Racist comments on Facebook group used by French police to be investigated

<span>Photograph: Mohammed Badra/EPA</span>
Photograph: Mohammed Badra/EPA

French prosecutors are investigating racist, sexist and other offensive comments allegedly left by serving members of the police and gendarmerie on a private Facebook group.

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, has ordered an inquiry after the comments were leaked to a news website, heightening tensions between the country’s law and order forces and protesters.

Black Lives Matter demonstrations have grown in strength in France over the last week. They have focused on the death of Adama Traoré, 24, who suffocated four years ago while being detained by the police, in circumstances that have drawn comparisons with the death of George Floyd that has sparked unrest in America.

On Saturday, an estimated 23,000 people, according to official figures, demonstrated in support of the BLM movement across France in defiance of a coronavirus ban on public meetings of more than 10 people.

The public prosecutor’s office is investigating a private Facebook group, which has 7,240 members, most of them serving police or gendarmes, for “insults of a racist nature” and “public provocation of racial hatred”.

The website StreetPress, which says it offers “open, aware and engaged” journalism, published the comments after reporting it had infiltrated the FB group: TN Rabiot Police Officiel.

The group, which describes itself as being for “information on the questions of public security and the reality of the work and missions of law and order forces”, was created by a police officer and his civilian partner in 2015. Members must give their police or gendarme identification numbers and the year they graduated into the forces, as well as some examples of “police slang” as verification to join, StreetPress said.

Screenshots of the group’s page published by StreetPress showed comments that were racist, mocked the deaths or injuries of members of the public sustained in contact with the police, or were sexist and homophobic.

In one comment posted on the police group’s FB page after a demonstration organised by Traoré’s family last week, which attracted 20,000 people, one member wrote: “It was rather like an oil tanker had sunk,” referring to the colour of the protesters.

When Camélia Jordana, a French singer and actor and the granddaughter of Algerian migrants, appeared on television and said: “There are thousands of people who don’t feel safe faced with a cop, and I’m one of them,” Castaner dismissed her comments as “lying and shameful” and said they should be “unequivocally deplored. The police called for Jordana to be charged with hate speech.

Meanwhile, StreetPress took screenshots of the police group’s Facebook page where the attack on Jordana was vitriolic and vulgar, with one member threatening to defecate on her face and another writing: “She should have stayed on the street, the whore.”

After a motorcyclist was seriously injured after hitting a police car door, causing unrest in the Paris banlieue, one member wrote: “I am a car door”, echoing the “Je suis Charlie” solidarity slogan after the 2015 Paris terrorist attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Some group members attempted to rein in their colleagues, but met with a backlash. “You’ll be the first to complain if someone outside makes a screenshot and sends it to whoever. You’re giving them a stick with which to beat you, sometimes. As if we don’t have enough worries,” one female group member wrote.

The response from another was: “A pseudo colleague who turns up to defend these filthy whores … we don’t need wimps in the force”.

Last week Castaner had promised that “every fault, every excess, every word, including racist expressions” attributed to police “will be the object of an inquiry, a decision and punishment”.

Frédéric Lagache, a representative of the national police union Alliance, told Le Monde: “Police officers are not above the law. Everyone must take responsibility for their words and those who say things that are illegal, will be punished. We cannot defend the indefensible. But there must be one law for all: those who vilify us must also be punished.”