PARIS (AP) — A French court on Wednesday rejected claims that police identity checks on 13 people from minority groups were racist, saying officers didn’t overstep any legal boundaries.
The decision upended an unusual bid to rein in law enforcement officers often accused of racial profiling. The verdict followed a one-day trial in July billed as the first of its kind in France, and a sign that long-silent minorities are increasingly finding their voice. Lawyers for the plaintiffs pledged to appeal — up to the European Court of Human Rights if need be.
The French ruling comes amid a public furor over stop and frisk policies of the New York Police Department. But in that case, being closely watched here, a judge has ruled against NYPD practices said to discriminate against blacks and Hispanics.
Anti-racism groups say that non-white French — particularly blacks or those of Arab origin — face routine discrimination that diminishes their chances of finding jobs, getting into nightclubs and carving out a place for themselves in mainstream society.
Such discrimination, they contend, also subjects minorities to humiliating public identity checks.
The plaintiffs — who range from students to delivery personnel — sought 10,000 euros ($13,000) each in the case. Their lawyers also wanted changes in the law that would require police to provide written reports of ID checks and spell out “objective grounds” for conducting the checks.
“The most obvious consequence(of the decision) is that police in this country… have the right to discriminate,” lawyer Slim Ben Achour said afterward. “There is a blank check for police to continue these practices.”
The court upheld the state’s argument that the ID checks aren’t illegal under French law.
A person who considers an identity check abusive must prove the action was a gravely serious offense, the lawyers said, quoting the judgment. They noted this is almost impossible since there is no trace an identity check took place.
A 2008 French law to fight discrimination is applicable only in professional relations “uniting an employer to his employee,” the court said, adding that it wasn’t within their purview to change laws.
Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch said in a statement the court was, de facto, affirming that France can ignore international norms with “a single message: the state is always right, and the police have the green light to discriminate.”
The plaintiffs in the case weren’t immediately available for comment.