A French court has rejected claims that police identity checks on 13 people from minority groups were racist, saying officers did not overstep any legal boundaries.
The verdict on Wednesday followed a one-day trial in July billed as the first of its kind in France. Lawyers for the plaintiffs pledged to appeal.
Anti-racism groups say that non-white French, particularly those who are black or of Arab origin, face routine discrimination that diminishes their chances of finding jobs and carving out a place for themselves in mainstream society.
Such discrimination, they contend, also subjects minorities to humiliating public identity checks.
The plaintiffs, who range from students to delivery personnel, sought $13,000 each in the case. Their lawyers also wanted changes in the law that would require police to provide written reports of ID checks and spell out “objective grounds” for conducting the checks.
The court upheld the state’s argument that the ID checks are not illegal under French law.
“The most obvious consequence [of the decision] is that police in this country… have the right to discriminate,” defence lawyer Slim Ben Achour said afterwards.
New York case
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they were watching similar legal battles in New York and hoping that they weigh on French policy.
The New York Police Department has been at the centre of an uproar over gratuitous stop-and-frisk practises.
A New York judge last month appointed an academic advisory council made up of law professors to help develop reforms to the city police department’s stop and frisk practices after ruling that they discriminate against minorities.
In France, the law allows for widespread police checks on people deemed suspicious. Opponents say police have too much discretion.
A study conducted in Paris by France’s National Center for Scientific Research and the Open Society Justice Initiative, which backed the legal action, has shown that blacks have six times more chance of being checked by police than whites, and those of Arab origin have eight times more.