Earlier, Mr. Castaner had been careful to absolve the force as a whole of the accusations of systemic racism that have come from rights groups, lawyers and individuals. And he insisted that the police are a “republican” institution in France. Only a few “black sheep,” he said, sullied the national police with racism.
Mr. Castaner is popularly known as “France’s top cop,” in the French media and elsewhere, an appellation never disputed by interior ministers, who have titular authority over the national police force. Critics say the informal title means a French interior minister is too close to the force to ever enact true reforms.
Through months of citizen accusations of excessive force, well-publicized stories of serious injuries inflicted on protesters during the Yellow Vest movement, and more recently the racism accusations, the government had stood by the police.
“The unions and the police are used to very protective language from Christophe Castaner,” said Mathieu Zagrodzki, a police expert at the University of Versailles. “All through the Yellow Vest crisis, he said, the violence came from the protesters, not the police. Now, there’s a complete change in the discourse.”
But the suggestion of even mild change stung and angered the police force — especially the proposal to ban the chokehold. Late Friday the government announced it was maintaining its ban on chokeholds and said officers would no longer be allowed to press on a suspect’s neck. They could, however, continue to grab suspects from behind to bring them to the ground.
Cédric Chouviat, a delivery driver, died in January shortly after a police stop that escalated, during which officers pinned him to the ground and, according to one witness, put him in a stranglehold.