A video showing French police forcibly removing women and children from camps they had set up in a Parisian suburb has provoked reactions of shock at a time when the government is renewing an emphasis on issues of security.
The video was shot on July 21 by an observer from association Droit au Logement (Right to Housing) and then put online by French news site Mediapart and broadcast by US news channel CNN on Tuesday. By Friday afternoon, the video had been viewed nearly 300,000 times on French video-sharing site Dailymotion.
The footage shows women of African descent, some of them carrying children on their backs, trying to hold on to each other as police drag them from camps they had set up in La Courneuve, one of the roughest neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Paris. The women, some of whom are illegal residents of France, had set up tents near a soon-to-be-destroyed building from which they had been evicted.
Though the Right to Housing association has said it plans to file a complaint of “police brutality”, the police headquarters in Seine-Saint-Denis, the department where the incident occurred, denied the allegation. “State services confirm that this operation was carried out in relatively good conditions”, the statement read, despite acknowledging the “physical resistance” met by police.
The video shows a pregnant woman lying immobile on the ground for several minutes before being carried away by police. Another woman is pulled away by her feet while carrying a child on her back.
But the police headquarters denied intentional violence against the woman, instead pointing to her own responsibility by saying that she “lay down on her back despite the fact that she had a child attached to it, and she was kicking and resisting physically”.
But the images of French police using physical force on women and children of immigrant background have provoked reactions from associations and politicians alike. “These are scary scenes”, said Sokouana Gary, founder of SOW, an association that develops humanitarian projects abroad with young people from La Courneuve.
Meanwhile, Stéphane Troussel, the Socialist Counsellor for La Courneuve, saw the stamp of President Nicolas Sarkozy on the events. “Faced with his failure in the suburbs, it is tempting for Nicolas Sarkozy and his government to abandon working-class neighbourhoods or to try and rein them in through showy and highly publicised security operations”, Troussel said.
As Sarkozy has seen his favorability ratings slide, his administration has been working on intensified security measures, reviving a major theme of his successful presidential bid.