France: Six months undercover with the police: racism, violence, impunity


A new book by French journalist Valentin Gendrot chronicles the six months he spent working undercover as a police officer in Paris, where police violence "was so frequent it became almost banal".

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French reporter who joined police exposes racism and violence (The Guardian):

"A French journalist who infiltrated the country’s police force has described a culture of racism and violence in which officers act with impunity.

Valentin Gendrot claims the violence was so frequent it became almost banal and describes one incident where he was forced to help falsify evidence against an adolescent who had been beaten by an officer.

“It really shocked me to hear police officers, who are representatives of the state, calling people who were black, Arab or migrants ‘bastards’, but everyone did it,” he says."

The findings of Gendrot's book, Flic (Cop), echo those of the sociologist Didier Fassin, who also spent months within a squad of police officers in Paris - although in Fassin's case (recounted in the book Enforcing Order) he was not undercover. Nevertheless, this did not prevent him from witnessing ample instances of racism, violence and abuse on the part of the police, and much of the behaviour he describes appears to be reflected in Gendrot's experience.

The Guardian continues:

"He says he witnessed officers assaulting youngsters – many of them minors – on an almost daily basis. Gendrot describes a “clannish” system that ensures officers close ranks to protect their own, leading to a sense of impunity.

“They don’t see a youngster, but a delinquent … once this dehumanisation is established everything becomes justifiable, like beating up an adolescent or a migrant,” he writes, adding: “What astonishes me … is at what point they feel untouchable, as if there’s no superior, no surveillance by the hierarchy, as if a police officer can choose – according to his free will or how he is feeling at that particular moment – to be violent or not.

“In my commissariat there were racist, homophobic and macho comments every day. They came from certain colleagues and were tolerated or ignored by others.”

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