Mobile phone images are shaky, but undeniable. A slender teenager sits in the harsh fluorescent glow of a police station in the suburbs of Paris.
Towering above him is a municipal police officer in a dark blue uniform, his bulky frame accentuated by a bulletproof vest.
The officer taunts and intimidates the boy, grabs him by the neck, violently throws him to the side of the bench, and hits him hard on the head.
He is only 14 years old.
Although shocking, it is not the worst of the abuse that this minor suffered last year on March 17.
The police officer, identified as Cédric G, had allegedly urinated on him and one of his two 16-year-old friends that same night, after detaining the trio for violating curfew rules in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Also present at the scene was local police chief Yohan C, who allegedly told one of the 16-year-olds: “Since there are trees and you are black, you could climb the trees.”
The case, recently exposed by the French news site Mediapart, is the latest in a long line of police abuses that have come to light in France in recent times, often against black and Arab men, demonstrating what the human rights groups call systemic brutality and racism in their security forces.
Despite being made redundant by the Saint-Ouen municipality last year in July, both Cédric G and Yohan C subsequently found municipal jobs elsewhere in the Paris region.
And, although Cédric G, who still acts as a police officer, faces legal proceedings in the Bobigny court on December 15, his former boss appears to be free of responsibilities.
“Police officers know they are protected,” said Omer Mas Capitolin, founder of Community House for Supportive Development, one of six NGOs that last year filed a class action lawsuit against the French government for systemic discrimination by police officers. who carry out identification checks.
“These types of cases are widespread. Often people don’t speak up because it’s too humiliating,” he told Al Jazeera. “But those guys were lucky.”
As it turned out, the brother of one of the victims, an anti-crime agent from the national police, immediately denounced the municipal authorities. But it was still his word against the sworn cops.
Long litany of denials
Faced with a long litany of denials that any violence had taken place, backed up by a nondescript police report on supposedly routine ID checks conducted that night, the case might have collapsed had the crucial video evidence not come to light. light.
But even as the falsehoods and cover-ups have since been exposed, justice is far from being done.
According to Mediapart, investigators were denied security camera footage of the location where the children were detained and allegedly handcuffed and beaten, and the control center claimed the footage had already been deleted.
Mobile phone footage of the station, taken by an officer identified as David L, later surfaced.
Faced with irrefutable proof of his abusive behaviour, Cédric G described his actions as a couple of “slaps”, claiming that the 14-year-old had insulted him.
According to the testimony of three police officers, Yohan C seemed to express “pride” when he was shown the video evidence.
The municipality acted on the evidence and both officers were fired within a short time. But despite his repeated acts of bad faith, he did not see fit to further the claims that Cédric G had urinated on the children.
The officer had claimed that he was suffering from a prostate problem, as he had simply “pinched his sex” to relieve the urge to urinate, a claim supported by Yohan C and the five other officers present on the scene, whose testimonies had not turned out. reliable. to say the least.
Despite his alleged condition, Cédric G was unable to present medical certificates to support his testimony.
Tests on clothing provided by one of the victims as evidence came back negative, a spokesman for the municipality told Al Jazeera.
“In fact, urination was not proven by the investigation. It’s hard if there’s no proof. That is why we recognized an intention to humiliate in the investigation, but… there is no urine”.
The city’s Socialist Party mayor, Karim Bouamrane, elected in 2020, is trying to create an “ethical police force, focused on prevention, rather than repression,” he said. “It is a project that is close to his heart.”
The municipality is supporting the victims at the upcoming hearing and reportedly covering their legal fees.
But, following the example of the municipality, prosecutors at the Bobigny court have also refused to investigate allegations that Cédric G urinated on the victims.
While the officer is on trial for “indecent exposure” and “deliberate violence by a person in a position of public authority,” he will be spared further scrutiny on the most serious charge of all.
Kathleen Taieb, the lawyer representing the 14-year-old, accused the court of not routinely showing solidarity with victims of police violence.
“The police officer’s word is always stronger than the victim’s,” says Mas Capitolin. “The French government goes to great lengths to deny the systemic nature of the problem. Black and Arab youth are attacked on a daily basis. They do not consider themselves French citizens with full rights. There is a political will to stigmatize a whole segment of the population”.
Abdoulaye Kanté, author of Policier, enfant de la République, a book detailing his long career as a black police officer, facing discrimination from his colleagues and accusations of treason from his community, said authorities were still “getting up to date” when it comes to addressing racism.
“It is completely unacceptable,” he told Al Jazeera. “The day you put on the uniform, you are at the service of the citizens. Our job is to serve the citizens. If there are colleagues who abuse, they must be reported. If they are not denounced, we become accomplices”.
“We have to be ruthless with racist behavior,” he said. “Tough measures have to be taken.”
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