Justice Initiative Calls for Immediate Action on Discriminatory COVID-19 Checks in France
The Open Society Justice Initiative has joined more than two dozen organizations today by signing an open letter to French authorities, asking them to adopt concrete measures to put an end to racist, discriminatory practices by French law enforcement officers during COVID-19.
The open letter comes as the Minister of Interior released figures indicating disproportionate numbers of checks and fines in quartiers populaires, or working-class neighborhoods with a high number of visible minority residents. According to Minister Castaner, French police carried out 220,000 checks in Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest neighborhood in metropolitan France. Official figures published by French newspaper Liberation indicate that the fine rate is three times higher than the national average. In Marseille, two-thirds of the police-issued fines were in quartiers populaires.
These statistics on lockdown checks and fines reveal discriminatory police practices against the inhabitants of quartiers populaires, a trend which the Justice Initiative documented well before the lockdown. The €135 fine for “non-compliance with the lockdown” weighs heavily on low-income communities who may need to choose between paying the fine and everyday needs.
The letter outlines several immediate action steps for the French government, including:
The Prime Minister
- Order an immediate independent review of fines
- Commission an independent public review of law enforcement, in close consultation with affected communities, to identify the policies and practices that foster racist and discriminatory behaviors that are tolerated within police institutions
The Minister of Interior
- Publicly condemn and take all necessary measures, including disciplinary actions, to combat discriminatory practices by law enforcement
- Publish all data on checks and fines, issued to enforce the lockdown, disaggregated by police station and neighborhood
- Reorient the goals of law enforcement from checking affidavits and fines to protecting people with a comprehensive public health approach, such as the distribution of protective masks or public education campaigns to prevent the spread of the virus
The Ministry of Justice
- Publish all data relating to prosecutions and sanctions for violations of the lockdown
- Eliminate the discriminatory impacts of lockdown checks and fines, for example by establishing a facilitated complaints procedure before an independent body
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