The ruling party of French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday November 30 it would entirely rewrite a draft plan that would have placed limits on people’s ability to share images identifying police officers following large scale protests against police violence that took place over the weekend. Over 133,000 people gathered to protest the original draft of the bill on Saturday November 28, with 46,000 people demonstrating in Paris alone. The demonstrations came in the wake of the publication of a video of three police officers beating up a black man inside his own music studio earlier this month, footage that Macron called “shameful” for France.
“We propose a new version of article 24 and a new version will be submitted,” Christophe Castaner, leader of Macron’s party in the lower house of parliament, said in a news conference. According to Reuters, the initial draft of article 24 “did not ban outright the sharing of images of the police, but made it a crime- punishable by a year in prison and a 45,000 euro ($54,000) fine – to share them with an ‘obvious intention to harm.’” Journalists in France and the government’s ombudsman on human rights criticized the article as too vague and having the potential to “have a chilling effect on people wanting to expose police brutality,” according to Reuters. “We acknowledge that there are doubts, that some people consider that the right to inform is under threat…That is why it is necessary to clarify it,” Castaner responded. His statement followed an emergency meeting on the bill held by Macron on Monday.
Police brutality is now an international issue, and the backlash has become a global movement. It is no longer just a publicly American issue, and the eyes of the international community are now on France. While there are certainly concerns of order to address, a law that discourages people from reporting inappropriate and unlawful behaviour on the part of the people meant to promote law and order is an unacceptable method of addressing that concern. Preserving order and making the necessary reforms is certainly a challenging balancing act, but article 24 removes any hope of reaching a peaceful and effective solution. The article’s vagueness only leaves room for future manipulation and misuse, meaning the bill is much more likely to exacerbate the situation than do anything constructive. Fortunately, the peaceful protests were effective in convincing French leadership to change course, but the bill’s future is uncertain. It is promising that leadership addressed the issue and is working to fix it, showing a level of awareness not present in some other countries dealing with these same issues. However, there needs to be a real change to stop these abuses of power and efforts to maintain peace at all costs.
Macron’s initial support of article 24 is the latest in a pattern of behaviour constituting a “conservative turn” in recent months that is earning public dismay from many of Macron’s centre-left supporters. According to Reuters, both the draft and article 24 were “a key plank in Macron’s plans to court right-wing voters by being tougher on law and order ahead of his 2022 re-election bid, had sparked outrage in the media and on the left of his own party.” French officials said it became even less justifiable for Macron to pursue article 24 following the release of the footage of the violent arrest of Michel Zecler in his studio, which led to fierce international criticism. The bill is meant to be a broader “general security” measure “to provide better protection for French police officers, whose unions said were under heavy strain after months of violent ‘yellow vest’ protests,” according to Reuters.
Officials said that a new version of article 24 would be submitted later but provided no specifics. The bill, passed last week in the lower house, now goes to the upper house where conservatives and not Macron’s party hold a majority, so the future remains uncertain for this bill. The leadership listened to peaceful protest and acknowledged the faults of the bill, which is a promising start. Now they must work to turn that into productive change that will better the lives of those in the country and work to address the incidents of police brutality that unfortunately persist.
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