Anti-Racism Protests Are Driving Police Reforms Around the World

France has banned officers from using chokeholds to detain suspects, while New Zealand has abandoned a trial of armed police patrols.
June 9, 2020, 12:37pm
paris anti-racism protest
Demonstrators protest against police brutality at the "Tribunal de Paris" courthouse on June 2, 2020, in Paris, France. Photo: Asianet-Pakistan / Alamy Stock Photo

Protests over George Floyd's killing have already prompted a slew of reforms to police departments across the U.S. Now, as the movement ripples internationally, it's influencing changes to policing in other countries too.

France announced Monday it was banning officers from using chokeholds while detaining suspects, while on Tuesday, New Zealand police said they were abandoning a trial of arming patrols that critics had slammed as a step towards an "American-style militarization" of police.

Both countries have recently witnessed large demonstrations in solidarity with the U.S. protests, which called out police racism and brutality in their treatment of minorities.

In a televised press conference Monday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the use of chokeholds in detaining suspects would be "abandoned", describing it as a dangerous method.

"I hear the criticism, I hear a powerful cry against hatred," he said, referring to large Black Lives Matters protests held across the country last week. The protesters demanded justice for Floyd, as well as for Adama Traoré, a Black Frenchman who died in similar circumstances to Floyd in 2016, with the arresting officers repeatedly exonerated by official investigations.

"Racism does not have a place in our society and even less in our Republican police," Castaner said. "It is not enough to condemn it. We have to track it down and combat it."

READ: George Floyd’s death is reminding France of Adama Traoré

He added that some officers had "failed in their Republican duty" in recent weeks, in an apparent reference to racist comments leaked from a private Facebook group for police officers that prompted prosecutors to open an investigation last week.

Tara Varma, director of the Paris bureau of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told VICE World News that the confluence of anger over Floyd's killing, coupled with demands for justice over Traoré's death, had sparked an "unprecedented mobilization on these issues" in France.

"Activists have been warning about widespread violence and racism within the police in France for a long time with too little reaction from political authorities until now," she said, adding that protests were accelerating the French government's response to the problem.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said Tuesday his force was dropping a controversial trial of armed police patrols, having concluded it was not an appropriate approach to policing in the South Pacific nation.

He said the decision was influenced by feedback from the public, which was overwhelmingly against the approach.

"It's been clear to me that there has not been acceptance of this as an appropriate style of policing in New Zealand," he said of the trial, which had been introduced following the Christchurch attacks, in which 51 people were shot to death at two mosques last year.

The opposition Green party had been a vocal critic of the trial, warning it could shift the country towards a militaristic, U.S. style of policing and could disproportionately impact poor and minority communities. It had lobbied supporters to write to police with their concerns.

"We only have to look to the United States to see how violent things can get under a militarized police force," warned party co-leader Marama Davidson, who said the response to the trial showed people of color did not feel safe with armed police patrols.

Her colleague, Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, welcomed the decision to scrap the trials Tuesday as a "big step against the American-style militarization of our police force", hailing it as a victory for "people power".

While officials in both countries say they are working to address issues of police bias against communities of color, they've also bristled at the comparison to the U.S. New Zealand's police union condemned the Greens' attempts to link Floyd's death to the issue of local armed police trials, and in his speech Tuesday, Castaner denied that French police "targeted violence" against people of color.

"The French police are not the American police," he said.

READ: Here are all the major police reforms cities have announced so far

As the ongoing protests roil the U.S., some American cities have already announced changes that would have been unthinkable just weeks ago. Officials in Minneapolis and Denver have agreed to ban chokeholds and neck restraints, New York City is working to redirect some police funding into youth and social services, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he's considering a similar move. Meanwhile, Minneapolis' City Council announced Sunday that it had a veto-proof majority to start defunding and disbanding its police department, putting an undetermined new structure in its place instead.