Paris, 15 June 2020 (dpa/MIA) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday promised more action against ethnic and religious discrimination, but offered no concessions to protesters alleging police violence or racism.
And the centrist president took a hard line against what he called the “hateful and false rewriting of history,” saying France would not erase its past or overturn statues.
A day after 15,000 people took to the streets of Paris in a protest called by Assa Traore, the sister of a young black man who died in custody in 2016, Macron paid tribute to the security forces.
The country could not build its future “in disorder,” he argued, saying that the police and gendarmerie were “exposed to daily risks on our behalf” to keep order.
“They deserve the support of public authorities and the recognition of the nation,” Macron said in his first televised address to the public since the country’s virus lockdown ended on May 11.
Macron made no mention of allegations of brutality and racial discrimination against the security forces.
The 55-day lockdown saw several high-profile incidents of alleged police maltreatment in the country’s often troubled poor multi-ethnic urban areas.
Two protests called by Traore since then have brought large, young, racially mixed crowds onto the streets in an echo of the US Black Lives Matter movement.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced limited police reforms this week, including a ban on using chokeholds on suspects, but drew a furious reaction from officers’ unions.
Earlier on Sunday, Human Rights Watch called on Macron to use his speech to announce “concrete measures to end racism in law enforcement.”
“Abusive and discriminatory identity checks,” a grievance for many young people in troubled urban areas, should be ended, the New York-based rights groups argued.
According to a 2017 study by France’s official rights ombudsman, young men perceived as being Black or Arab were 20 times more likely than the average citizen to be stopped and checked by police, and were also much more likely to report insults or physical abuse.
More broadly, Macron acknowledged that France was not fully living up to its values on equality, and promised “strong new decisions for equal opportunities.”
He vowed to fight against “the fact that names, addresses, skin colour too often in our country still reduce the opportunities that everyone must have.”
But he warned that the “noble struggle” against discrimination risked being led astray by “communitarianism” and a “hateful, false rewriting of the past.”
“I tell you very clearly this evening, my dear compatriots: The Republic will not wipe out any trace or any name from its history,” he said.
After protesters for racial equality overturned statues of contested historical figures in places such as Britain, the US, and the French overseas territory of Martinique, Macron ruled out any similar moves closer to home.
The French republic “will forget none of its works. It will overturn no statue,” he insisted.
France needed to look “lucidly, together, at all our history, all our memory,” he argued.
Its colonial relationship with Africa merited particular attention, “to build a possible present and future on both sides of the Mediterranean.”
The process demanded “a will to establish the truth, but under no circumstances revisiting or denying what we are,” Macron said.