November 28, 2020. Paris, demonstration of thousands of people against the proposed law “Global security. The images of shocking police violence were seen by 15 million people on social networks. (JAN SCHMIDT-WHITLEY / LE PICTORIUM / MAXPPP)

Images of police violence have shocked this week. Dismantling of a migrant camp, Place de la République in Paris, and above all, the beating of a black music producer. A rain of blows seen by more than 15 million people on social networks. “Images that make us ashamed”, writes Emmanuel Macron.

franceinfo: Jean Viard, what is the relationship of the French to this police today?

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First, it must be said that seeing someone beaten is unbearable for us, whether it is a black producer, whether it is a migrant or a police officer. I think we have the same relationship to the image which is horrible, and in a society where normally we no longer see a fight like that. After the report to the police, it is ambivalent because the police are responsible for protecting us but also to reprimand us. There are both attitudes. And it’s like when we drive, we always think that we respect the speeds, but sometimes we go a little fast etc.

So there is a naturally somewhat ambiguous relationship, so, suddenly, what do the French think? Basically, there are 75% of people who have a good opinion of the police, always has to be said, because when you see social movements, it always seems that the police are very rejected. In fact, the answer is no. And then, every time there is an attack, suddenly, we like the police more because we saw them working, we were afraid etc. But at the same time, this good opinion does not prevent more than 60% of people from saying yes, sometimes the police can be racist or discriminate, maybe ask for papers from young people in the neighborhoods, etc. So there are the two movements: we have a good opinion, but we find that sometimes it slips.

And what is difficult is that it actually seems that it is difficult for governments to accept that from time to time there are slippages that deserve sanction. We saw it during the “yellow vests” crisis, etc. And that this balance seems extremely difficult for public speaking to actually correspond to the expectations of citizens.

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The proposed law “Global security” with its article 24 on the supervision of the dissemination of images of police officers, images often taken during demonstrations, these images that we can all now capture with a telephone, images of police officers who can violate, or then police officers sometimes also victims of violence of course in these processions, they have a colossal power today?

They have colossal power, as Paris-Match said: “The weight of words, the shock of photos” … I think it’s a protection of freedoms because we see all the cases cited. Basically, if it had not been for these images, we can think that, for example, the black music producer would be in prison for assault. So, it is clear that these images protect. At the same time, they sum up. Because we only see a sequence shot, we don’t see what happens before, we don’t see what comes after. So, in a way, it gives power to an image or to a sequence over an event. So, it’s not necessarily the truth, but let’s say that I think it has become a protection of our freedoms, to film that.

The debate, it is not so much about filming, even if the minister had the awkwardness to say it. The debate is on how we use these images, and there, indeed, is the second subject. Personally, I believe that the freedom to film in a democratic society is protection. The fact afterwards, of use, that is what is complicated. But it is also complicated in the case of Samuel Paty, the fact of giving his name, his college, etc.

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Basically, how are we going to regulate the digital sphere so that it is not the site of attacks, in particular officials of authority, in particular teachers, etc. The digital world is almost without rules, in a society where there is contradiction and conflict. Maybe a digital law was enough, moreover, I’m not sure that the question of the police officer is very different from that of the teacher. But we can understand that if, when you are a police officer, you are a public figure in public action, then you can be filmed. As an individual, we have a neighborhood, a family, neighbors. So there, we know very well that this poses a problem. For me the problem is with digital, and there is a bit of confusion of topics.