French top court to rule on racial profiling for first time

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PARIS (AP) — A lawyer who claims French police carried out unjustified identity checks on 13 black and Arab men based only on their racial profiles asked the country’s highest court Tuesday to “make history” and rule for the first time that officers acted illegally.

Activist groups hope the much-awaited decision will end what they call routine discrimination by police against minorities. Ethnically-biased ID checks have long been cited as a prime reason for troubled relations between police and residents of poor suburbs.

Lawyer Thomas Lyon-Caen told the Cour de Cassation the ID checks in 2011 and 2012 violated the basic rights of his 13 clients and were discriminatory because a democratic state cannot “link delinquency to skin color.”

He said a study conducted by France’s National Center for Scientific Research has shown that blacks have 12 times more chance of being checked by police than whites, and those of Arab origin have 15 times more chance.

But the prosecutor at the hearing asked the supreme judges to declare only eight of the 13 cases illegal. He said the remaining five appear valid because the checks were based on “objective elements” and therefore not discriminatory.

The presiding judge said the top court’s ruling will be returned on Nov. 9. The decision is expected to set a legal precedent.

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