A video of police officers beating a Black music producer in Paris has sparked outrage and renewed demands for concrete action against police brutality in France.
The footage shows that Michel Zecler was on his way to a recording studio located in the upscale residential area of the 17th arrondissement when he was followed and violently attacked by three officers upon entering the building on Nov. 21.
The video, captured by security cameras and posted on Nov. 26 by French digital news media outlet Loopsider, shows him being beaten up for seven minutes as he tries to cover his body and face from officers punching, kicking, and hitting him with batons.
Zecler said he was also subjected to racial insults during the attack, according to the BBC.
"People who should have been protecting me attacked me," the 41-year old told reporters. "I did nothing to deserve this. I just want these three people to be punished according to the law."
French officials have condemned the incident amid a climate of growing distrust between citizens and police officers.
Les images que nous avons tous vues de l’agression de Michel Zecler sont inacceptables. Elles nous font honte. La France ne doit jamais se résoudre à la violence ou la brutalité, d’où qu’elles viennent. La France ne doit jamais laisser prospérer la haine ou le racisme.— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) November 27, 2020
In a string of tweets, French President Emmanuel Macron said the government was exploring proposals "to reaffirm the link of confidence that should naturally exist between the French and those who protect them."
"The images we all saw of the beating of Michel Zecler are unacceptable. They shame us," he said in a statement. "Those who ensure the law is applied must respect the law."
But these comments have failed to quell intense criticism about a new bill on global security passed by France’s lower house last week and set to be discussed in the Senate in January.
Article 24 of the proposed legislation would prohibit broadcasting footage in which police officers are easily identifiable when such material is released with the "intent to harm" law enforcement officials.
Critics argue that, as it currently stands, the language of this provision is too vague and subjective — something that would threaten press freedom and discourage human rights groups, journalists, and activists from documenting cases of police brutality and racial injustice.
The Office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has voiced similar concerns, fearing that the article could "could lead to significant violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression."
These safeguards sit among the priorities set out by the UN to end extreme poverty within the next decade.
This past weekend, more than 130,000 people took to the streets of Paris to protest the proposed bill, with thousands more gathering in cities such as Lille, Clermont-Ferrand, Montpellier, and Strasbourg.
FRANCE: Thousands protest as France reels from police violence #AFPhttps://t.co/uKnf96m8ogpic.twitter.com/mloyNH9QDf— AFP Photo (@AFPphoto) November 28, 2020
The gatherings resulted in violent clashes between police officers, protesters, and journalists — including Ameer Alhalbi, an award-winning freelance photographer who was severely injured by a police baton at Place de la Bastille.
Prominent celebrities, including international Black football player Kylian Mbappe, have also expressed support for Zecler on social media, stressing that such acts of violence were "unacceptable" and "unbearable."
Three police officers involved in his attack have since been charged with "deliberate violence by a person in public authority," while a fourth, who fired a tear gas canister, has been accused of "deliberate violence," according to the Guardian.
All have denied racial abuse allegations and claimed that the recording studio reeked of marijuana — but only 0.5 grams of cannabis was found in a small bag, Paris public prosecutor Rémy Heitz said at a press conference held on Sunday.