In France, a new proposed security law has caused activists to fear the loss of a major weapon against police abuse: video footage. This footage, taken on cellphones, is used throughout the world to record and report cases of police brutality, often in impoverished immigrant neighborhoods.
The bill will make it illegal to publish images of police officers with intent to cause those officers harm. Those who post videos of police abuse may be put on trial, where they will face up to a year in jail and a 45,000-euro fine. Sihame Assbague, an anti-racism activist, believes that the bill will make it difficult for people of color to protect themselves. “I tend to believe that a young Arab man from a poor suburb who posts a video of police brutality in his neighborhood will be more at risk of being found guilty,” she said.
The bill’s defenders focus on its ability to provide greater protections for police. Abdoulaye Kante, a Black police officer in Paris, said, “The law doesn’t ban journalists or citizens from filming police in action… It bans these images from being used to harm, physically or psychologically.” Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti seems to agree, stating that “the intent [to harm] is something that is difficult to define.”
The idea behind this bill is noble – a law which protects the identities and lives of innocent police officers who are being unfairly defamed, while still protecting the lives and rights of the activists and vulnerable people being brutalized by “bad” police officers, sounds like it solves all of the problems of the modern world. Unfortunately, the world simply does not work like that.
The people often brutalized by police officers, as Assbague said, are from poor suburbs and impoverished immigrant neighborhoods, and are often unable to defend themselves if they are brought to court. While this bill may not affect journalists, who have the resources required to defend themselves against charges, it will affect the impoverished people who most desperately need protection. Filmed accountability, posted on the internet, is often the only thing keeping these people safe.
Meanwhile, the protections for police officers, while demanded by police unions, are not being gone about correctly. Rather than training officers in de-escalation or holding those who have brutalized others accountable for their actions, the law addresses the victims, creating an obstacle to stop them bringing their abusers to justice.
The bill fails to address the foundation of the problem: the police brutality that is still occurring in France. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that out of 3 million police operations in France per year, around 9,500 end up on a government website that denounces abuses. This is 0.3% of operations. Any percent is far too high.
According to the Associated Press, police brutality in France was brought to light in 2005, when riots exposed problems between police and youth in public housing projects with large immigrant populations. Subsequent protests have resulted in hardened police tactics, particularly during the yellow vest movement against economic injustice.
This bill, while well-intentioned, is a mistake which should be removed from the parliament floor. More impoverished citizens than just France’s will be put at risk if other states take France’s lead and announce similar bills. Unfortunately, police brutality is a worldwide, systemic problem. It is a problem that will only worsen if video evidence is no longer allowed to be shared.
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