Racial discrimination

French court rules state guilty of 'gross misconduct' over student ID checks

Police conduct identity checks on a group of men in the Gare du Nord in Paris on November 30, 2012.
Police conduct identity checks on a group of men in the Gare du Nord in Paris on November 30, 2012. AFP - FRED DUFOUR

The Paris Court of Appeal has ruled that discrimination was behind humiliating police identity checks carried out on three high school students of colour in 2017, overturning a previous ruling.

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The court on Tuesday found the French state guilty of "wilful misconduct" (faute grave) over stop-and-frisk checks carried out in March 2017 and ordered it to pay 1,500 euros to each of the young men in compensation.

The three men, Mamadou Camara, Ilyas Haddaji and Zakaria Hadji Mmadi, were all in their final year of high school in the suburb of Epinay-sur-Seine, north of Paris, when they were stopped and searched at the Gare du Nord station on their return from a school trip to Brussels. The checks took place in full view of their classmates, teacher, and passersby.

"Humiliated" by such checks, the students filed a lawsuit against the state for racial profiling.

In December 2018, the lower court dismissed their case arguing the charge of discrimination couldn’t be evoked because all 18 students on the class trip were of colour and only three were checked.

But the appeals court acknowledged there had been discrimination in relation to the other travellers on the platforms who, according to the class, were "mostly white".

It awarded the three former students "compensation for the moral damage suffered", according to a press release from the association Vox Public.

"This decision finally sends a clear message to the Ministry of the Interior and the police: identity checks during school outings are not acceptable and must be banned," the men's lawyer Slim Ben Achour told Mediapart.

Legal victory

Tuesday’s decision was also an “important legal victory”, Ben Achour said, that paves the way for the next step in a class action suit filed in January by six non-governmental organisations relating to alleged systemic racism within the French police.

In their lawsuit, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Open Society Justice Initiative and three local organisations contend that police use racial profiling in deciding who to check, and target mainly young men from visible minorities.

Under rules governing class action cases in France, the government was given four months to make satisfying proposals or risk court proceedings.

Ben Achour, who represents Open Society Justice Initiative, said there had been no response and NGOs were now preparing to take the state to court.

In November 2016, the Court of Cassation condemned the state for wilful negligence in three cases of discriminatory ID checks.

Despite regular allegations that the police in France carry out racial profiling, few cases go to court. Activists and lawyers maintain this is often because those targeted are fearful of repercussions.

President Macron angered the police in December last year declaring: "When you are not white, you are more likely to get checked by the police. You are identified as a problem factor, and that cannot be justified."

A report by Human Rights Watch in June 2020 found that French police were using their vast “stop and search” powers to carry out discriminatory checks on black and Arab boys and men

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