An American observer comments on French politics.
Thanks for the link to this important piece.
The very idea of a National Identity card is in and of itself abhorrent. The lack of fourth amendment protection against illegal search and seizure is the problem. It does not exist in France; it is guaranteed in the US by the Constitution. Without due process, and the requirement for probable cause in a search of person or property, where lies liberty? It inevitably leads to this.
Cincinna: As usual you think you know about America but you don't, and you try to make contrasts with America and France - with the former always looking better - where none exist. As I mentioned in my post, racial profiling in ID checks in France - and carrying out such checks without just cause - is in fact illegal. The police are not supposed to do it but they do anyway.Moreover, such practices by the police happen across the US, from New York City and the stop-and-frisk practices of the NYPD - and which involves several hundred thousand people a year - to those of the Sheriff (Republican) of Maricopa Co AZ, not to mention numerous towns and cities in between. The Fourth Amendment of the sacrosanct US constitution does not proscribe them. As for a national ID card, what's the problem with it? I can't believe anyone who has lived in France - which you have claimed to - could possibly object. French citizens - as do citizens in many other countries - carry the national ID card the way Americans do their drivers license (which serves as an ID not just when we're in our cars). The US *should* have a national ID card of some sort. It would simplify life in many ways.Arun
Arun Kapil is absolutely right. If I could, I would add an obligation for the police to always use the " vous " form, and stop the " tu ". If they want respect, they might start by showing it !
I'll have to side with Cincinna on this one. The "contrôle d' identité" is as French as le gigot d'agneau . Growing up in Paris I witnessed hundreds of occasions where contingents of flics , stationed in some strategic corridor at gare Montparnasse or gare du Nord would arbitrarily stop anyone deemed suspicious. In 15 years in New York I've never seen a single instance of someone being stopped and asked to produce leur papiers. I'm aware of the stop and frisk controversy but it is controversial and quite exceptional compared to what occurs on French streets (not that it shouldn't be stopped). Actually, the behavior of the French police and the docility of the French public is a continuous source of amazement and (mild) outrage for me and as an amateur photographer I try to document it whenever possible. This leads to uncomfortable situations.On my last visit to France in December I saw two police officers run out of a parked car and arbitrarily pounce on an unsuspecting scandinavian tourist who happened to be loitering on the sidewalk . They brutally pushed him against a wall and demanded that he produce id. Note that this person had done nothing. They let him go after the check. I took a photo - you can see it here: http://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/20111228154026-XL.jpgIt is not illegal to photograph the police but one of the officers nonetheless took issue with what I was doing . You can see her hand in the photo - trying to block me from taking the shot. I told her had the right photograph. She demanded that I leave and I asked : under what ordinance or law ? She threatened to arrest me . At that point a friend pulled me away . This was quite shocking to me -she actually put her hand on the camera . I take dozens of shots of police every year in NY (and throughout the world) without incident (and I have the photos to back this up). In France however, any attempt to photograph the police invariably leads to "qu'est ce que vous faites ?" or "non, c'est interdit" or "dégagez" or "circulez" or , my favorite, because of what it reveals about the relationship of the French with authority and official statuses : "Vous êtes journaliste ?" This was the first time however that an officer acted out physically against me. So yes, I absolutely concur with Cincinna, the police in France routinely behave in ways that most Americans would find unacceptable. Philippe
I concurr with Arun: the random "identification checks" are shocking because they are pointless in terms of safety, police inquiry, or ?(they're not related to suspicious activity - checking id for someone looking like a suspect in a specific crime or engaging in suspicious behavior is normal and is conducted by French police like all others.)I fail to see what point they serve, except for 1° distracting bored police officers on patrol or 2° showing who's boss to random youth, most of whom are likely to be nonwhite OR look like non-upper-middle class. One kid I know, who was arguing such "id checks" were necessary "to keep immigrants in line", was shocked to learn that with his brown skin and his spiked hair, he'd be submitted to these at least once a day if he lived in Paris or another big city. However I do not have a problem with a national ID system. After all we have no problem with the DMV and with Experian or Equifax knowing our every purchase. As for French police behavior, and speaking only about ordinary precincts and ordinary police action as you see it on the street, usually in the form of ID checks, not specialized units (which I believe are quite good): I do not know what it was like in the past but it's certainly become more aggressive as time went by in the past few years. And I agree with Philippe, above: the police in France routinely behave in ways that most Americans would find unacceptable. For example the idea that a suspect has to right to have his lawyer present is still controversial here! Taking pictures of police action is legal yet only authorized if there's a specific purpose (you can claim to be a journalist or a researcher but not an ordinary citizen on watch duty.) Racist comments are commonplace, expected. The "vous" form is rarely used toward people of color. If you know "Ashes to ashes", a British TV show presenting the police in London before a reform "modernized" it in the 80s, well, that's how the French police feel (right down to the complete disregard for rape victims in your basic precinct.) The book Omerta dans la police was a huge scandal.. not for the police, but for the police officer who dared speak up. She was even suspended for being a whistleblower. (I haven't read the book but was shocked that what she said, which was backed up by documents, would lead not to the offending officers being dismissed, but to her being suspended.) Then again, local police officers may simply lack certain types of training and some tasks in the precinct are straight forward (get a form, fill it, drop it here).
I entirely agree with the above comments in regard to the 'tu' and 'vous'.As for Philippe's comments, two things. (a) I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting it onto the body of my post, so I can comment on it there.(b)There isn't an agreement with Cincinna here, as she brought up the Fourth Amendment of the US constitution, which is irrelevant in this case. As I pointed out, the contrôle au faciès as practiced in France is, in fact, not legal and is not practiced elsewhere in Europe, 4th amendment or not. And the 4th amendment has not prevented the police in many US jurisdictions from implementing stop-and-frisk policies.Arun
I've always been amazed by the principal of identity checks. Not only because they are often based on racial profile - ie, skin color - but for the principle. If the police actually checked something other than whether someone has some ID, then, perhaps, there would be value (for example, if they checked the person's ID against a database, as police in the US often do when the pull a car over for an infraction). But checking ID just for the sake of checking ID is nothing but harassment.
Kirk: I'm entirely with you. It's pointless from a policing angle. It accomplishes nothing except making sure the police's power is felt.I have nothing against someone's identity being checked if and only if there is a specific reason: they look like a criminal whose picture has been circulated in the precinct, they're driving a car that has been reported stolen, they're engaging in illegal behavior such as selling dope or harassing someone. I do have a problem when people are randomly stopped on the street - and by people, I mean, boys of color. Because how often does a middle aged woman of any color gets stoppped, really?And I totally agree with Arun: what a waste of time, what a waste of police time, what a waste of means!But I must say I've felt pretty alone in this among French people. All of them think random identity checks are "normal" and many don't believe they target any specific group, are humiliating or intrusive, or constitute an actual problem.I'm thus very pleased with this development from the new government. Especially since they're tackling an issue that's not considered urgent by many people, except those who are targeted.
Governor of New Amsterdam proposes legislation à la Hollande: Cuomo and stop and frisk
I note that in these comments and in the comments on Arun's blog that many people have corrected Philippe's assertions regarding racial profiling in the US vs. France (NYPD's stop and frisk and the profiling inherent to Arizona's immigration law being the most prominent, but far from the only, examples). Philippe's rose-tinted glasses regarding photographing police activity should also be removed. There are hundreds of accounts of police arresting and harassing people who try to record their activities in the US. Judges as prominent as Richard Posner have defended the police in these instances, and an increasing number of legislative bodies are starting to consider legislation that would ban people from filming or photographing the police. (Take a look at Scott Greenfield's "Simple Justice" blog to get a sense of how widespread this phenomenon is.) I follow such issues pretty closely in the US, and it seems that the differences between the US and France are pretty slight, and increasingly convergent.
In response to DHMCarver:I can only talk from experience. I've never been able to photograph a cop in France without being told more or less threateningly and entirely arbitrarily to cease immediately. In the picture I posted earlier, the officer went as far as slap my camera. My experience in NY is the exact opposite: I've taken hundreds of pictures of cops and never has any action been taken against me nor have I even ever been requested to stop. As the following pictures show (all photos mine), I am sometimes extremely close. My experience is that you can walk up to a cop in NY and shove a camera in their face and nothing will happen to you as long as there is no physical contact - they are trained to ignore provocations. I attribute the difference of attitudes between French cops to a greater respect for the law in the U.S. (by necessity because there is more accountability) and training. In the following pictures, taken at Occupy Wall Street, my camera is inches away from the subject , sometimes for minutes at a time , and , again, despite what could be viewed as provocation, I never got a reaction , even when I am straight in front of a cop, taking a shot and blocking his way:http://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P3.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P4.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P6.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P7.jpgIf you walk up to a cop and take their picture, in most cases they will just turn their head: http://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P2.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P1.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P22.jpgSometimes they will even pose:http://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P10.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P11.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P12.jpghttp://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P13.jpgAnd yes , I've been witness to police violence as well :http://www.xmatrix.com/tmp/P8.jpgFinally, the difficulty of taking images of cops in France I think is just an extension of the greater difficulty of providing representations of the country's social situation . The lack of images also extends to movies, TV shows and even journalism . When the French see police brutality or prejudice , which exist in their own country like everywhere else , they see it on American TV shows like The Wire or Law and Order . There are powerful avoidance mechanisms at work here, and they are supported by institutional and cultural factors. I believe that in the U.S the institutional and cultural forces work in the other direction, to expose abuse rather than suppress it.Philippe
@Kevin New Amsterdam? More correctly Niew Amsterdam, the early 17th-century Dutch colonial settlement, before it became New York City under British rule. You are mucing apples and oranges. Cuomo has no authority over the NYPD policies, and is trying to reform antiquated drug laws. Andrew Cuomo is Governor of the State of New York, not NYC. His proposals involve reforming the Rockefeller laws on drug possession. He seeks to make possession of less than 3/4 oz of marijuana a misdemeanor, not a drug felony punishable by prison time. If passed, it will have little effect on "stop and frisk". The police still need "reasonable suspicion" for such searches, and if they are without such, the person who is searched can sue the NYPD and the City of NY. Don't believe everything you see on TV or read in the leftwing press. Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's authority to conduct "stop and frisk" with "reasonable suspicion" has been consistently upheld by the courts.
@Philippe I think you have made a very relevant point about the difference in attitudes towards the police in France and the US. Growing up in NYC, and my husband in Houston, we both learned from our parents, and were taught in school, "the policeman is your friend". We were taught if we ever got lost, lost our money, bicycle, or had any problem, to find the nearest cop who would help you. Every kid we grew up with, at some point, wanted to become a cop or fireman. I might add that our police are local. In NYC for example, all cops must live in NY. each neighborhood has its own precinct, and the community works closely with the police in education on crime prevention. There is also the wonderful PAL, Police Athletic League, that volunteers time and raises money for sports and other programs for children and teenagers. In France I found the police were almost always regarded with derision and suspicion. They were rude, not helpful, and downright scary, often heavily armed, with loaded machine guns right in central Paris. Riot gear, tear gas, not your friendly neighborhood cop, but a menacing symbol of the State. CPR, the slogan of the NYPD, in large letters on every cop car in the city - Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect. I have worked with, been colleagues and friends with many cops and their families over the years. We thank them for their service, and appreciate that they put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.
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