Once again, attention has turned to the French police as one of its officers was charged with rape while three others were charged with assault early this month. This followed an incident where they were recorded in an anonymous video physically assaulting a 22-year old black man simply named Theo in an immigrants suburb in Paris, France. Theo was also sodomized with a police baton and is in the hospital with a 10 cm lesion in his anus. The French police have since released a statement, calling it “an accident.” Meanwhile, there have been protests on the streets of Paris for 11 days after the incident, and it is alleged that the police has arrested arbitrarily hundreds of protesters too. French President, Francoise Hollande also visited the victim in hospital and demanded that “justice be served.” This latest case of police brutality comes barely 10 months after a black young man Adama Traore was also killed in police custody in the French town of Beaumont-sur-Oise.
As France prepares for its presidential elections in May, its mainstream media has taken time out to focus on police brutality. Indeed, the news has also caught the attention of people around the world; it’s not every time you hear that a third generation immigrant (young black French male,) or any male for that matter, was sodomized with a police baton and the police covering it up as an “accident.” Finally, it is being acknowledged that police brutality in France is a problem. However, underneath all this bluster, many still seem to be ignoring France’s and much of the West’s past regarding colonialism and slavery and its relationship with policing.
Policing as a colonialist tool
The police’s public image, as a body which upholds law and order in most Western countries, is a characteristic of modern day democracy and has been used as models in less developed countries. However, there seems to be amnesia regarding how most of these police institutions were not originally created to secure “law and order” but to enforce it as agents of violence, usually against people of other religions or race or any other group different from the government. The Imperialist army was used to secure colonial hegemony outside the shores; police officers were used within the borders. In fact concepts like racial profiling were made mainstream by the police.
The French police’s extra judicial killings which occurred in Paris on the 17th of October 1961 at the time of Algeria’s struggle for independence from France, is seen as one of the deadliest attacks on civilians by an apparatus of the government. About 300 French Algerians were killed on the streets of Paris as thousands of them protested a curfew placed on Algerians in the motherland by French colonial authority. France tried to cover up this attack for many decades before President Hollande eventually acknowledged it in 2012. The massacre proved how ruthless the French police was in its former colonies in Northern and sub-Saharan Africa.
Migration crises in Europe
Fast forward decades later and the increasing movement of thousands of African immigrants ( mostly from francophone countries) from sub Saharan Africa and Northern Africa, through the Sahel region and Libya, to Europe has created an immigration problem in the European Union. Many of these French speaking immigrants head towards France, braving the ocean, and buoyed by the age long “assimilation” culture enacted by France against massive resistance in all of its colonies during colonization. Many of these immigrants moved to little ghettos or banlieues as they are called; like immigrant ghettos or a mini-French colony.
The West seems threatened by this new wave of immigration created ironically by itself; America in the Middle East, France in Africa through Libya. The shifting focus of the world from globalisation to a more extreme form of nationalism is partly because these migrant crises have given rise to a few demagogues in the West. One of such demagogues is Marie Le Pen, the leader of the French far right group National Front Party, and whose rhetoric, Xenophobic and racist and Islamophobic in nature, represents everything dangerous to immigrants. She has been tipped by many to win May’s French presidential elections. Her rhetoric has found home in the hearts of many working class French people discouraged by deindustrialization, loss of jobs to immigrants, the continued disenchantment with the European Union, terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists and a sense of loss regarding France’s role as a superpower in the west; a role largely established by colonialism.
Indeed, Le Pen’s rhetoric is finding apologists within institutionalized systems produced by colonial ones in France e.g. Police and the Military. A recent poll suggests more than 50 percent of the French police force and Military support Marie Le Pen’s party, the National Front. Yes, this isn’t really about police brutality but about “making France great again” by subjugating minority groups in France using the police and an increase in police attacks, much like the lead up to the American elections last year; right group extremists usually gain power. It seems Marie Le Pen’s rise is giving much hope to systemic imperialism.
Like the American treatment of its black population and other minority groups, racial profiling is not new. Blacks or North Africans, two groups of people who were/and are still victims (the Pandora’s box opened by Gaddafi’s death in Libya and French policies in sub-Saharan francophone countries are largely to blame ) of France’s harsh colonial rule in Africa. In France, these victims are 6 or 8 times more likely to experience racial profiling than a white French. The extreme whiteness of the French police also means there would probably be no respite from within the system. The most recent victims of police brutality in France since Le Pen’s rise, have died in ways that bear similarities with how black people were killed by their white slave masters during slavery. Adama Traore died in July 2016 by asphyxiation allegedly by the police (a throwback to the hangings of escaped slaves in the Americas). This is why Theo’s sodomization with a police baton shouldn’t really be a surprise. It’s a tactic that was used by slave masters to emasculate black men since the time of slavery. Sexual violence and degradation was and is still a tool used to assert authority over individuals and groups of people.
Despite the fact that the police officers responsible for this incident are denying the accusations, the 10 cm lesion in Theo’s anus is enough evidence of foul play. Hate speech inspires hate crimes, and police brutality in France is presently being inspired by that. The citizenship of these victims of police brutality seem to only matter a little as theo says he was called “Negro” and “bitch” many times during the attack.
It doesn’t seem likely that there would be respite soon enough for minority groups in France. A win for Le Pen in May will validate hate crimes against them. Unlike the United States, France seems unwilling to talk about anything, let alone confront its past. Nearly wiping the Algerian massacre from history, socialist president Hollande’s attempt to wipe off the word “race” from the constitution and another candidate in May’s presidential elections Francois Fillon calling French colonialism “France sharing its culture with the world”; the people in leadership, both on the left and on the right, don’t seem to dwell or care for political correctness. It is seemingly left to the Labor unions, young activists and groups such as the Black Lives Matter. Hopefully, Le Pen doesn’t win.