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Video of French police beating black man sparks more outrage over police violence

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Thursday ordered several Paris police officers suspended after the publication of videos showing them beating up a Black man and using tear gas against him with no apparent reason.

“I am asking the chief of (Paris) police to suspend on an interim basis the police officers concerned,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter.

The man’s lawyer, Hafida el Ali, told Agence France-Press (AFP) that his client had been detained for 48 hours based on “lies by the police who had outrageously aggressed him.”

The incident came as President Emmanuel Macron’s government is pushing a new bill that restricts the ability to film police, which has prompted protests from civil liberties groups and journalists concerned that it would allow police brutality to go undiscovered and unpunished.

According to The Associated Press (AP) videos published on Thursday by French news website Loopsider show the violent arrest of a music producer identified only by his first name, Michel, in the 17th arrondissement or district of the French capital on Saturday.

Three officers followed Michel inside his music studio after they apparently saw him walking in the street without wearing a mask, Loopsider reports. The published video images, both from a security camera inside the studio and filmed by neighbors outside, show officers repeatedly punching him and beating him with a truncheon. The officers then left, called in reinforcements and threw a tear gas grenade into the studio to get those inside to come out, according to Loopsider.

It reported that nine others who were recording music in the studio basement were also beaten. Michel told Loopsider that the officers hurled repeated racist insults at him, and he was taken in custody for 48 hours. Darmanin tweeted that the body that investigates allegations of police misconduct, the Inspectorate General of the National Police, known by its French acronym IGPN, is looking into the case, saying, “I want disciplinary proceedings to be led as soon as possible.”

The Paris police prefecture said in a statement that IGPN will seek to establish the exact circumstances surrounding the man’s arrest. The Paris prosecutor’s office is also investigating the police actions. The prosecutor’s office said Thursday it has dropped the proceedings against Michel opened the day of his arrest, and instead opened an investigation for “acts of violence by a person in position of public authority” and “false declaration.” It’s the second such police brutality investigation in Paris this week prompted by video footage.

The question of police violence in France has become mainstream since the yellow vest protests. On Monday, French police were filmed tossing migrants out of tents while evacuating a makeshift camp in the French capital, leading to accusations of excessive force. Police used tear gas to remove migrants from a camp set up in central Paris. Prosecutors have opened probes into the use of violence against both a journalist and a migrant in that incident.

On Tuesday night, protesters took to the streets to show support for asylum-seekers and to denounce police violence and an unwelcoming policy toward migrants in France. Young people in French working-class suburbs with a large immigrant population have long complained of police violence, with an upsurge in complaints during the first coronavirus lockdown earlier this year. Racist comments allegedly made by police officers in a Facebook group also sparked outrage.

The lower house of Parliament Tuesday evening gave initial approval to a security bill that would restrict the publication of photos or videos of police officers’ faces, although it still faces further legislative hurdles.

Media unions said it could give police a green light to prevent journalists from doing their work and potentially documenting abuses. The bill sparked multiple protests in Paris and other major cities throughout France, with more protests planned.

The government ordered an internal police investigation on Tuesday after police officers were filmed tossing migrants out of tents and intentionally tripping one while evacuating a protest camp. That same day, France’s lower house of parliament approved a draft law meant to strengthen local police and provide greater protection to all officers. It notably makes it a crime to publish images of officers with intent to cause them harm. The bill, which enjoys public support after recent terrorist attacks, will now go to the Senate.

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