Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they were watching similar legal battles in New York and hoping they might weigh on French policy.
The New York Police Department has been at the center of an uproar over gratuitous stop-and-frisk practices. A New York judge last month appointed an academic advisory council made up of law professors to help develop reforms to the city police department’s stop and frisk practices.
Judge Shira Scheindlin found in August that the city discriminates against minorities with current stop and frisk practices. The city has appealed that ruling.
New York police have stopped, questioned and sometimes patted down about 5 million people over the past decade, mainly black and Hispanic men. The judge ruled that the policy violated civil rights and ordered a monitor to oversee changes to the policy including officer training, supervision and paperwork.
In France, the law allows for widespread police checks on people deemed suspicious. Opponents say police have too much discretion.
“Through this decision, French justice says that the law of equality … basically does not apply to French police and we are pretty shocked by that,” lawyer Felix de Belloy said.
“I would not say that this decision legalizes ethnic profiling, but clearly the judges closed their eyes to ethnic profiling,” he added.
French authorities have rejected a proposal to make police write out reports for each person they control, making the acts traceable. However, Interior Minister Manuel Valls plans to require police to wear identifying numbers on their uniforms by the end of the year.
A study conducted in Paris by France’s National Center for Scientific Research and the Open Society Justice Initiative, which backed the legal action, has shown that blacks have six times more chance of being checked by police than whites, and those of Arab origin have eight times more.
Discrimination against France’s minorities became a national issue after fiery riots in 2005 spread through suburban housing projects where many residents or their forebears come from former French colonies in Africa. The unrest laid bare the simmering anger by minorities isolated from mainstream life. What minority youth said was gratuitous stopping and frisking fed the rancor. Youth from housing projects and police have notoriously poor relations.
The French legal action was also backed by the Union of French Lawyers and the Stop Racial Profiling association.