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Police in France protest chokehold ban and racism accusations

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Police unions have said the force is not racist
Police unions have said the force is not racist   -   Copyright  THOMAS SAMSON/AFP or licensors
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Throwing handcuffs to the ground, police unions in Paris are protesting a new ban on chokeholds and accusations by the government they tolerate racism and brutality.

The new police measures announced last week come as part of a government effort to improve ethics in the force in the wake of George Floyd's death in the US.

Officers on Friday parked dozens of police cars at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe. About 20 cars then drove down the Champs-Elysées boulevard behind a banner reading "no police, no peace".

"The police is not racist... it saves lives whatever the colour of the individual's skin," Fabien Vanhemelryck, secretary-general of the Alliance union, told journalists.

Arno Pedram/AP
Police unions protest outside the interior ministryArno Pedram/AP

The demonstration comes as police unions held talks with the Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Friday over changes in police tactics.

Castaner said on Monday that police would no longer be taught to seize suspects by the neck or push on their necks.

His comments came after some 20,000 people rallied at the Paris courthouse on June 2 in an echo of the Black Lives Matter protests in America.

"Racism does not have a place in our society and even less in our Republican police," Castaner said, adding too many officers "have failed in their Republican duty" in recent weeks, with several instances of racist and discriminatory remarks revealed.

Police brutality

France's police watchdog said it received almost 1,500 complaints against officers in 2019 - half of them for alleged violence, AFP reported.

Police brutality has come under the spotlight since the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis.

Floyd's death has also thrown attention on the 2016 death of Adama Traoré in France. The 24-year-old black man died in police custody.

An investigation into his death is under way, with prosecutors announcing this week that two witnesses have been called to give testimony in July.

French police have also been accused of wounding a 14-year-old boy during arrest last month.

'We're not going to hold him down for eight minutes'

New protests against alleged police violence and racism have been called for Saturday in Paris and other cities.

Some police unions have threatened to carry out only minimal duties, since France forbids strike action by law enforcement agents.

Police unions have also taken issue with the Interior Minister banning the chokehold without giving an alternative way to make arrests.

"Head restraint is very important during handcuffing", said Xavier Leveau of the police union Unité SGP Police-Force Ouvrière.

He pointed out the methods are not similar to the way George Floyd was arrested.

"We're not going to hold him down for eight minutes, we're going to hold him down just for the handcuffing... we don't have a substitute technique," Leveau said.

Protests against the new measures and racism accusations were also held by police unions in Marseille, Lyon and Lille on Thursday.

CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU/AFP
Police also threw down their handcuffs in MarseilleCLEMENT MAHOUDEAU/AFP