the dynamics between the institution of the police and the immigrants is almost the same.”
Building on the same point, Achiri spoke about the 1961 massacre in Paris, when French forces killed as many as 400 Algerians and dumped their bodies into the Seine River.
The victims were among tens of thousands who took to the streets in support of Algeria’s War of Independence, which ended the next year and saw the North African nation break free after over a century of French colonial occupation.
“There’s been no apology right up until now. There is a recognition that it happened, but there’s been no apology from successive French administrations,” said Achiri.
Other significant incidents that triggered nationwide protests include the stabbing of a young man of Arab origin by three soldiers in 1983 and the deaths of two young men who were electrocuted while being chased by police in 2005, he added.
Faith and unfounded fears
These ideas are also prevalent in a large share of the population, politicians and French institutions, he added.
“In the eyes of a police officer, a North African, a Black man, most of the time, he’s a Muslim. He holds a faith, Islam, which is regarded as a clear security threat in the entire nation,” said Freschi.
Adding to the fire of police brutality is the 2017 legislation that handed law enforcers “a license to kill.”
The increase in Islamophobic and racist rhetoric is another key reason as cops feel they can act violently because their ideas about race and policing are being shared and promoted by the “very politicians who run the state and run the institutions they work for,” Freschi added.
Police unions ‘perpetuating system of violence’
Hardly any police officers involved in killing innocent people have been jailed or penalized, he said.
“The unions are perpetuating the system of violence because they put a lot of pressure on the political parties, as well as on the victims,” he explained.
After Nahel’s case, Achiri underlined that French authorities must establish an independent committee that would investigate not just his killing, but also previous such incidents.