Cell phone images are fragile, but unmistakable. A slender teenager sits in the harsh, fluorescent light of a police station in the suburbs of Paris.
Above him stands a municipal policeman in a dark blue uniform, his bulky figure accentuated by a bulletproof vest.
The officer taunts and intimidates the boy, grabs him by the collar, pushes him violently to one side of the bench and hits him hard on the head.
He is only 14 years old.
Although shocking, this is not the worst of the abuse suffered by this minor last year on March 17.
The police officer, identified as Cédric G, allegedly urinated on him and one of his two 16-year-old friends earlier in the night, after detaining the trio for breaking curfew rules during the coronavirus pandemic .
Also present at the scene was local police chief Yohan C, who allegedly told one of the 16-year-olds, “Since there are trees and you’re black, you can climb trees.”
The case, recently revealed by the French news site Mediapart, is the latest in a long series of police abuses that have come to light in France in recent times, often targeting black and Arab men, demonstrating what the groups rights advocates call out systemic brutality and racism in its security forces.
Although they were sacked by the municipality of Saint-Ouen last year in July, Cédric G and Yohan C then found municipal jobs elsewhere in the Paris region.
And, while Cédric G – still serving in the police – risks being prosecuted before the Bobigny court on December 15, his former boss seems out of the woods.
“The police know they are protected,” said Omer Mas Capitolin, founder of the Community House for Solidarity Development, one of six NGOs that last year filed a class action lawsuit against the French government for systemic discrimination. by police officers carrying out identity checks.
“Things like this are common. Often people don’t talk because it’s too humiliating,” he told Al Jazeera. “But those boys were lucky.”
It turned out that the brother of one of the victims, a national police anti-crime officer, immediately filed a complaint with the municipal authorities. But it was still their word against that of the sworn police.
Long litany of denials
Faced with a long litany of denials that violence took place, backed up by a bland police report on allegedly routine identity checks carried out overnight, the case could have collapsed if the crucial video evidence did not appear. had not been revealed.
But even though the lies and cover-ups have since come to light, justice is far from served.
According to Mediapart, investigators were denied security camera footage of where the boys were held and allegedly handcuffed and beaten, with the control center saying the footage had already been erased.
Cellphone footage from the station, taken by an officer identified as David L, was later revealed.
Faced with irrefutable evidence of his abusive behavior, Cédric G described his gesture as a few “slaps”, claiming that the 14-year-old had insulted him.
According to the testimony of three police officers, Yohan C appeared to express his “pride” when shown the video evidence.
The municipality acted on the evidence and both officers were promptly fired. But despite their repeated acts of bad faith, she did not see fit to go further in the assertion that Cédric G had urinated on the boys.
The policeman had claimed to suffer from a prostate problem, to have simply “pinched his sex” to reduce the need to urinate, an assertion supported by Yohan C and the five other police officers present on the scene, whose testimonies are were otherwise proven to be unreliable, to say the least.
Despite his supposed condition, Cédric G failed to produce medical certificates to support his testimony.
Tests on clothes provided by one of the victims as evidence came back negative, a spokesperson for the municipality told Al Jazeera.
“In fact, urination was not proven by the investigation. It’s difficult if there’s no proof. That’s why we recognized intent to humiliate in the investigation, but… no urine.
The city’s Socialist Party mayor, Karim Bouamrane, elected in 2020, is trying to create “ethical policing, focused on prevention rather than repression”, he said. “It’s a project close to his heart.
The municipality supports the victims at the next hearing and would cover their legal costs.
But, following the example of the municipality, prosecutors at the Bobigny court have also been reluctant to investigate claims that Cédric G urinated on victims.
While the officer is on trial for “indecent exposure” and “deliberate violence by a person in public authority”, he will be spared further scrutiny on the most serious charge of all.
Kathleen Taieb, the lawyer representing the 14-year-old, accused the court of usually lacking solidarity with victims of police brutality.
“The word of the policeman is always stronger than that of the victim”, assures Mas Capitolin. “The French government is doing everything to deny the systemic nature of the problem. Young blacks and Arabs are targeted daily. They are not considered full French citizens. There is a political will to stigmatize a whole section of the population.
Abdoulaye Kanté, author of Policier, enfant de la République, a book detailing his long career as a black policeman, facing discrimination from his colleagues and accusations of betrayal from his community, said the authorities are still “catching up ” in the fight against racism.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” he told Al Jazeera. “The day you put on your uniform, you are at the service of citizens. It is our duty to serve the citizens. If there are colleagues who abuse, they must be denounced. If they are not denounced, we become accomplices.
“We must be relentless in the face of racist behavior,” he said. “Strong measures must be taken.”
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