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In a landmark hearing on Friday, France’s highest administrative authority addressed allegations of systemic discrimination in identity checks by the French police. The accusations, primarily targeting Black people and individuals of Arab descent, have prompted local grassroots organizations and international rights groups to file a class-action lawsuit in 2021. This case has now reached the Council of State, where victims seek not monetary compensation but a ruling that mandates significant reforms within law enforcement to eliminate racial profiling.

French Police Accused of Systemic Discrimination

Facing Discrimination: Personal Accounts Echoing Injustice

Achille Ndari, among those whose personal accounts informed the lawsuit, shared a poignant experience of being subjected to a rough police ID check during his first year of law school. As a Black individual, this encounter shook his confidence in himself, his identity, and the broader system of law and order in France. Attending the hearing, Ndari expressed a mix of awe and relief, feeling that the experiences of individuals like him were finally being heard.

Corroborating Evidence: Police Officers Acknowledge Discriminatory Checks

The groups’ lawyers presented a 220-page file to the Council of State, including accounts from police officers who substantiate claims of discriminatory checks. Critics argue that these checks, often rough and repeated on the same person, can have lasting impacts on young individuals, marking them for life and straining relationships between police officers and residents in low-income neighborhoods.

Amidst Public Outcry: Lingering Anger and Calls for Reform

The hearing takes place against the backdrop of public anger following the death of 17-year-old Nahel Merzouk, of North African origin, during a police traffic stop in June. The incident in the Paris suburb of Nanterre triggered nationwide protests and marches, denouncing police brutality and racism. Tens of thousands of people rallied across France, demanding justice.

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Legal Landscape: Seeking Reforms Rather Than Damages

Initiated by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative, and three grassroots organizations, the case before the Council of State seeks reforms rather than damages. While French courts have previously found the state guilty of racial profiling in identity checks, this case holds significance in its pursuit of systemic changes. The groups advocate for mandatory recording of data in identity checks, the abolition of preventive ID checks, limits on checks targeting children, new police training, and an independent mechanism for lodging complaints against police.

Issa Coulibaly’s Plea: Recognition of Daily Injustice

Issa Coulibaly, head of the community youth group Pazapas, emphasized the hope for legal recognition of the daily injustices faced by young people of color in French cities. He detailed the experience of being stopped by police without reason, spread-eagled, subjected to ID checks, and frisked in public. The goal is to bring attention to these injustices and push for transformative reforms.
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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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