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France backtracks from ban on chokeholds by police

  • News Desk

    Agence France-Presse

Paris, France   /   Tue, June 16, 2020   /   05:45 pm
France backtracks from ban on chokeholds by police Police officers stand in the business area of La Defense, west of Paris, on Monday, during a protest in reaction to the French Interior minister's June 9 announcements, amid the latest wave of protests against racism and police violence. French police have staged protests over claims of racism in their ranks, assailing top officials for failing to defend the force against allegations amplified by US unrest over the death of George Floyd. The French Interior minister also said police would no longer be allowed to use chokeholds to detain suspects, a move derided by many officers as an unfeasible concession that could make their jobs more perilous. (AFP/Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt)

The French government has suspended a ban on chokeholds by the police, a technique that has been widely denounced by Black Lives Matter activists at rallies against racism.

The ban was announced last week after demonstrations spurred by the death of George Floyd in the US, a black man who pleaded "I can't breathe" as an officer kneeled on his neck.

But the move sparked furious protests from police unions, who said the long-used technique was essential for ensuring officers' safety, and accused the government of failing to appreciate the perils of their work.

"While awaiting a clarification of the new framework and when circumstances require it, the technique known as a chokehold will continue to be used with restraint and discernment," national police chief Frederic Veaux said in a letter to staff on Monday, seen by AFP.

In particular, the technique can be used when a person resists arrest or threatens an officer or other people.

Veaux said a commission would be set up on Wednesday to begin working on possible "substitution techniques", with recommendations due by September 1.

Police unions, which have staged angry protests across France that saw officers throw down their handcuffs while rejecting claims of systemic racism or violence, welcomed the reversal.

"It's a step in the right direction, but it won't be enough to dissipate the anger among the police," said Patrice Ribeiro, head of the Synergie-Officiers union.

"It's a note that comes late but is welcome," agreed Yves Lefebvre of the Unite-SGP-FO union.

Police forces in several countries are debating the continued use of chokeholds, as protesters call for reforms in the wake of Floyd's death, the latest in a series of black Americans killed in police custody.

This month, the state of New York adopted a chokehold ban among several laws aimed at ending excessive force by officers.

In France, the protests have coalesced around the case of Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black man who died at a police station shortly after his arrest in 2016.

Traore's family claim he was suffocated as officers held him down, an accusation that medical assessments ordered by French investigators have rejected. Prosecutors said this month that the inquiry was still going on.