PARIS – France’s highest administrative authority on Wednesday rejected an effort by rights campaigners to end what they allege is a systemic and generalized practice by French police of targeting Black people and people of Arab descent for stops and checks.
Local grassroots organizations and international rights groups had hoped that a favorable ruling from the Council of State could force deep reforms within French law enforcement to end racial profiling.
In its decision, the Council of State said witness testimony and other evidence presented in the class-action case established that French police do subject people to checks because of their physical characteristics. It also said such checks don't appear to be isolated cases and are harmful to the people targeted. But the ruling said discriminatory checks aren't systemic or generalized.
Plaintiffs expressed dismay, although some drew comfort from the ruling's recognition that discriminatory checks do happen and aren't rare.
“These high judicial authorities have failed to understand the violence and exclusion generated by these police practices,” Issa Coulibaly, the head of a Paris youth association involved in the compalint, said in a statement.
“They failed to grasp the historic opportunity to improve the daily lives of millions of their fellow citizens, particularly those perceived as Black and Arab,” said Coulibaly, who is Black.
The Council of State is France's ultimate arbiter on the use of power by authorities. The plaintiffs' lawsuit, France’s first class-action case against police, was filed in 2021. It included a 220-page file that was chock full of examples of racial profiling by French police.
The complaint was filed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative and three grassroots organizations that work with youth, including Coulibaly's group, Pazapas.
The government has denied systemic discrimination by police.
The nongovernmental organizations took the case to the Council of State after the government failed to meet a four-month deadline to respond to the opening salvo in the class-action suit.
The Council of State then held a landmark hearing on the case last month.