Protests against rampant police brutality occurred recently in the respective capitals of France and the United States – two nations that proclaim strict fidelity to the rule of law yet two professed democracy-loving nations where officials routinely condone rampant lawlessness by law enforcers.
The 20th Anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March – captioned “Justice Or Else” – took place in Washington, DCk with a core complaint being police brutality. During that protest rally held outside the U.S. Capitol building and along the National Mall relatives of police brutality victims were invited speakers. Those relatives included the father of Michael Brown, killed in 2014 by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri and a sister of Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas police station this past summer following a flawed and brutal arrest for an alleged minor traffic violation.
On the same Saturday as the “Justice Or Else” rally in DC, protestors gathered outside the Gare de Nord train station in Paris to demonstrate against the death earlier this year of Amadou Koumé. That 33-year-old father of three died during an encounter with police at a bar in Paris when he was put in a choke-hold while being handcuffed. The Paris protestors demanded a judicial inquiry into the death of Koumé, rejecting what they contend has been a cover-up by police and prosecutors in Paris regarding his death.
While nearly 4,000-miles separate Washington, DC and Paris, the issue of police brutality connects the two capitals through a chain of similarities surrounding police brutality, for example the fact that the principle targets of police brutality in France and across America are persons of color.
A September 1998 Amnesty International report on human rights violations in America stated that racial and ethnic minorities were “disproportionally the victims of police misconduct including false arrests, harassment as well as verbal and physical abuse.”
A 2005 Amnesty report on police brutality in France similarly faulted police for racist abuses and racist motivations. Amnesty’s reports on police brutality in France have consistently noted that the primary victims of police abuses in that country are “foreign nationals,” predominately from Africa and the Caribbean or are “French nationals” of foreign origin, principally from French colonial possessions or former possessions Africa and the Caribbean.
The day before those protest rallies in DC and Paris, National Basketball Association player Thabo Sefolosha won acquittal on charges of resisting arrest lodged by New York City Police officers who earlier this year broke Sefolosha’s leg during his arrest. Sefolosha, a non-white who missed this year’s NBA playoffs thanks to that broken leg, said comments by the white NYPD officers who arrested him near a nightclub convinced him of the racist motivation behind their assault.
As in France, police across America involved in unnecessary and/or fatal assaults are rarely held to account by prosecutors.
On the same Saturday as those respective protests in DC and Paris, prosecutors in Cleveland, Ohio released reports on the fatal police shooting of a 12-year-old black child in November 2014. Those three reports, requested by prosecutors supposedly looking into whether police should be prosecuted for that death, asserted the youth’s fatal shooting was ‘reasonable.’ A white Cleveland cop shot Tamir Rice within two seconds of encountering the youth, who was carrying a toy gun. After shooting the child, the officer and his squad car partner refused to provide emergency aid to the critically wounded Rice who died hours later at a hospital. They also barred his sister from coming to his aid as he lay dying.
Cleveland prosecutors have yet to charge the policeman who shot Rice– a man known to have had a checkered past — with a killing that was captured in chilling detail on surveillance video. At the same time though, Cleveland prosecutors and police have charged three other persons in the fatal shootings of two children in separate September 2015 incidents.
Anti-abuse activists in America and France contend that the rightful arrests of civilian killers contrast sharply with the extremely rare arrest of police who are involved in unlawful killings, and say this dichotomy underscores long-standing criticisms that police receive a double standard of justice and accountability.
A 2009 Amnesty report on France entitled “Public Outrage: Police Officers Above the Law.” stated prosecutors regularly close police brutality complaints after relying “heavily on the testimony of officers and without seeking further evidence.” That report stated that investigations by police officials and prosecutors into complaints of brutality and other human rights violations by police officers “are not always thorough or impartial.”
In France, according to an Amnesty International report, 663 complaints for human rights violations were filed against police in 2005 producing just 96 findings of ‘proven acts of violence’ and that these that resulted in the dismissal of just 16 officers. That report stated that convictions of French police for brutality are “relatively rare, and that when they have occurred, sentences have mainly been nominal.”
Even worse, a report published in the Washington Post early in 2015 documented that only 54 police officers in the US have been charged with fatal shootings during the past decade despite almost 3,000 documented deaths resulting from encounters with police. Of those 54 law enforcement officials charged, only 11 were convicted. As in France, punishment on conviction has generally been light.
A March 2015 U.S. Justice Department report on Ferguson, Missouri found that “police supervisors and leadership do too little to ensure that officers act in accordance with law and policy, and rarely respond meaningfully to civilian complaints of officer misconduct.” That report additionally stated that the practices of Ferguson’s police and its local court system “reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias.”
Ferguson is the city where the August 2014 police slaying of Michael Brown ignited the national movement against police brutality known as “Black Lives Matter.”
The organization behind the Paris protest demanding justice in the death of Amadou Koumé is known as “Ferguson In Paris” — another indication of the links between the movements in the two countries.
The “mechanical asphyxiation” death of Koumé, according to the autopsy, is similar to the police-caused deaths of Lamine Dieng in Paris in June 2007 and Hakim Ajimi in Grasse, France in May 2008, according to members of Ferguson in Paris.
Two days before the parallel DC and Paris rallies, police in Prairie View, Texas used a Taser on Jonathan Miller, a City Councilman in that city who was inquiring about police who were questioning a few of his friends outside of his home. Although Miller, an African-American, was not physically interfering with police, Prairie View officials contend Miller’s failure to “react quickly enough” to police commands justified their use of the electric shock device on him.
Prairie View is the same city where the police station death of Sandra Bland – a fatality ruled a jail-cell suicide – began with a vehicle stop by a police officer. That officer was reprimanded for improprieties arising from his abusive traffic enforcement encounter with Bland, who was tackled and thrown face down on the sidewalk by the officer following a stop for allegedly changing lanes without signalling.