French police to investigate alleged racial slurs in arrest incident

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s police watchdog is to investigate allegations that officers racially insulted a man after arresting him in a deprived Paris suburb where unrest broke out last week.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Monday there was no place for racism in the police after a video went viral on social media which appeared to show officers mocking a man who had jumped into the River Seine in an attempt to escape arrest.

“He doesn’t know how to swim. A ‘bicot’ like that can’t swim,” one officer can be heard remarking, using a derogatory term for an Arab or North African.

As they escort the man to a police van, a colleague replies laughing: “You should have tied a weight to his foot.”

The incident took place in the early hours of Sunday in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, where last week’s clashes between police and restless youths first erupted. Seine-Saint-Denis, the wider district, is the poorest in France.

France’s banlieues – high-rise neighbourhoods that ring its cities and are heavily populated by families of immigrant descent – have for decades been flashpoints of anger of social and economic marginalisation and police violence.

Police unions says the rundown estates are a tinderbox as tight restrictions on public movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus exacerbate deep-rooted tensions and anger towards the police enforcing the lockdown.

The footage of the racial slurs has stirred public outrage. Castaner described the indignation as legitimate.

“All light will be shed on the matter,” Castaner said on Twitter, announcing that the IGPN internal police watchdog had been alerted. “Racism has no place in the Republican police force.”

Eric Coquerel, a lawmaker from the hard-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party who represents Seine-Saint-Denis, expressed horror at the incident.

“To hear in this day and age such words, such behaviour, from police is shameful and a huge concern,” Coquerel said on social media.

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