Rights groups take French racial profiling case to top body

PARIS (AP) — After months of government silence, leading rights organisations and grassroots groups took France’s first class-action lawsuit targetting the nation’s powerful police machine to the highest administrative authority yesterday, to fix what they contend is a culture of systemic discrimination in identity checks.

The 220-page file, chock full of examples of racial profiling by French police, was being delivered yesterday to the Council of State, the ultimate arbiter on the use of power by authorities.

It was compiled by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and three grassroots organisations that work with youth.

The NGOs allege that French police target Black people and people of Arab descent in choosing who to stop and check. The groups behind the lawsuit contend the practice is rooted in a culture of systemic discrimination within the police with far-reaching consequences for people of colour.

“It’s a humiliating experience. You’re in the street, you’re frisked, patted down and questioned in front of everyone,” said Issa Coulibaly, head of Pazapas, a youth association in eastern Paris involved in the suit.

Instead of money for victims, the suit seeks deep reforms within law enforcement to ensure an end to racial profiling, including a change in a penal code that currently gives officers carte blanche to check IDs – with no trace that they have done so. Among other things, they also want an independent mechanism to lodge complaints and training for police officers.

The groups took the case to the Council of State after the government failed to meet a four-month deadline to respond to the opening salvo in the suit.

Head of youth association Pazapas, Issa Coulibaly. PHOTO: AP