France will ban the controversial chokehold used to detain suspects after the death in custody of George Floyd in the US intensified anger at the conduct of French police.
Floyd’s fatal arrest magnified attention on the 2016 death in French police custody of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black man, and renewed controversy over claims of racism and brutality within the force.
France’s police watchdog said it received almost 1,500 complaints against officers last year – half of them for alleged violence.
After a string of protests in recent days, the interior minister Christophe Castaner announced on Monday the chokehold method “will be abandoned”.
“It will no longer be taught in police and gendarmerie schools. It is a method that has its dangers,” he told a press conference.
He added there would be “zero tolerance” for racism in law enforcement and officers strongly suspected of racism would be suspended.
Castaner said too many officers “have failed in their republican duty” in recent weeks, with several instances of racist and discriminatory remarks revealed. “It is not enough to condemn it,” said Castaner. “We have to track it down and combat it.”
But police unions questioned the changes. The impression given was that “everyone is nice except the police, who are mean”, said Philippe Capon of the Unsa-Police union.
Frederic Lagache on the Alliance Union said he feared police would be reduced to “street fighting or the use of tasers”. Earlier on Monday the president, Emmanuel Macron, urged his government to “accelerate” steps to improve police ethics.
The former prime minister Manuel Valls said the police were “not racist” but racism, antisemitism and violence ran through society and the security forces “unfortunately do not escape these phenomena”.
Macron met Castaner and the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, on Sunday, a day after about 23,000 people protested in several French cities to demand justice for victims of crimes allegedly committed by police.
The French demonstrations started in response to an expert report clearing the three officers who arrested Traoré. This was in spite of one of the officers having admitted the young man had been pinned to the ground with their combined body weight, and a report commissioned by Traoré’s family finding he had died due to the police intervention.
Traoré’s family said they were contacted by the office of the justice minister Nicole Belloubet on Monday inviting them to “have an exchange” about the case but they refused.
“Adama Traoré’s family points out they expect legal advances are needed, not invitations to a discussion that would have no procedural purpose,” a committee called Truth for Adama wrote on its Facebook page.
About 20,000 people rallied in Paris on Tuesday last week to demand justice for Traoré and Floyd, defying a coronavirus ban on public gatherings.
Media outlets last week published the contents of a private Facebook group on which French police members repeatedly used racist and sexist terms and mocked victims of police brutality.
The IGPN police watchdog said on Monday that complaints against officers rose by nearly a quarter in 2019 when officers were deployed for months of weekly “yellow vest” anti-government protests.