Tens of thousands of critics of a security bill that would restrict the filming of police officers protested across France on Saturday, with officers in Paris firing tear gas to disperse crowds that set France’s central bank on fire and threw cobblestones. .
However, the environment was largely peaceful, as dozens of demonstrations were held against a provision of the law that would make it a crime to publish photos or videos of police officers on duty with the intention of damaging their “physical integrity or psychological “.
Civil liberties groups, journalists and individuals who have faced police abuses are concerned that the measure will hamper press freedoms and allow police brutality to remain undiscovered or punished.
“We have to broaden the debate and in doing so we say that if there was no police violence, we would not have to film violent police officers,” said Assa Traore, a leading anti-brutality activist whose brother died in police custody in 2016, told The Associated Press.
She was one of at least 46,000 people who filled the sprawling Republic Square and surrounding streets with red union flags, French tricolor flags and homemade signs denouncing police violence, demanding freedom of the press, or calling for the resignation of French President Emmanuel. Macron or his hard-talking inside. minister, Gerald Darmanin.
The crowd included journalists, journalism students, left-wing activists, migrant rights groups and citizens of various political persuasions who voiced their anger at what they perceive as hardened police tactics in recent years, especially since the protest movement emerged. of the yellow vests of France against the economic difficulties in 2018.
Violence erupted near the end of the march when small groups of protesters threw small stones and cobblestones at riot police.
The officers retaliated with tear gas discharges, sparking petty fights. The rioters then set fire to the facade of the central bank and to police barricades; in the melee the fire trucks struggled to reach the place.
The Macron government says the law is necessary to protect the police amid threats and attacks from a violent fringe.
But the editor-in-chief of the French newspaper Le Monde, Luc Bronner, argued at the protest that the law against publishing images of officers is unnecessary.
“Laws already exist to protect public officials, including police forces when they are attacked, and it is legitimate – the police do a very important job,” Bronner said. “But that’s not what it is about. It is about limiting the ability of citizens and together with them, journalists, to document police violence when it occurs.”
While journalists have been the most outspoken about the security bill, it could have an even greater impact on the efforts of non-journalists filming police during aggressive arrests, particularly minorities who may try to fight it. Police abuse and discrimination with a few seconds of cell phone. video.
“There were all those protests in the summer against police violence, and this law shows that the government did not listen to us … It is impunity. That’s what makes us so angry, “protester Kenza Berkane, 26, said.
Berkane, who is French and of North African origin, described how he was repeatedly stopped by police to verify his identity on the subway or while going to school. while white friends were allowed to pass. “We wonder, when will this end?”
The cause has taken on renewed importance in recent days after footage emerged of French police officers beating a black man, sparking a nationwide outcry.
Macron spoke out against the video footage on Friday, saying they “embarrass us.”
The video that appeared on Thursday showed the beating of music producer Michel Zecler, following images of the brutal police evacuation of migrants on Tuesday in a Paris square.
The officers involved in the beating of Mr. Zecler were suspended pending an internal police investigation.
An internal letter from Paris Police Prefect Didier Lallement asked officers to use “probity, a sense of honor and ethics” when monitoring Saturday’s protests, which were authorized by authorities despite the partial blockade of the virus in France.
For most of the march, the police stayed behind, chatting while holding up their helmets or silently watching the protesters shout “What a shame!” to them.
The crowd was overwhelmingly peaceful, but some of the rebel minority arrived wearing gas masks and helmets.
Article 24 of the proposed security law criminalizes the posting of images of police officers with the intent to cause harm. Anyone found guilty could face up to one year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros ($ 53,000).
Many protesters, police officers and journalists have been injured during protests in recent years, including several Associated Press journalists.
Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Friday that he would appoint a commission to rewrite Article 24, but backed down after hearing from angry lawmakers.
The commission is now expected to make new proposals early next year on the relationship between the media and the police.