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Four officers in France have been charged with beating a black music producer

PARIS – Four police officers have been charged with beating a Black music producer in Paris this month, French authorities said Monday in a case that shocked the country and forced the government to comply with persistent allegations of police brutality and racism.

A graphic video posted on social media shows three officers punching music producer Michelle Zäckler, 41, with fists, legs and a relay on November 21 at the entrance of a recording studio in the 17th district of Paris, while another shed a tear. gas container through the window. Mr Zecler said several officers had also used racial defamation against him.

The footage, taken by a security camera and obtained by Loopsider, a French digital newspaper, contradicted officers’ account of the events, and outrage in France was swift.

Authorities quickly removed the officers and launched an investigation. President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement on his Facebook page on Friday that the images of the beating “bring us shame”, even though his government has come under fire over a security bill that will limit the sharing of images to police officers.

As a sign that the government is trying to eliminate growing opposition to the bill, Mr Macron’s party leader in the lower house of parliament – a former interior minister and close ally – announced on Monday that lawmakers would completely rewrite image-sharing .

The four officers were formally investigated late Sunday and charged with assault, including the use of a weapon, a French court official said on Monday. Some were also accused of using racial insults, the official said.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation, said the three officers accused of beating Mr Zecler were also accused of falsifying official documents – on suspicion that police officers had lied in their police report. for the events – while the policeman accused of throwing tear gas at the court was also accused of damaging private property.

Authorities did not publicly identify the officers over their ages: 44, 35, 31 and 23. Two of them were detained, while the others, including those accused of throwing tear gas, were released under judicial control.

Credit …Michel Zecler / Gs Group, through Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Remy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, told a news conference on Sunday night that officials initially said they were trying to stop Mr Zecler because he was not wearing a mask, which is mandatory in France due to the coronavirus pandemic, and because he was broadcasting ” strong smell of cannabis’. Officers also said Mr Zecler tried to avoid them by entering the studio, dragging police with him and being violent.

Mr Heitz said police later found only 0.5 grams of cannabis – less than 0.02 ounces – in Mr Zecler’s bag, and that security camera footage showed police tracking Mr Zecler. Mr. Zecler before beating him, while Mr. Zecler did not seem violent to the officers.

Mr Heitz said police officers admitted during questioning that their beatings against Mr Zäckler were “unjustified”, but that they told investigators that they had acted “under the influence of fear” because they had not able to cause difficulties Mr. Zecler under control in the narrow entrance of the recording studio.

Footage taken by a neighbor and published last week by Loopsider shows that an officer continued to hit Mr Zecler on the street, even when he was surrounded by about a dozen other officers. Several young artists who were present at the recording in the studio were also hit by police, according to the video.

Mr Heitz also said police officers who had not been involved in previous incidents denied using racial expressions.

The beating fueled long-standing frustration that the French government is not doing much to respond to allegations of police violence, especially against ethnic minorities. Mr Macron said in a statement on Facebook last week that he had asked the government to come up with proposals to restore public confidence in the police – a request he has made twice this year, first in January when a supplier died after police officers nailed him to the ground and strangled him, then again in June amid the global aftermath of George Floyd’s assassination.

But the beating also got on the nerves amid recent discontent with Mr Macron’s security policies, which critics say violate civil liberties and keep police out of control.

Tens of thousands of people protested across France over the weekend against a security bill that would restrict the sharing of images by police. The bill was passed by the lower house of parliament and has yet to be considered by the Senate, but the government faces growing opposition from civil rights groups, journalists’ unions and left-wing opposition parties.

This pressure escalated following Mr Zecler’s beating, although it is not clear that the bill – which would criminalize the broadcasting of the “person or other identifying element” of police officers on duty if the aim was to “physically or mentally harm” them – would be applicable to the case.

Christoph Castaner, Mr Macron’s former interior minister and leader of his majority in the lower house of parliament, announced on Monday that lawmakers would completely rewrite the provision, although it is unclear how and in what way.

Frederic Ve, head of the French National Police, said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday that he had been “scandalized, like the rest of the police in this country” by the attack, comparing the officers who struck Mr Zecler of “criminals” and promising that by next summer the police will be equipped with 15,000 new body cameras.

But Mr Veaux denied that relations between the police and the French population had been “damaged”.

“The police are a reflection of society, aren’t they marginalized,” he said, adding that there had been a “ban” on violence against security forces in the past few years, especially after the Yellow Vest protests.

While Saturday’s demonstrations against the security bill were largely peaceful, they were overshadowed by violent clashes between police and protesters later in the day.

A Syrian independent photographer, Ameer al-Halbi, was seriously injured when he was hit in the face by a police officer with a truncheon, which the head of Reporters Without Borders called “unacceptable.” Gerald Darmanin, the French interior minister, said nearly 100 security forces were also injured, including a police officer with riot gear who had been brutally beaten by protesters in Paris.

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