Wednesday, January 27

Macron steps back on controversial piece of law aimed at protecting police officers

Fighting action at the Élysée. On Monday, the President, Emmanuel Macron, urgently gathered his Prime Minister, Jean Castex, the Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin, as well as the heads of the parliamentary groups. The aim was to urgently defuse the political crisis caused by the broadcast a few days earlier of images showing four police officers beating a music producer. These images caused all the more turmoil as Parliament was in the midst of a debate on a so-called “global security” law, article 24 of which was intended to punish the dissemination of video images intended to harm the police.

After 130,000 people demonstrated on Saturday against the law and police violence, Emmanuel Macron finally chose to “rewrite” this article. A “rewrite” announced without further details, but which sounds like the abandonment of a controversial text already adopted in first reading and which takes the appearance of a rebuff for Gérald Darmanin, who had made this article a fight staff.

Observers estimate as written Le Figaro that the rag is burning between the president and the Minister of the Interior, only five months after the latter’s appointment. “The situation you put me in could have been avoided,” Emmanuel Macron reportedly told his minister in a tone of cold anger during the closed-door meeting held Monday at the Elysee Palace.

The spiral of crisis

For a little over a week, events have precipitated. On Monday 23 November, an encampment of clandestine migrants set up in a few hours at Place de la République in Paris in order to attract media attention was dismantled military hands by order of the Minister. While the latter assumed the muscular evacuation, without sheltering the migrants as is usual, the images of the illegals emptied of their tents as well as of a trifle made to a migrant by a police commissioner began to loop on the 24-hour news channels.

In the midst of the debate on article 24, a few days later, the French discovered with amazement the images of four police officers beating Michel Zecler. This black producer, badly beaten, was allegedly arrested because he was not wearing a mask and exhaled the smell of cannabis, banned in France. Refusing to identify himself, he allegedly tried to take refuge in the entrance to his recording studio. The producer says he was the object of racist remarks, which the police deny.

Faced with these images which aroused the stir everywhere in France, Emmanuel Macron was quick to express his “shame”. Immediately indicted, the police invoked a state of “panic” and admitted having struck blows which “were not justified”.

At the origin of this crisis, we find a simple article of the so-called “global security” law aimed at preventing the dissemination on the Internet of images intended to harass police officers. Article 24 provided for penalizing the dissemination of “the image of the face or any other element of identification” of a police officer or a gendarme in intervention, when this is intended to “undermine his integrity. physical or mental ”.

For several years now, French police officers have been victims of harassment and intimidation, especially on the Internet. Several had to move after their identities and addresses were made public. Policewomen say they too suffer this harassment and find themselves obliged to ask their children to hide their parents’ profession. In France, each year, there are 15,000 police officers and gendarmes injured, 20 to 25 deaths in service and around 50 suicides. These numbers are on the rise. During the demonstrations on Saturday, 98 police officers were also injured.

A liberticidal article?

Article 24 raised opposition from NGOs and the media. Even if the minister says that this article was aimed only at malicious dissemination, opponents denounce an attack on freedom of expression and the right of journalists to film police officers in action. The French are divided on the subject: one in two considers the article harmful for the right to information, but six in ten consider it positive for the security of the police.

Gérald Darmanin will quickly become a problem for Emmanuel Macron

While Gérald Darmanin is a clearly marked minister on the right, this crisis which comes 18 months before the presidential election raises the question of the positioning of the current government. Elected to the center-left by decimating the ranks of the Socialist Party, Emmanuel Macron is aware that he cannot be reelected unless he continues to neutralize his right-wing opposition. This largely explains the appointment of the current Minister of the Interior.

Monday, height of humiliation, it is his predecessor, Christophe Castaner, considered more lax and little liked by the police officers, who announced the “rewriting” of article 24. “Gérald Darmanin will quickly become a problem for Emmanuel Macron, ”said right-wing senator (LR) Bruno Retailleau. Some do not hesitate to wonder if the president should not part with a minister whose mission was precisely to respond to the demand for security expressed by the French.

At the end of the day, before the Law Commission of the National Assembly, Gérald Darmanin denounced the “unspeakable acts” committed by certain police officers. But he said he would not be “one of those who flatter the police when it suits them and who let them go when it doesn’t suit them anymore”.

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