A resident of Paris’s 17th arrondissement sent our team two photos taken from their window that show an American Confederate flag displayed in the window of the police barracks across the street. This flag, which was the battle emblem for a slave-holding society and is considered racist, has particular resonance against a backdrop of global Black Lives Matters protests that have sparked discussions in France about its own problem with racist policing.
UPDATED 10/07/2020 : added an image capture from Google Street View dated from July 2014
These photos were taken around 9pm on June 30. They clearly show a Confederate flag displayed in a second-floor window of the police barracks on 46 boulevard Bessières in Paris.
“In these two photos, you can see the Confederate flag (a racist symbol) on the far left on the second floor. In my opinion, this symbol has no place in police barracks,” wrote the person who sent us these photos.
We verified the photos using metadata in the original photo files, which our Observer sent to us by email. This metadata indicates the precise coordinates of where the photo was taken along with the date, time and mobile phone model that was used.
This screengrab shows metadata confirming when and where the photos were taken.
A police officer told our team that he was aware of “this story about the flag,” although he said that he didn’t see it with his own eyes and that he didn’t want to make a statement.
On July 1, our team contacted the Paris police department to ask about this flag and if the person who had displayed it had been sanctioned in any way. The police didn’t respond to our email, despite several follow-up calls. We will update this page with their response if they do send one.
The day after the publication of this article, a reader informed us that the Confederate flag has appeared at least one other time in the same window. You can see it on this Google Street View from an adjacent street in an image capture dated July 2014. In image captures in the following years, the flag is missing.
A racist symbol
Today, the Confederate flag is widely seen as a symbol for racist and white supremacist ideology. It was popular among members of the Ku Klux Klan, a secret white supremacist terrorist organisation founded by former officers of the Confederate Army.
After a white man shot and killed nine Black Americans at a bible study in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, many people advocated for the removal of the Confederate flag from public buildings in the state. At the time, historian Nicole Bacharan told the French daily newspaper Libération that the flag was “widely used by segregationists protesting the civil rights movement in the 1960s […] It’s clearly a racist symbol, used by the far right and sometimes by pro-gun groups”.
Our team spoke with Sébastien Bourdon, an independent journalist who specialises in the far right. He says that, in Europe, the Confederate flag is not as well-known as the Nazi swastika and other Nazi symbols, but it is still widely used in nationalist circles.
A lot of people who are affiliated with the far right in France hang up Confederate flags in their homes or display them during parties or gatherings. I have never seen one in the premises of these organisations, but there are very few images shared of these places. Members of the French far right have a long history of using the Confederate flag, as do some football hooligans, like those in Nancy. Recently, one of the most well-known French nationalist cartoonists, La Cagoule, included a Confederate flag in a drawing.
La Cagoule, a nationalist artist, posted an image of this drawing called “White Brother” on Telegram on March 25. It features the Confederate flag on the right, and, on the left, a “Totenkopf”, which was the symbol of a division of the Waffen-SS, Nazi military forces.
‘It’s likely a reaction to the moment’
Noam Anouar is a representative for the Vigi police union and a brigadier in Île-de-France. He says he wasn’t surprised at all to see this flag on display.
This flag was displayed facing the street in a very deliberate way. It’s probably a reaction to the current moment [Editor’s note: Global Black Lives Matter protests after the police killing of George Floyd and discussions of systemic racism]. But what shocked me the most was that, very likely, the person or persons who did this didn’t face any consequences. I very much doubt there was any kind of investigation into this.
I myself spoke out against a racist email that was sent by the leadership of the border police, as well as a poster for a show by Dieudonné [Editor’s note: Controversial comedian Dieudonné has been accused of anti-Semitism]that was displayed in a police station in Mesnil-Amelot in 2017, but nothing happened.
The Confederate flag in other police stations
A photo posted onTwitter on October 23, 2014 showed then-Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve visiting a police station in the 14th arrondissement of Paris that had a Confederate flag on display. In the ensuing debate, the Paris police played down the incident, claiming that the officer who had displayed the flag was just a fan of the United States and that it didn’t have any political connotation, according to Paris daily newspaper Le Parisien.
A TV report that was broadcast on France 3 Nouvelle-Aquitaine in June 2019 showed a Confederate flag hanging up in a police station in Niort.
In the past few weeks, independent media outlet Streetpress and the Arte Radio podcast published some of the anti-semitic, racist, xenophobic and misogynistic messages exchanged in police Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who has since been replaced by Gérald Darmanin, called on the Paris public prosecutor to investigate “unacceptable statements which [if proved]would compromise the honour of the police and the national gendarmerie, whose men and women work every day to protect the French people, including against racism and discrimination”.