Police violence: How can France tackle racial profiling without first addressing race?

professional headshot of Jean Beaman

By Lara Bullens July 9, 2023

The warning signs are there. Non-profit organisations, anti-racism activists and experts in France have been sounding the alarm for decades – long before the police killing of Nahel, a 17-year-old French boy of Moroccan and Algerian descent, triggered several days of rioting across the country. The video of the police officer fatally shooting the unarmed teenager during a traffic stop reignited calls among left-wing politicians – and the UN – for French police to acknowledge its racial profiling problem. Young men who are perceived to be Black or Arab are 20 times more likely to be stopped for identity checks than the rest of the population. … But allegations of racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike persisted. Thirty years after the initial ruling, an audit found that Black drivers were still being subjected more often to searches, arrests and uses of force during police traffic stops. An ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) report found that in 2018, Black people in New Jersey were still 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents, despite similar usage rates. “[The ruling] didn’t change the broader culture of police,” says Jean Beaman, Associate Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Barbara who has researched state violence in France and the US. “Just look at the legislation passed in New York [to reform] stop and frisk,” says Beaman.