Four French police officers have been charged in connection with the beating of a black music producer a week after it was alleged that their unprovoked attack was revealed in a video that scandalized the country.
The footage shows a police officer hitting, kicking and using a truncheon on Michelle Zäckler, who claims that they also racially abused him several times. Before the video came out, police had accused Zecler, 41
Three of the officers were my exam – the closest to the official accusation in France – of “intentional violence by a person in public authority, in a group and by hand” and with “falsifying statements”. A fourth police officer who fired tear gas was charged with “intentional violence.”
Two of the officers – a 44-year-old brigadier with 19 years of exemplary service and a 23-year-old – were detained while two were released on parole.
At a news conference Sunday, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the three officers seen in the video said they had “panicked” but admitted that “their blows were unjustified and acted mainly out of fear”.
“They denied any racist insults,” Heitz added. He suggested that three of the officers remain in custody “to avoid communication between the perpetrators or pressure on witnesses”.
Officials said they turned to Zeckler because he was not wearing a mask and because his bag smelled strongly of cannabis. Police searched the bag for only 0.5 grams of cannabis, Heitz said.
The case has again raised concerns that a new law approved by French lawmakers last week restricting the right to publish or broadcast images of police officers and gendarmerie officers in certain circumstances will be used to cover up alleged violations.
Critics of Article 24 of the global security law, which is awaiting Senate approval, say the video of Zecler’s attack could not be made public under the law. The government says it will criminalize the publication of such images only with “intent to harm the physical or psychological well-being” of officers.
Prime Minister Jean Castex has promised an independent commission to consider Article 24 with a view to rewriting it. Zeckler, who was detained for 48 hours, said without the film “I would be in prison now.”
On Saturday, a protest against the law in central Paris turned into vehicle violence and a burning beer garden, banks, shops and offices vandalized paving stones and fireworks aimed at security forces, who responded with tear gas and riot control tactics.
Among the victims is Syrian photojournalist Ameer Alhalbi, 24, who worked for AFP and was unable to reach a hospital for several hours. Alhalbi said he was reminded he was in the Syrian civil war. “Aleppo is back with me,” he said.
Phil Chatwin, AFP’s global news director, asked police to investigate the incident. “We are shocked by the injuries suffered by our colleague Ameer Alhalbi and condemn the unprovoked violence,” Chetwind said.
Police said 81 people had been arrested. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 98 police officers were injured. “Those behind the violence will be persecuted,” Darmanin said.
The attack on Zecler is the third incident of alleged police violence, filmed last week. While dismantling a makeshift migrant camp in central Paris last Monday, one employee was filmed deliberately tripping a fleeing migrant and another was accused of targeting a French journalist three times. The police’s own disciplinary unit is investigating these incidents.
A critical report was also published last week on the arrest of a young black man in 2017 who suffered lifelong injuries after being allegedly sodomized with a truncheon. Le Monde described the report on Theodore Luhaca’s arrest as “an irreconcilable demonstration of a series of police failures”. The police officers involved are avoiding disciplinary action, but may now face criminal proceedings.
In September, a French journalist broke into a Paris police station and described a culture of racism and violence in which officers acted with impunity.