Macron Under Pressure as Thousands Expected to Protest New Law
Thousands of people are expected to turn out in major cities across France on Saturday to protest controversial new security legislation that would ban the publication of images of police officers with intent to cause them harm.
Activists and journalists are concerned the “global security law” will allow police violence to continue unchecked at a time of growing calls for more oversight. Anger has been heightened by videos that show police using unwarranted force against a Black man and migrants on two separate occasions this past week.
President Emmanuel Macron, whose party pushed for the new legislation as part of an effort to better protect police officers as the government presses on with its promise to improve security and crack down on crime, said the incidents “shame us,” and condemned violence both by and against officers, incomments posted on Facebook and Twitter Friday evening.
The French leader is coming under pressure on all fronts as he tries to respond to an apparent resurgence of jihadist violence, contain the spread of the coronavirus while repairing an already battered economy and respond to a growing blacklash against his decisions. His tack to the right ahead of presidential elections in 2022 is also upsetting some.
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In his statement on Friday, Macron asked the government to quickly come up with proposals “to reaffirm the link of confidence that should naturally exist between the French and those who protect them,” and do a better job fighting discrimination.
The videos that surfaced on Thursday show policehitting Black music producer Michel Zecler behind closed doors until he bled, using tear gas and shouting racial slurs. He said in interviews afterward that he had no idea why he was targeted. The officers tried to cover up their actions and might have been successful if it weren’t for the images, according to reports by French media. That beating came after the heavy-handed evacuation on Monday of a makeshift migrant camp in a Parisian square.
It adds to a steady stream of social media videos over the past two years that shown police beating vulnerable people and blinding others during protests by theYellow Vests movement and subsequent rallies over planned pension reform. Reports have demonstrated how men of Arab and African origin have been stopped and searched disproportionately.
France’s government says the goal of the law isn’t to prevent citizens from recording police intervention, and Macron in his Friday statement said he firmly believes in the freedom of expression and freedom of the press. “The values of the Republic are not negotiable,” he said.
Aneditorial published by Le Monde newspaper on Friday said the beatings weren’t isolated incidents and demonstrate a serious crisis of leadership. It was criticism of hardline interior Minister Gerard Darmanin who earlier this year told lawmakers he considered police violence “legitimate,” adding that he “suffocates” when he hears talk of police excesses. Though he described the incidents of this week as “shocking,” it’s too little too late, according to the editorial.
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“Gerald Darmanin, picked by the president of the republic to lure conservative voters, risks dragging the country into a dangerous spiral of dangerous disorder, heightened by a myriad of tensions related to to the lockdown,” it said. “How can the calls of Emmanuel Macron for ‘benevolence’ and ‘respect of our values’ be credible, if the police and his minister are not urgently pulled back into line?”
So far the president has stood by his minister but in an unusual move — and blow — for Macron’s party, his government has tasked an “independent committee” with re-writing the provision of the security law that mentions “intent” before it’s reviewed by the Senate in January. That provision may also be struck down by the Constitutional Court.
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