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EPINAY-SOUS-SENART, France, Dec 6 (Reuters) – Mohamed Assam went to purchase groceries at a grocery store near his dwelling close to Paris one April afternoon in 2020. By the point he returned, he had incurred greater than 900 euros in fines for 9 completely different infractions with out as soon as, he stated, coming into contact with a police officer.

The 27-year-old from the Paris suburb of Epinay-sous-Senart stated he discovered of the fines a couple of week later, when he obtained notifications within the put up. His alleged offences, which he’s contesting, embody violating COVID-19 lockdown guidelines and missing appropriate headlights on his quad bike, in response to the notices he obtained from an inside ministry company reviewed by Reuters.

“It was a shock, a nasty shock,” stated Assam. He now owes hundreds of euros in whole for fines accrued since 2019, together with late cost charges, in response to Assam and his lawyer.

French President Emmanuel Macron – dealing with criticism from rivals who accuse him of being comfortable on drug sellers and different offenders – has applied a string of insurance policies aimed toward curbing city crime. These embody higher authority for police to challenge fines – an influence police have seized upon.

Nationwide, the variety of non-traffic associated fines has grown by greater than six instances – to 1.54 million final yr from 240,000 in 2018, in response to the inside ministry company for fines. In 2020, when the nation underwent a number of COVID-19 lockdowns, the quantity surpassed 2 million.

Proponents say the fines scale back the burden on the justice system by conserving minor infractions out of court docket. Critics say the penalties enable police to dispense sanctions at their very own discretion, with out correct accountability. Some legal professionals and rights advocates say this energy has resulted in police focusing on poorer individuals and people from ethnic minority backgrounds, leaving some individuals saddled with hefty money owed.

French legal guidelines strictly restrict the gathering of knowledge about a person’s race or ethnicity, which makes it troublesome to find out precisely how the fines affect ethnic minority teams, however the census does gather some figures on immigrants, based mostly on homeland and nationality. A Reuters assessment of census-related and a few fine-related police information from throughout France reveals that police have fined individuals at larger charges in areas with the heaviest percentages of immigrants.

“There’s systemic discrimination,” stated Alice Achache, a lawyer representing some Paris residents who’re difficult fines.

President Macron has beforehand stated there is no such thing as a “systemic racism” within the French police. His workplace declined to remark for this report, as did the nationwide police. The inside ministry didn’t reply to questions. Police in different nations comparable to america and Britain have confronted accusations of over-policing and over-sanctioning of minority communities.

In Epinay-sous-Senart, Assam’s city, a Reuters assessment of knowledge from greater than two years of police studies recording incidents involving at the least one tremendous discovered greater than 80% of these incidents occurred in two adjoining neighborhoods the place residents say many ethnic minority households reside. Of the 478 police studies that recorded fines from April 2018 to July 2020, 403 have been from that a part of city, in response to the native police information, which Reuters obtained through a freedom of data request. The overwhelming majority of the individuals fined had Arab or African surnames, the info confirmed.

Multiple-third of Epinay-sous-Senart residents ages 25 to 54 are of non-European immigrant background, as are greater than half of the city’s youngsters, in response to 2017 census information compiled by France Strategie, a authorities assume tank.

The heavy focus of fines in components of the city the place immigrants reside suits a sample that has performed out throughout France, in response to the Reuters assessment. Police issued 58 COVID-related fines per 1,000 inhabitants within the 5 Paris districts with the very best focus of residents with non-European backgrounds, based mostly on France Strategie’s figures. That’s about 40% larger than the speed of different areas, the place police issued virtually 42 fines per 1,000 individuals. learn extra

Nationwide, the speed of pandemic-related fines in areas the place official statistics present a excessive focus of immigrants was 54% larger than in different areas between mid March and mid Might 2020 throughout the nation’s first nationwide lockdown.

Police additionally generally challenge fines remotely and tremendous the identical individuals repeatedly, together with every so often a number of instances inside minutes, in response to tremendous recipients and protection legal professionals. The burden of those distant and repeat fines falls closely on minorities, these individuals say, including to their suspicion police are focusing on ethnic teams.

Issuing fines remotely is a breach of police procedures for non-traffic infractions, in response to a number of authorized specialists. Philippe Astruc, the general public prosecutor in Rennes, runs the workplace chargeable for processing fines that people nationwide dispute. He stated police shouldn’t challenge a tremendous with out stopping the rule breaker, besides within the case of sure road-related rule breaches.

Regardless of the principles, some legal professionals representing tremendous recipients say distant fining happens. Achache, the Paris lawyer, stated that police know the names of people as a result of they frequently conduct identification checks and recipients generally don’t even know they’re being fined on the time of the alleged infraction, she stated.

Proving bias in fining practices is troublesome, some students say. Different elements that would clarify the geographical disparity in tremendous charges, sociologists stated, embody higher focus of police patrols or larger crime charges in sure areas.

Aline Daillere, a sociologist researching policing at Paris Saclay College, stated the Reuters evaluation exhibits “sure classes of the inhabitants are very incessantly fined,” principally younger males from poorer neighborhoods who’re – or are perceived to be – minorities. One doable rationalization, she stated, is that police are focusing on minority populations. But it surely’s not doable to show discrimination, she stated, with out information exhibiting that police deal with individuals of various ethnicities otherwise. Such information doesn’t exist.

Augustin Dumas, the municipal police chief of Epinay-sous-Senart till the summer season of 2020, denied focusing on a selected space or part of the inhabitants, saying police responded to complaints by inhabitants. “If somebody is doing one thing fallacious, you should act,” stated Dumas, now an elected official in a close-by city.

Macron, who got here to energy 5 years in the past on a centrist platform and was re-elected this yr, has toughened his stance on regulation and order amid stiff competitors from the precise. Rights advocates say his authorities has chipped away at civil liberties whereas giving higher powers to authorities, comparable to the flexibility to shut mosques with out trial.

The expanded police powers embody the precise to challenge on-the-spot fines. A number of new finable offences have been added since 2020, together with drug use and loitering in constructing hallways. The federal government is in search of so as to add extra police fines as a part of a broader safety invoice. Lawmakers are because of vote on the laws this month.

The proposed enlargement of fines is aimed toward offering “effectivity and ease,” Inside Minister Gerald Darmanin instructed the higher home of parliament in October. Throughout one other debate within the decrease home in November, Darmanin denied racial profiling by police in issuing fines.

The brand new fines the federal government is proposing, which embody penalties for offences like graffiti and stealing petrol, could be marked on an individual’s prison document, in contrast to fines for minor infractions comparable to making noise, littering or breaking lockdown restrictions. Both method, what troubles some critics is the shortage of judicial oversight.

Justice is being taken out of the courtroom and performed on the streets, with out safeguards comparable to proper to a protection, stated Daillere, the sociologist. “If we do not go in entrance of a decide, what stops a police officer from giving out a sanction even when there is not an infraction?”


Born in France to folks from Morocco, Assam stated police have stereotyped and “preconceived concepts” about him and his mates of immigrant origin. He stated police incessantly cease them, which leaves him feeling lower than equal to his fellow residents. “We’re common individuals like everybody else, we’re French, we’re happy with being French,” stated Assam, over espresso in a neighborhood cafe early this yr.

Epinay-sous-Senart sits round 30 kilometers southeast of central Paris with a inhabitants of simply over 12,000. To the east of the city’s historic quarter is a zone developed within the Nineteen Sixties, the place some individuals who migrated from France’s former African colonies settled.

Assam lives on this newer a part of city in an space often known as ‘Les Cineastes,’ a collection of contemporary residence blocks served by a restaurant and some outlets. It was on this and an adjoining neighborhood the place police issued the overwhelming majority of fines over the greater than two-year interval Reuters reviewed.

Epinay-sous-Senart’s fee of violent and non-violent crime is decrease than the common for different cities in the identical division and the higher Paris area, inside ministry figures for 2021 present.

Dumas, appointed municipal police chief in 2017 by the city’s then center-right mayor, instructed Reuters his aim was to sort out anti-social habits and drug dealing.

Some individuals have been fined a number of instances, Reuters discovered. The 478 police studies Reuters reviewed concerned a complete of 185 individuals. About one-fifth of the recipients have been fined in three or extra incidents, in response to the police information Reuters obtained. Reuters additionally examined the contents of the police studies, which revealed some individuals obtained a number of fines for a similar incident. The studies additionally confirmed many fines have been issued below native decrees banning out of doors gatherings and permitting police to cease individuals in specified areas.

Hassan Bouchouf obtained fines on greater than two dozen events, in response to the city’s tremendous information. The 37-year-old manufacturing facility employee instructed Reuters the police would both inform him to maneuver on or tremendous him each time they might see him and his mates socializing outdoors, even once they had moved to the close by woods.

“Who am I disturbing?” he stated. “Am I waking up the squirrels?”

Bouchouf owes the treasury greater than 20,000 euros for fines obtained between 2017 and 2020, in response to a treasury abstract dated Aug. 9.

Dumas made no apology for issuing repeat fines. He stated individuals who have been fined repeatedly had dedicated repeated infractions.

The Essonne police division didn’t reply to questions concerning the fines obtained by Assam and Bouchouf.

Epinay-sous-Senart’s police have been much less lively in issuing fines for the reason that arrival of a brand new mayor and police chief in the summertime of 2020, in response to the mayor, two cops and greater than a dozen residents interviewed by Reuters. The mayor’s workplace in Epinay-sous-Senart didn’t reply to requests for information for this era.

Damien Allouch, the city’s center-left mayor elected in June 2020, instructed Reuters that police proceed to challenge fines the place essential however stated anti-social habits will be addressed via different means. “Generally dialogue is sufficient,” he stated.

Allouch didn’t reply to questions concerning the earlier police information Reuters obtained from the municipality.

Georges Pujals, who served as mayor till 2020 and appointed Dumas, denied there had been discrimination by police. He stated that in lockdown, police have been making use of COVID-related guidelines set by the federal government and {that a} core group of people that obtained a number of fines have been well-known to police. He added that municipal cops perform their regulation enforcement duties below the supervision of the general public prosecutor.


Assam’s fines led to a fair deeper tangle with the police.

After studying of the April 2020 fines, Assam verbally confronted Dumas on the road later that very same month, in response to each males and a witness. Dumas says Assam threatened him; Assam says he merely insulted Dumas. Each males instructed Reuters there was no bodily violence. The next morning, police arrested Assam at his home, in response to Assam.

In November 2020, the Court docket of Evry discovered Assam responsible of violence and threats towards an official, in response to a court docket doc. Assam is interesting a six-month suspended jail sentence, stated his lawyer, Clara Gandin, and his enchantment is because of be heard in December. Gandin stated that police harassed younger individuals within the neighborhood and that she intends to argue that this provocation justifies a lighter sentence.

Individually, Assam has contested the 9 fines from his grocery store journey, plus 4 others from April and Might 2020, on numerous grounds, together with that he wasn’t stopped by officers in all circumstances and that police studies contained inadequate element, Gandin stated. In late November, a police tribunal canceled two of the fines, each COVID-19 associated, in response to Gandin. He continues to problem the opposite 11 fines, which embody a number of associated to the quad bike he drove on his grocery store journey.

Reuters discovered at the least 45 individuals in Epinay-sous-Senart and elsewhere within the higher Paris area who say they have been fined with none contact with a police officer, in response to recipients and their legal professionals. The fines have been issued for delinquent habits, comparable to making noise, and lockdown breaches between 2017 and 2021, in response to the treasury summaries and tremendous notices shared with Reuters or the legal professionals. Virtually the entire people have been immigrants or descendants of immigrants based mostly on their names.

Assam complained about distant fines throughout a police interview following his April 2020 arrest, in response to him and an individual near the native public prosecutor’s workplace. That prompted a assessment by the prosecutor’s workplace, which discovered that police had issued fines to Assam remotely, that particular person stated.

The native public prosecutor’s workplace stated it couldn’t touch upon Assam’s case. But it surely instructed Reuters that after reviewing a 2020 grievance about distant fines, the native prosecutor despatched mayors a letter to remind police of the principles. The letter, reviewed by Reuters, stated that lockdown-related “fines can solely be issued after direct contact with the particular person.”

“This confirms that the prosecutor is completely conscious that there was distant fining” and the fines are “not authorized as a result of they can’t be issued with out bodily contact,” Gandin, Assam’s lawyer, instructed Reuters.


The criticism over police fines comes amid broader allegations of discrimination by police. One flash level has been police identification checks.

In a big ruling, the Paris Court docket of Enchantment in 2021 discovered discrimination was behind police identification checks of three highschool college students – French nationals of Moroccan, Malian and Comorian origin – at a Paris practice station in 2017. Every particular person obtained 1,500 euros in compensation, plus authorized prices, the court docket stated on the time.

Final yr, Assam and greater than 30 different Epinay-sous-Senart residents filed a grievance with the French state’s rights watchdog, the Defenseur des Droits, concerning the city police’s method to fines throughout the pandemic.

Distant fining constitutes “systemic discrimination” by police in direction of younger males of North African or Subsaharan African origin, stated the April 2021 submission, ready by Gandin and different legal professionals. It alleges police engaged in distant and repetitive fining, which it described as “police harassment.”

Complaints about police fines have mounted since then. In March, about 60 residents from three Paris neighborhoods filed a joint grievance to the Defenseur des Droits with related allegations. The watchdog is investigating about 10 complaints alleging improper police fines, principally from Paris, in response to an individual acquainted with the matter. The group could make coverage suggestions and assist problem rights violations however doesn’t have the ability to cancel court docket or administrative choices, a watchdog spokesperson stated.

Claire Hedon, head of the Defenseur des Droits, declined to touch upon the probes. However she stated the issue with fines is that they are often issued arbitrarily and are troublesome to problem. “The precept of justice is to have the ability to enchantment,” she stated.

Money owed accrued because of fines can proceed to weigh closely on people, legal professionals say.

After a interval of unemployment, Assam just lately stated he discovered a job in gross sales, talking in early November. He stated he continued to obtain letters about his court docket proceedings in addition to notices from the authorities saying they are going to ship bailiffs or seize cash he owes from his checking account. The warnings go away him confused, he stated.

“Letters come to the home, I do not even open them anymore,” he stated.

Extra reporting by M. B. Pell in New York; Enhancing by Cassell Bryan-Low, Christian Lowe and Janet Roberts.

Our Requirements: The Thomson Reuters Belief Rules.


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