PARIS – Four police officers are under investigation after video footage showing a Black music producer being beaten in his Paris studio was published, just days after images of police violently evacuating a refugee camp sparked widespread outrage across the country.
In the CCTV footage, which was released in an explosive report by digital news site Loopsider last Thursday, three police officers are seen entering Michel Zecler’s studio, throwing dozens of hard punches to Zecler’s head, kicks to the body, holding him in strangleholds and striking him with a truncheon for about five minutes.
Zecler alleges that during the beating, police repeatedly uttered racial slurs. The CCTV footage didn’t capture audio recordings, and police deny the claims.
The original video posted on Twitter went viral immediately and has been seen more than 14.2 million times.
In an interview with Loopsider, Zecler walked the reporter through the footage and said police entered the studio and proceeded to assault him immediately.
“Right then, I was scared. I didn’t understand what was going on. There were people outside walking past and I tried to get their attention.”
“Given how violent it was, and all the punches I was taking, I said to myself, ‘If I fall, I’m going to stay there and I won’t be able to get back up,” he said. “I didn’t want to make any sudden movements that could be used against me. I was completely conscious of this. The whole time.”
A separate video captured by an upstairs neighbour offers another view of the incident, which takes place on the street outside the studio.
After exiting the building at the appearance of nine artists who had been in the basement recording studio, police draw out Zecler by throwing a tear gas canister – normally used to dispel major crowds in riots – into the building.
This video shows about five officers pushing Zecler to the ground and another officer throwing seven hard punches at Zecler’s head, who can be heard screaming out in pain.
“The cop had hit him so hard that he was in pain. After, he was complaining that his hand hurt,” the witness told Loopsider.
The incident, which happened on the 21st of November, began when Zecler went outside without his mask, which is currently obligatory in France due to COVID restrictions. Police say they also pursued him because they smelled a strong smell of cannabis. During a press conference Sunday, Paris’s public prosecutor Rémy Heitz said police found 0.5g of cannabis in his bag.
The four officers have been charged with committing “wilful violence by a person holding public authority” and “forgery in public writing.” In their report, which was filed before they knew of the existence of CCTV footage, the officers falsely claimed that Zecler hit them.
The latest incident to expose excessive police violence in France helped draw 133,000 demonstrators to the streets in cities across France Saturday, including 46,000 people in Paris alone, in protest against a controversial global security bill that would make it illegal to film police with the malicious intent to cause physical and psychological harm to police officers. French interior minister Gérald Darmanin, the architect of the anti-filming proposal, known as Article 24, said the bill is meant to protect police and their families from being identified and targeted on social media.
Early last week, images of police chasing refugees out of a migrant camp in Paris with tear gas and batons and assaulting a journalist also went viral and were largely condemned.
French media, civil liberties and human rights groups are asking the government to withdraw Article 24 in the global security bill, pointing out that legal protections against the dissemination of private information with intent to harm already exist. The bill was passed by the National Assembly last week. On Monday afternoon, the government announced plans to rewrite the article.
At the Paris march, which started at Place de la République and ended at Bastille, protesters chanted for Darmanin to quit and held up signs that read: “The police are terrorising us,” “Who protects us from the police?” and “I’m scared of the police.”
The crowd was a mix of young and old, white, Black, brown and Asian protesters in masks, many of whom attended to show their support for Zecler and other victims of police violence who may not have had the benefit of video footage to prove their innocence.
“How many Michels are sleeping in prison?” read another sign.
The video of Zecler’s beating had also reached President Emmanuel Macron, who called the assault “unacceptable” and “shameful” and said that “France must never resolve to violence or brutality, wherever they come from. France must never allow hatred or racism to flourish.”
Meanwhile, at Sunday’s press conference, Heitz, the Paris public prosecutor, said the four officers charged in the Zecler assault include a 44-year-old brigadier and three officers in their 20s and 30s who had clean service records.
In their report, the officers said they “panicked” during the incident, as they were trapped in a small space “from which they could not escape, because of the resistance of the arrested and the configuration of the place.”
Heitz said the officers admitted that the beatings were not justified. The young artists who witnessed the incident also corroborated Zecler’s claim that officers made racist slurs.