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In France, minority communities decry a surge in police fines



Mohamed Assam went to a grocery store in Paris one afternoon in 2020 to buy groceries. He stated that he was ready to return home after he was fined over EUR900 for nine of his infractions.

He stated that he was 27 and had lived in Epinay-sous-Senart (a Paris suburb). A week later, he received notification via post. An interior ministry agency sent him notices. They stated that he had violated COVID-19 lockdown regulations as well as not having proper headlights on his quad bike.

Assam stated that it was “a shock, a terrible shock.” Assam’s lawyer stated that he owes thousands of dollars in fines and late payments fees since 2019.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron has implemented a number of policies to reduce urban crime. His rivals are currently criticizing him for being too soft with drug dealers. They include an increase in authority for police to issue sanctions – which police have taken advantage.

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The interior ministry agency for penalities reports that the country’s total number of traffic-related fines has increased six times. It reached 1.54 million in 2018, compared with 240,000 in 2018. After multiple COVID-19 lockdowns, the number of non-traffic-related fines increased by six times in 2020.

By keeping minor offences out of the courts, the fines aim to lower the legal system’s burden. Critics argue that penalties allow police to choose the sanctions they want, without accountability. Lawyers and rights advocates claim that this power has allowed police to target the poor and ethnic minority, leading to some people being saddled by large debts.

French laws limit the collection of data about an individual’s race or ethnicity. Authorities are unable to evaluate the impact of fines on ethnic minority groups because of this restriction. The census does collect some information about immigrants, based on both their birthplace and their nationality. A comparison of French census data with fine-related data from police shows that fines are increasing in areas where there is a high number of immigrants.


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Alice Achache is a lawyer representing Parisians who challenge fines.

Macron stated previously that there is no racism in France’s police force. Questions were not answered by the national police or his office. The interior ministry did not respond to questions. Others, including the United States and Britain, were accused of overpolicing minorities, sanctioning them, and

An analysis of over two decades worth of Epinay-sous-Senart police reports revealed that more than 80 percent of incidents involving at least one fine were in two areas near Assam. Many of these families are believed to be ethnic minorities according to residents. Local police data shows that 403 of 478 reports detailing fines from April 2018 to July 2020 came from this region. Data shows that the majority of those who were fined had Arab or African surnames.

France Strategie, a government think-tank says that more than one-third (33%) of Epinay-sous-Senart residents between 25 and 54 are non-European immigrants. According to 2017 census data, more than half the children of the town are also non-European.

A pattern is evident across France, with heavy fines being imposed in areas where immigrants reside. France Strategie data shows that police issued 58 COVID related penalties to 1,000 residents in five Paris areas with the highest concentration of residents who are not European. This is 40% higher than the rate for other areas, where almost 42 fines were issued per 1,000 residents. France Strategie’s numbers show that this number is about 40% higher.

Between mid-March 2020 and mid-May 2020, the national rate of pandemic-related penalties for areas with high immigrant concentrations were 54% higher than in other places. This occurred during the country’s first national lockdown.

Defense lawyers and recipients claim that police can also issue remote and repeat fines to the same person. They claim minorities are the ones who pay repeat or remote fines. This raises suspicions about police targeting ethnic communities.

Experts say issuing fines remotely breaches police procedures for non-traffic infractions. Philippe Astruc, Rennes’ public procuror. He is the head of the Rennes office, which processes fines challenged by citizens across the country. He said that, except for road violations, police shouldn’t issue a penalty without stopping rulebreakers.

Lawyers representing fine recipients claim that remote fining occurs despite rules. Achache, a Paris lawyer stated that police know the names of people as they perform regular identity checks. Sometimes recipients don’t realize they are being fined.

Scholars claim that it is difficult to prove bias in fining procedures. Sociologists suggested that there could be other factors behind the geographical disparity in fine rates. These could include higher crime rates and greater concentrations police patrols.

Aline Daillere, a Paris Saclay University sociologist who studies policing, is one of the many. According to her analysis, “certain groups” of the population are often punished. These include young men from poor areas who are or are perceived as minorities. She suggested that police might be targeting minorities as an explanation. She stated that discrimination cannot be proved without evidence that police have treated people of different ethnicities differently. Such data doesn’t exist.

Augustin Dumas, the Epinay–sous-Senart’s chief municipal police officer, was in charge of the Epinay–sous-Senart from the summer 2020. Dumas denied that he targeted any specific section of the population, and stated that police responded only to complaints from residents. Dumas, now an elected official in nearby villages, stated that “if somebody is doing something wrong, you must act.”

Macron, who was elected on a centrist platform five year ago, has increased his law-and-order stance in the face of fierce competition from right. Rights advocates claim that Macron’s government has weakened civil liberties and given more authority to authorities .

Increased police power now allows the ability to issue fines right on the spot. Several new offenses are now possible since 2020. These include drug usage and loitering in buildings. The government is seeking to raise police fines as part of a larger security bill. Legislators will vote on the legislation this month.

Gerald Darmanin, the Interior Minister, stated to the upper house in October that the proposed increase of fines was meant to bring “efficiency and simplicity”. Darmanin, who was also a member in November of the lower house, denied any racial profiling when issuing fines police.

The proposed new fines by the government, which include criminal penalties such as graffiti and theft of petrol, will be added to a criminal record. This is in contrast with minor offenses such as making noise, littering or breaking lockdown restrictions. Some critics find this troubling because there is no judicial oversight.

Daillere, a sociolog said that justice is done on the streets rather than in a courtroom. “If we don’t go before a judge then what stops a police officer from giving out a sanction, even though there hasn’t been an offense?”

Assam was the son of Moroccan parents. Assam claimed that police stereotyped him, other immigrants, and had preconceived notions about him. Assam claimed that police frequently stopped him, making it feel less equal to his fellow citizens. Assam stated, “We’re regular people like everyone else.” We are French and proud to be French. In the early part this year, he was having coffee in a local café.

Epinay-sous-Senart, located approximately 30 kilometers southeast of central Paris, has a population of just over 12,000 residents. It is approximately 30 km southeast of central Paris. The area was home to just 12,000.

Assam lives in this area, called “Les Cineastes”, which is a newer part of town. It is home to a number of modern apartment blocks, as well as a cafe and a few shops. The majority of fines issued in the past two years were to this and a nearby neighborhood.

According to interior ministry figures, the rate of violent crime in Epinay-sous-Senart and other Paris areas and towns in the same department is lower than in other Paris regions.

In 2017, the mayor of the city, who was then center-right, appointed Dumas as the chief of municipal police. Dumas stated that his goal was to fight anti-social behavior and drug dealing.

Some people received multiple fines, it was found. In total, 185 people were part of the 478 police reports. Police data shows that approximately one-fifth of those investigated were fined for at least three incidents. It was also found that many individuals were given multiple fines for the same incident. Local ordinances prohibit outdoor gatherings and allow police to stop people in certain areas. Many fines were also issued.

According to the town data, Hassan Bouchouf received fines on more than 26 occasions. According to the 37-year-old factory worker, police told him to move on and fine his friends whenever he was outside with his friends. Even after they moved into the woods, this continued.

He stated, “Whom am I disturbing?” Are you disturbing the squirrels?

A treasury summary dated 9 Aug shows that Bouchouf owes more Than EUR20,000 to Treasury for fines received in 2017 and 2020.

Dumas didn’t apologize for issuing multiple fines. Dumas said that repeated fines were a sign of repeated violations.

The Essonne police did not respond to questions about Bouchouf or Assam’s fines.

Two officers and the mayor were among those who interviewed Epinay–sous-Senart’s new chief of police and mayor. They have been less active in issuing fines. When asked for data, the Epinay–sous-Senart Mayor’s Office didn’t respond.

Damien Allouch, the center-left mayor of the city elected in June 2020, stated that although police continue to issue sanctions when necessary he believes that other methods could be used to address anti-social behaviour. He stated, “Sometimes it’s enough to have a conversation.”

Allouch didn’t respond to questions about the previous police data that was received from the municipality.

From 2000 to 2020, Georges Pujals served as mayor. Dumas was appointed by him and denied any discrimination from police. He said that COVID-related police rules were applied during lockdown, and that only a few people were subject to multiple fines. He stated that the municipal police officers responsible for law enforcement are overseen by the public prosecutor.

FIGHTING BACK

Assam’s fines led to a deeper tangle with the Police

Witnesses and both men claim that Assam confronted Dumas verbally following learning of the fines for April 2020. Dumas says Assam threatened him with death, but Assam claims that he insulted Dumas. Both men claimed there was no physical violence. Assam claims that Assam was taken into custody at his residence the next day.

According to court documents Assam was convicted by the Court of Evry of violence threats against a public officer in November 2020. Clara Gandin, Assam’s lawyer, stated that Assam appealed the suspended sentence of six months and that his appeal would be heard in December. Gandin claimed that police officers had harassed youths in this area, and that she intends to argue that this provocation deserves a lighter sentence.

Assam also challenged the nine penalties he was issued for grocery shopping in April 2020, and four others from May 2020, on a variety of grounds. Gandin claimed that Assam was not stopped in any of the cases, and that police reports were lacking sufficient detail. Gandin stated that two COVID-19 fines were cancelled by a police tribunal last November. Gandin is still contesting the 11 other fines, which include several related to the quad bike that he used for his grocery trip.

It was found that at least 45 people from Epinay-sous-Senart and other areas of the greater Paris area were involved in this case. They claim that they were fined but have not spoken with a police officer. Both the recipients and their lawyers agree. According to lawyers, the fines were for antisocial behaviour such as making noise or locking down breaches. Nearly all of the people were descendants or immigrant based on their names.

Assam and a local official claim that Assam complained about remote fines during a police interview following his April 2020 arrest. This led to an investigation by the prosecutor’s bureau, which revealed that Assam had received remote fines from police.

According to the local prosecutor’s Office it couldn’t comment on Assam’s case. However, it stated that it had received a 2020 case regarding remote fines, and that it sent a reminder to mayors.

Gandin, Assam’s lawyer, stated that “this confirms the prosecutor’s complete awareness of remote fining.”

‘POLICE HARASSMENT’

Other than the criticisms of fines imposed by police, there are also allegations that officers discriminated against individuals. The flashpoint was police identity checks.

Paris Court of Appeal 2021 ruled that discrimination was responsible for three high school students being denied identity checks at Paris stations in 2017. They were French citizens of Moroccan and Malian descent. Each individual was awarded 1,500 Euros in damages and legal expenses by the court.

Assam filed a complaint with the Defenseur des Droits (French watchdog on state rights) about the way the police handled fines during the pandemic.

Gandin and others submitted the April 2021 submission claiming that remote fining was “systemic discrimination” by police against young men of North African, Subsaharan African descent. It asserts that police engaged in remote, repeated fining. This is called police harassment.

Since then, complaints regarding police fines have increased. 60 residents from three Parisian neighbourhoods filed a joint complaint to the Defenseur des Droits in March, alleging similar claims. Someone familiar with the matter said that about 10 complaints were filed against the watchdog alleging improperly fined police officers, many of whom are Parisian. The spokesperson for the watchdog stated that they are able to make policy recommendations and challenge rights violations but they do not have the power or authority over cancelling court or administrative orders.

Claire Hedon, Defenseur des Droits’ chief, declined to comment on the probes. She stated that fines can be imposed arbitrarily and are difficult to challenge. She said that appeals must be allowed in accordance with the principle of justice.

According to lawyers, debts that are accumulated due to fines can continue to weigh heavily on an individual’s shoulders.

Assam spoke in November and stated that he had recently found a job as an agent after being unemployed for a while. Assam stated that he still receives notices regarding his court proceedings as well as letters from authorities, threatening to send bailiffs and seize any money he owes. Assam stated that the warnings make it feel stressed.

He stated that he doesn’t open letters anymore when they arrive at his house.

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