French court rules discrimination behind students’ ID checks


PARIS — Overturning a lower court decision, a Paris appeals court ruled on Tuesday that discrimination was behind humiliating police identity checks on three high school students of color as they left a train on their return from a school trip.

The court convicted the French state of a “grave fault” and ordered it to pay 1,500 euros (more than $1,800) to the young men as a form of reparation for the police actions in 2017.

The three, all at the time in their final year of high school in Paris suburb Epinay-sur-Seine, were stopped at the Gare du Nord after their trip to Brussels and searched, one just after getting off the train, the two others in the entry hall, but each time in front of classmates and their teacher.

The lower court ruled that discrimination wasn’t at cause because all 18 students on the class trip were of color and only three were checked.

Lawyer Slim Ben Achour noted that of the 18 students, 15 were girls, not usually asked to undergo identity checks and searches, and deplored that video and audio recordings of the incidents hadn’t been taken into account, like testimony of the teacher and an accompanying adult.

The appeals court considered that “physical characteristics” were “the real cause behind the controls,” Ben Achour said in a telephone interview. He called it a “beautiful decision” that pleased the young men, Mamadou Camara, Ilyas Haddaji et Zakaria Hadji Mmadi, and made the teacher, Elise Boscherel, cry when he informed them of the written ruling. The court was “very severe with the absence of reaction of state when informed, notably by social networks, of the discriminatory checks,” Ben Achour said.

Tuesday’s decision was also an “important legal victory” that paves the way for the next step in a class action suit filed in January by six nongovernmental organizations over alleged systemic racism within the French police, the lawyer said.

In a lawsuit brought by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Open Society Justice Initiative and three local organizations contend police use racial profiling in deciding who to check, and target Black people and people of Arab descent. Under rules governing class action cases in France, the government was given four months to make satisfying proposals or risk court.

Ben Achour, representing Open Society Justice Initiative in the lawsuit, said there has been no response and NGOs are preparing to take the state to court.

Despite constant allegations of racial profiling by police in France, few cases go to court, often because of fear of repercussions by those targeted, according to activists and lawyers.

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