On Tuesday we published video footage of police brutality against a youth in the northern Paris suburb of Montfermeil. A police unit chief, who worked in the suburbs for ten years, tells us how his colleagues were "scared to death", and considers the chief of police's proposition of being filmed on the job.
"That kind of bludgeon is not handed out to anyone – so it must have been considered necessary"
Mohamed Douhane is a chief constable and member of the national police union Synergie Officiers. He grew up in a tough Grenoble neighbourhood and worked in the Parisian suburbs for ten years.I'll start by saying clearly what our position is on this story: obviously we condemn any act of illegitimate violence. An investigation by the independent police commission is underway, and depending on the results, the prosecutor will decide whether to take the officers to court or not. If he does, then the consequences for the officer in question span from a written warning to a dismissal.
We don't know yet under what circumstances this intervention came about. I'm dubious about what the media are calling a "police blunder" seeing as the young man was only officially bedridden for two days, while one of the police officers involved spent 30 days in that state.
The use of force by a police officer must be proportional and dependent on the situation. But you have to understand that in a situation like that one, you have to catch and remove the suspect as quickly as possible - if not, the situation gets worse. I've done it myself. If you stay too long, the yobs regroup and come back to get you. One of the policemen in the video is using a Tonfa [a baton with a handle]. To use that you have to have special training. That kind of bludgeon is not handed out lightly - so it must have been considered necessary in this case. The press have also been talking about the use of a flash-ball [a rubber bullet gun]. That, on the other hand, is not normal procedure.
But remember that these places are like warzones. The youths around there don't only see us as agents of the state; but also like a rival gang that disturbs their underground trafficking, in particular drug dealing. They feel untouchable, because they know that the law, especially for minors, is not too repressive. They don't think twice about taking on a police officer physically anymore. Sometimes they even plan out attacks. They line up shopping trolleys, crockery - anything that can kill - on the roofs of buildings. Then, they set a bin on fire and wait for the police to come. And we come.
The system's failures have ghettoised these people, and the police are the biggest victims. The officers that we see in the video are simple junior officers from a nearby police station. Most of the time, they're young and not trained for that kind of intervention. They're constantly confronted with hostile behaviour and when they have to approach a situation, they're scared to death. I'm not justifying the things we see in the video; I'm just trying to explain why sometimes, people slip up.
Anyhow, I've already seen videos published by Kourtrajmé [a group of directors of which the neighbour that filmed the incident is a member], like that of Justice. That clip was a pure and simple incitement to violence. It trivialises violence and that has an impact on young, weak characters who are easily influenced. Police are thought of as robots, like in this video, not as human beings. It would be nice if Kourtrajmé sent out a positive message once in a while.
The chief of police said that we'd start having cameramen following the police during interventions. My union is all for it, as of any other way of getting the truth out. In the case of this video, we would have been able to see what happened at the beginning of the intervention upstairs, and not only what happened in the hall."
The video of the intervention