Macron's Statements on Police Killing Show France has Far to Go in Acknowledging RacismRoundup
tags: racism, French history, Police
Crystal M. Fleming is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Stony Brook (NY) University.
This week, French police brutally killed a 17-year-old in broad daylight during a traffic stop. Police initially lied and accused the youth of trying to run over an officer. And, as is often the case, national media reported police fabrications as facts — until cell phone video from a bystander showed the devastating truth.
By now, people across the globe have seen the horrific images of French police brandishing rifles and menacing the occupants of a yellow vehicle in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre before summarily executing the teenage driver with a bullet to the head as he pulled away. Contrary to false claims by the police, no officer was standing in front of the car or physically threatened by the youth driving away.
Images of the shooting have produced what the classical French sociologist Émile Durkheim would call a “shock to the collective conscience”. Protests have erupted across the country, only to be met with the deployment of thousands of police officers, tear gas and promises to restore “public order”.
Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that Nahel, the French teen whose life was cut tragically short by police, was of Algerian ancestry.
France has a long and sordid history of colonial racism and violence against people racialised as “non-white”, stretching from Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, North and West Africa as well as Vietnam, among many other populations. France has ruthlessly oppressed Algerian people in particular – including those who are French citizens.
Indeed, French colonisation of Algeria dates back to the early 1800s and involved the widespread use of brutal violence and mass killings to establish French rule.
During the Algerian war for independence (1954-1962), hundreds of thousands and possibly more than 1 million Algerian people were slaughtered and systematically tortured by the French regime in a desperate attempt to maintain their colonial empire in the name of “liberté, egalité et fraternité”— freedom, equality and brotherhood.
Police violence has also historically targeted Arab and Black people in France. In 1961, French police killed more than 100 French Arabs who were peacefully protesting in Paris.
Tens of thousands of people had been marching in support of Algerian independence and in protest against a curfew that had been imposed to quell dissent. In response, police killed French Algerians in the streets, even drowning protesters in the river Seine. The youngest documented death was that of another teenager —15-year-old Fatima Beda. In an era well before smart phones, French authorities engaged in a brazen and largely successful cover-up that lasted for decades. It took more than 50 years for a French president to even acknowledge what happened. Even now, there’s been no official apology.
The historical context of colonial racism and policing that led to the killing of Nahel in Nanterre is largely absent from dominant accounts from white French politicians and media pundits alike.