France‘s government is scrambling to address growing concerns about police violence and racism within the police force, as protests sparked by George Floyd‘s death in the U.S. stir up anger around the world.
The country’s top security official, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, was holding a news conference Monday after Floyd-related demonstrations in cities around France. Castaner promised last week to be “unforgiving” with violations by police, but pressure is growing on the government to act.
French President Emmanuel Macron has stayed unusually silent so far both about Floyd’s death and what’s happening in France. Macron’s office says he spoke to the prime minister and other top officials over the weekend, and asked Castaner to “accelerate” plans to improve police ethics that were initially promised in January.
Last week, the Paris prosecutor‘s office opened a preliminary investigation into racist insults and instigating racial hatred based on comments allegedly published by police in a private Facebook group.
Website Streetpress published a string of offensive messages that it said were published within the group, though acknowledged that it is unclear whether the authors were actual police officers or people pretending to be police. Some of the reported comments mocked young men of color who have died fleeing police.
Separately, six police officers in the Normandy city of Rouen are under internal investigation over racist comments in a private WhatsApp group. Both incidents have prompted public concerns about extreme views among French police.
French activists say tensions in low-income neighborhoods with large minority populations grew worse amid coronavirus confinement measures, because they further empowered the police.
At least 23,000 people protested in cities around France on Saturday against racial injustice and police brutality, even defying a police ban on such protests in Paris due to fears about spreading coronavirus.
Activists marched Monday in the western city of Nantes, and more demonstrations are planned in France on Tuesday, when Floyd is being buried.