French Police vs Blacks & Arabs

An Arab is 7.8 times more likely to be stopped by the police as a white French citizen, while black people are 6 times more to be stopped.

According to the law of 10 August 1934, the identity of any person, regardless of their behavior can be controlled to prevent damage to public and particularly the safety of persons or property.

These figures are from a study by two researchers from the CNRS (The National Center of Scientific Research is the largest governmental research organization in France and the fundamental science agency in Europe) René Levy and Fabien Jobard.

This study was funded by an American NGO (Open Society Foundations) and was conducted on the basis of 525 discrete observations near the Gare du Nord and Chatelet RER for a period from October 2007 and May 2008.

This is first time in France a study of this magnitude has been undertaken. The phenomenon of disproportionate identity checks for ethnic minorities has always been the subject of debate in France but in the absence of specific studies we could only speculate on what was really taking place.

In addition, the ban in France on statistics indicating the origin of individuals has created a taboo.

Usually politicians and journalists call black and Arabs as French people of foreign origin or people from the suburbs (the poor are concentrated in the suburbs of most French cities).

This euphemism is from French legal language which does not recognize different communities.

The taboo was lifted by the then presidential candidate and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who said loudly he wished to maintain a file on the ethnicity of offenders.

Since this taboo was lifted by Nicolas Sarkozy, there has emerged particularly in the media voices that in relation to crime do not talk about suburban youth but young Arab and black youth.

The explicit language of ethnicity in relation to crime is a new phenomenon in French political life. This has shown what we already knew, that the French police have their "regular customers".

The police in France are not drawn from all parts of the population. This under representation of non-white communities is probably the result of discrimination during police entry exams.

The State Council (a body that rules on misadministration by public bodies) in April 2007 found ,in a case brought by Abdeljalil El Haddioui, that the exam for police officers was  invalid due racial discrimination.

The victim complained about the results of the oral questions asked about his origins and religion. He was asked does your wife wear a headscarf?  "Do you  find this bizarre a government of France with Arab ministers and a president half Hungarian?" What do you think about  the corruption of police officers in Morocco? (His country of origin)

Sophie Body-Gendrot and Catherine de Wenden Withol in their book intituled  ‘Police et discriminations raciales: le tabou français”  highlight the discriminatory practice identified in the case of El Haddioui.

They assert that during the oral exams verbal racism is common especially  when the candidates are from the Maghreb. Questions like "if your brother is arrested what would you do? " or  "could come back to your home in uniform? " According to the authors of the book the candidate who hesitates when answering questions like this is eliminated.

Apart from these established facts of discrimination both within the national police and against the people it is checked whether these controls are effective in the context of drug policy.

According to Fabien Jobard and René Levy racial profiling reduces the effectiveness of the police because the police has taken among a benchmark of 525 people only 73 people of those stopped are taken to the station.

It is not clear if those 73 people were guilty of any crime or if the police checked only their identity. The authors also found that in 60% of cases the police did not justify why they made a stop.

The police whose numbers are below the needs of the community loose much of their time doing preventive controls, most of which does not work but instead could lead to riots like those that occurred at the station La Gare du Nord in 2007.

If it is true that the consumption and trafficking of drugs are present in the poor part of the French population, this is also true for rich part of French society where people can spend more on drugs and drug traffickers are not stopped.

So why do the police only arrest people who look poor?

Thus Arabs and Blacks are more hit by this discrimination against poor people because historically they represent the majority of the poor in France.

The fight against the consumption and trafficking of drugs focused on only for one level of the society could lead to resentment of their rejection by the French of foreign origin, especially when the language of political debate on crime is so focused on ethnicity.

The RATP(Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports) started a positive discrimination at the beginning of this century to include more Arabs and Blacks in their staff.  Perhaps the police should also start a similar program if they wished to avoid being suspected of racism.

Although this doesn’t resolve whether stop and search is fair.

Article 61-1 of the French constitution allows the establishment of a "preliminary question of unconstitutionality." Any litigant (under certain conditions) can argue the constitutionality of a measure as a defense.

So in 2011 a fifty lawyers initiated a procedure against the article 78-2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which would be too broad and would therefore not allow the judge to  be able to verify the pattern of identity check.

A reaction of the government should be to advocate for  a quota for unrepresented populations in the national police.