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Minority communities in France faced surge in police fines during pandemic: Report

A group of youth gather near residential apartment buildings in Epinay-sous-Senart near Paris, France, November 8, 2022. (File photo by Reuters)

Police in France fined minority communities more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic than the majority community, a new report has revealed, confirming discriminatory practices of French law enforcement agencies against non-white citizens.  

In a report published on Tuesday, Reuters found that inhabitants of areas in France with the highest number of immigrants received fines by French police at higher rates during the COVID-19 lockdown between March and May 2020.  

The report, citing department-level immigrant population figures from France’s official statistics agency and the interior ministry’s counts of pandemic-related fines issued in each department during the period, revealed the rate of fines against the immigrant population was 54 percent higher than anywhere else in the European country.

Police issued almost 26 fines per 1,000 people in the five departments with the highest concentration of immigrants. In other areas, in contrast, police fined almost 17 people per 1,000 during the period, the report added.

The trend of fining immigrants more frequently was also seen in the five districts with the highest percentages of residents of non-European descent in the French capital of Paris, the findings revealed.

Police issued 58 fines per 1,000 population in those districts in contrast with almost 42 fines per 1,000 population across the other 15 districts of Paris, showing a 40 percent increase, according to the report.

An exception, however, was seen in the capital's 8th district, which houses a relatively small minority population but suffered from the highest rate of fines.

Some of the people were fined several times, meaning that around one-fifth of the recipients were fined in three or more incidents, according to police data obtained by Reuters.

Thirty-seven-year-old factory worker Hassan Bouchouf, one of the victims interviewed by Reuters, received fines on more than two dozen occasions. According to a treasury summary dated August 9, he owes the treasury more than 20,000 euros for fines received between 2017 and 2020.

Furthermore, Reuters also found that French police also practiced remote fining since at least 45 people in Epinay-sous-Senart and elsewhere in the greater Paris region say they were fined without any contact with a police officer.

Remote fining constitutes “systemic discrimination” by police towards young men of North African or Subsaharan African origin, said the April 2021 submission, prepared by a group of lawyers, alleging that police engaged in remote and repetitive fining, which it described as “police harassment.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has already claimed there is no such thing as "systemic racism" in the French police. But in a significant ruling in 2021, the Paris Court of Appeal found that discrimination was behind police identity checks of three high school French students of Moroccan, Malian, and Comorian origins at a Paris train station back in 2017 when each of them received €1,500 in compensation, plus legal costs.

There are also others who believe discrimination against minority communities in France is real. “There is systemic discrimination,” said Alice Achache, a lawyer representing some Paris residents who are challenging fines.

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