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Racist slurs by French police captured on video, investigation underway

In Nice, police officers check a man, as a lockdown and curfew are imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
In Nice, police officers check a man, as a lockdown and curfew are imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). © REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

French policemen are under investigation over allegations of racially insulting a man after arresting him in Paris’ north-eastern Seine-Saint-Denis suburb. The French Interior minister said racism will not be tolerated within the police force.

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The video, filmed by 'Là-bas si j'y suis' journalist Taha Bouhafs has already been viewed more than 1.6 million times after it was posted at 2am on Sunday morning.

The dark footage shows a number of French policemen walking a man towards one of the vans parked. Bouhafs subtitled the video explaining that he started filming after he heard a man shouting when the policemen pulled him out of the Seine river.

“He doesn’t know how to swim. A ‘bicot’ like that doesn’t swim,” said one of the police officers while others are laughing.

“Bicot” is a pejorative French term used to describe North Africans from one of France’s three former colonies, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Another policeman is heard replying to the others: “No, it drowns! You should have tied a weight to his foot.”

Bouhafs explains that the man jumped in the river at l’Ile Saint Denis to escape police arrest.

Seconds later a man’s voice is heard shouting several times as if in pain, followed by more laughter from several people.

The incident took place a week after violent clashes broke out in Paris' western Hauts-de-Seine suburb.

Widespread condemnation

French Interior minister, Christophe Castaner, tweeted shortly after midnight on Sunday condemning the racist language.

“There is no place for racism in a Republican police force,” he wrote.

Castaner added that the wave of outrage the video gave rise to is “legitimate”.

“All light will be shed on the matter”, he added.

The IGPN, the French police watchdog, is investigating the matter, assured Castaner.

The Nanterre prosecutor said that the man arrested was admitted in hospital after falling into the Seine river.

The police union said that there is no doubt about the language used and that the sentence, if any, will match the offence.

Eric Coquerel, a Seine Saint Denis MP for opposition La France Insoumise party, voiced his indignation in a tweet on Saturday evening (before Castaner’s).

Coquerel wrote that this is “unacceptable”.

“To hear such racist comments and attitude from police officers is shameful and very worrying,” he added.

Police unions said that strict restrictions on public movement to curb the spread of Covid-19 exacerbate deep-rooted tensions and anger towards the police enforcing lockdown rules.

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