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French police march to protest reforms aimed at addressing racism

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Paris — Dozens of Paris police officers marched down the French capital's most famous avenue Friday to protest reforms announced this week by the country's interior minister. It was a rare show of defiance by law enforcement officers amid an international debate over racism in policing and justice.

Ignoring coronavirus measures banning gatherings of more than 10 people, police union members led the march on foot and in vehicles along the Champs-Elysées, honking horns and carrying banners with slogans including: "without the police, there is no peace."

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Members of French police unions including Alliance Police Nationale hold a banner reading 'no police no peace' in front of the Arc de Triomphe, during a protest along the Champs-Elysees Avenue to the Interior Ministry, June 12, 2020 in Paris. THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty

They marched to the Interior Ministry, where they observed a minute's silence before issuing a call for the planned reforms to be scrapped. Those reforms most notably include barring police from using chokeholds to subdue suspects on the ground.

In other demonstrations around the country Thursday and Friday, groups of police placed their handcuffs on the ground in front of city halls and stood in silence to protest the reforms. Many called on Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to resign.

Castaner announced the sweeping police reforms Monday after a week of protests in France against police violence. The demonstrations were sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, but widened to include demands for action following the deaths of a number of people in French police custody.

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Castaner also promised "zero tolerance" for racism in French police forces, and said any officer facing a credible accusation of racism would be temporarily suspended. He said the national police internal affairs division would be overhauled to ensure better follow up of complaints by members of the public.

Many of the police at the Paris demonstration said they felt "abandoned" by the minister, and angry at what they see as overly restrictive measures. They called for the threat of suspension for suspected racism to be dropped, and they said their work would be made unsafe without the use of the controversial chokehold.

"Castaner's words were the last straw," said Fabien Vanhemelryck, general secretary of the Alliance Police union.

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Members of French police unions including Alliance Police nationale, drive past the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees Avenue, June 12, 2020, in Paris, during a protest against the French Interior Minister's latests announcements following demonstrations against racism and police violence. THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty

"My colleagues are professionals but they can't take any more," he said, recalling 18 months of violent clashes with Yellow Vest protesters in late 2018 and 2019. He said police officers needed support, not censure.

"The government has to give us the means to do our job," he added.

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said Friday that she has "total confidence in the police," and reaffirmed that racism is totally incompatible with the ideals of the French republic.

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