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Three French police officers suspended over beating of Black man in Paris studio

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French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Thursday ordered the suspension of three police officers involved in a brutal beating of a music producer in a Paris studio over the weekend. Footage of the incident, showing police officers repeatedly punching the Black man using truncheons, was posted by a news site earlier Thursday sparking widespread condemnation.

The video clip, published by French news website Loopsider, shows the violent arrest of a music producer identified only by his first name, Michel, in the 17th arrondissement (district) of the French capital on Saturday.

Based on the written record of the police officers’ declarations, Michel drew their attention because he was not wearing a mask, according to French media reports. Face masks are mandatory in Paris outdoors amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The incident came as President Emmanuel Macron’s government is pushing a new bill that restricts the ability to film and post videos of police, which has prompted protests from civil rights groups and journalists concerned that it would allow police brutality to go undiscovered and unpunished.

It came days after France launched an investigation into a violent police dismantling of migrant tents on an iconic Paris square earlier this week.  

In a Twitter message posted hours after Loopsider published the video, Darmanin said he asked the Paris police prefect to suspend the police officers concerned as a precautionary measure. “I hope the disciplinary proceedings can be conducted as soon as possible,” said Darmanin.

Gruesome beating, tear gas, racial slur allegations

Footage from a security camera inside the music studio as well as video filmed by neighbours outside show three officers following Michel from the street into his studio, where they can be seen punching him and beating him with a truncheon.

The police officers repeatedly used racial slurs during the beating, Michel told the press shortly after he filed a complaint with the Parisian headquarters of the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN). “People who must protect me are attacking me … I did nothing to deserve this,” he said in the presence of his lawyer. “I just want these three people to be punished by the law.”

In their report, the police officers wrote that the man had hit them. But footage of the incident showed no sign of the victim resisting arrest.

In the second part of one video, people who were in the basement of the studio manage to reach the entrance, causing the police to withdraw outside and the studio door to close.

The policemen then try to force the door open and throw a tear gas canister inside the studio, causing the room to smoke.

Following the incident, the victim was initially placed in police custody as part of an investigation by the Paris public prosecutor’s office for “violence against a person holding public authority” and “rebellion”.

But the prosecutor’s office closed this investigation and opened a new procedure on Tuesday for “violence by persons holding public authority” and “forgery in public writing”, which was entrusted to the IGPN.

‘I believe in the justice of my country’

Hours after publication on Loopsider, the video went viral on social media sites with several prominent Frenchmen and women, including footballer Antoine Griezmann, condemning the police brutality.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Michel said he felt assured “now that the truth is out”, adding, “I want to understand why I have been assaulted by people who were wearing a police uniform. I want justice actually, because I believe in the justice of my country,” he said.

His lawyer, Hafida El Ali, said: “He asked them what they wanted, if they wanted to check his identity. (…) They didn’t stop beating him, the video of the violence (inside the studio) lasts for 12 minutes.”

El Ali said that nine others who were recording music in the studio basement were also beaten.

“Outside they are still beaten up and thrown to the ground and that’s the moment when a police officer sees they are being filmed,” she said. 

“These videos are essential because initially my client was being detained … for violence against people with public authority,” El Ali said. “This is very serious. The reality is that if we didn’t have these videos maybe my client would be in prison.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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