France’s highest administrative authority held a landmark hearing Friday over accusations of systemic discrimination in identity checks by French police. Victims are not seeking money, but a ruling to force deep reforms within law enforcement to end racial profiling.
Local grassroots organizations and international rights groups allege that French police target Black people and people of Arab descent in choosing who to stop and check. They filed France's first class-action lawsuit targeting the nation's police force in 2021, and the case reached the Council of State on Friday.
A decision is expected in the coming weeks.
Police officers who corroborate accounts of discriminatory checks are among people cited in a 220-page file submitted by the groups’ lawyers to the Council of State.
The hearing comes amid lingering anger over the killing of a 17-year-old of North African origin by police during a traffic stop in June. Nahel Merzouk's death in the Paris suburb of Nanterre unleashed protests that morphed into nationwide riots. Tens of thousands of people marched last weekend around France to denounce police brutality and racism.
The government has denied systemic discrimination by police, and has said that police are increasingly targeted by violence.
The case heard Friday focuses on ID checks, and was initiated by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and three grassroots organizations that work with young people. The NGOs took the case to the Council of State after the government failed to meet a deadline to respond to the class-action suit.
French courts have found the state guilty of racial profiling in identity checks in the past, but the case heard by the Council of State is different in that it is seeking reforms instead of damages.
The groups that filed the lawsuit want to require police to record data about identity checks and to abolish preventive ID checks; limits on checks targeting children; new training for police; and an independent mechanism to lodge complaints against police.
Critics have said such ID checks, which are sometimes rough and often carried out multiple times on the same person, can mark young people for life and worsen the relationship between police officers and residents of many low-income neighborhoods.
“We hope this hearing will bring recognition by the law of the injustice that young people of color in French cities face every day. To be stopped by police in the middle of the street for no reason; to be spread-eagled, to have your ID checked, to be frisked in front of everyone,″ Issa Coulibaly, head of community youth group Pazapas, said in a statement by the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Coulibaly, a Black man in his 40s, has described being subjected to numerous undue ID checks starting when he was 14.