French police are accused of harassing minorities

PARIS — Thirteen people who claim they have been targeted by French police for identity checks, often with humiliating public pat-downs, because they are black or of Arab descent, went to court Wednesday to seek reparations and a change in police guidelines.

Their case is billed as a first of its kind in France, where antiracism groups have repeatedly claimed that nonwhite French face wide-ranging discrimination that diminishes their chances at finding jobs, entering nightclubs, or carving out a place in the mainstream.

The plaintiffs who appeared in the Paris courtroom for the one-day trial range from students to delivery personnel. One is an athlete. None has a police record, but all claim they have been subjected to ID checks because of the way they look.


A study conducted in Paris by the Open Society Justice Initiative with France’s National Center for Scientific Research has shown that blacks have six times more chance of police checks than whites, and those of Arab origin have eight times more.

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The New York Police Department is facing similar allegations that police stop and frisk people based on race. New York police have made about 5 million stops in the past decade, most of them involving black and Hispanic men.

The French legal action is backed by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Union of French Lawyers, and the Stop Racial Profiling group, which say the case is unprecedented in France.

‘‘You can’t arrest someone because he wears a hoodie and walks fast,’’ said plaintiff Niane Bocar, 34, who was subject to an ID check in November 2011 in the Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen.

A police officer put him against a wall, he recounted, showed him a Taser, and threatened him with it.


“In this action, we’re targeting this system,” he said.

Another plaintiff, Regis Amponsah, 22, says he is subjected to ID checks about every two days.

He and two friends are among the 13 plaintiffs for what they claim was a gratuitous check in December 2011 at La Defense, a high rise commercial district west of Paris.

Plaintiffs are seeking $13,000 each in this case.

Racial profiling is illegal in France, but French law allows for widespread police checks on people deemed suspicious.