By: Azra Rizvi
French Police exerts authority by using their identity checks:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Thursday according to which French police stop and search Black and Arab youths even without any sign of wrongdoing. The report states that ‘identity checks’, which can involve invasive bag searches and body pat-downs, are done on children as young as ten.
According to the HRW report, in poor neighborhoods, where people of immigrant origins form a major part of the population, the French police use identity checks as a blatant instrument to exert authority.
In France, the police have the authority to detain anyone for up to four hours to verify their identity. They can stop anyone whom they have reasons to believe has committed, attempted to commit, or is preparing to commit a crime, or may have information useful to a police investigation.
The French police also have the authority to designate public spaces as “perimeters of protection” for up to a month which allows the police to search people, bags, and vehicles without showing any serious or imminent danger.
The report stated that police-community relations in France are going through tough times and that“Discrimination based on race or ethnicity is damaging to individuals and social cohesion.”
The report describes how police stop-and-search powers were discriminatory and research shows many of the Black and Arab men and boys were resentful of what they consider targeted police harassment and humiliation. Police stop accounts, video footage, and official data revealed a bias towards stops that targeted minorities in poorer neighborhoods, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures.
Urging the French state to reform police powers to stop, search, and frisk, the HRW gave a list of recommendations which included reforming article 78-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
HRW emphasized that discrimination is prohibited by Article 1 of the French Constitution, international human rights treaties, and the European Convention on Human Rights.