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France vows 'zero tolerance' against racist police officers

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An elderly woman haggles French riot police during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020, to protest against the recent killing of George Floyd.
An elderly woman haggles French riot police during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020, to protest against the recent killing of George Floyd.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francois Mori
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France has vowed "zero tolerance" over police racism after George Floyd's death in the US helped shine a light on the issue in Europe.

The country's interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said on Monday that officers suspected of racist acts or language will be systematically suspended and that the use of body cameras will be strengthened.

Castaner was speaking after thousands of people flouted social distancing rules in Paris over the past week to attend protests against alleged police violence and racism. In particular, the case of Adama Traoré, who died in police custody four years ago.

"Racism has no place in society, let alone in our republican police," Castaner said as he announced measures to tackle the problem.

He said that "French police are not the American police" and refuted the idea it was racist. He said law enforcement in France reflects the country and has within its midst people from all backgrounds, sexualities or religious beliefs but that "unfortunately, there are also gnawing ailments", including racism.

Castaner said that to wear a uniform — to be "the guardian of the republic" — is an honour and that too many recently "had failed in their republican duties".

He reminded officers that their registration numbers must be visible at all times and said that every service will be reminded of when identity checks can be carried out.

Training will now also include a mandatory formation to combat racism, while officers will also have to do an annual formation without which they won't be able to work in the streets.

Specialist investigators will be more broadly deployed and new tools to facilitate reporting racism in law enforcement will be strengthened.

Finally, he said the so-called strangulation method will now be banned.

"I want zero-tolerance against racism in our republic," Castaner said, warning that even those who enforce the law "are never above it".

"They must, on the contrary, be even more exemplary," he added.

Recent protests in France, like similar ones across Europe, were organised in solidarity with Black Lives Matter following Floyd's death in Minneapolis. But they've also sought to highlight that the issue is not solely a US one and that racial profiling also regularly occurs in Europe.

A report seen by the AFP news agency on Monday also flagged that the number of investigations carried out by France's General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN), the police of police, increased by nearly a quarter year on year in 2019.

More than half of the 1,460 investigations pertained to "willful violence" by officers, an increase of 41% from 2018.

Nearly 39% of these disputed uses of force come from interventions or arrests during demonstrations, with the report stressing that "glets jaunes" ("yellow vests") protests led to "an overload for the IGPN" with 310 complaints.