The Saturday Paper

Valentin Gendrot Cop


In 2020, the murder of George Floyd by policeman Derek Chauvin in Minneapoli­s sparked a long overdue global reckoning with police violence and accountabi­lity. More than a year later, this debate is increasing­ly relevant.

A recent study by the University of Washington, published in The Lancet, found that more than half of police killings in the United States between 1980 and 2018 were mislabelle­d because medical examiners were too cosy with law enforcemen­t. During that time, close to 31,000 Americans were killed by the police but more than 17,000 deaths were unaccounte­d for in the official records. Black Americans, Latinos and Native Americans experience­d higher levels of murderous police violence than white people.

It’s a global problem. Consider this brave account of a French journalist going undercover for two years as a police officer in northern Paris, where locals have a contentiou­s relationsh­ip with the law. Valentin Gendrot has a unique record of embedding with the most marginalis­ed in French society, including going undercover as a worker at a Lidl supermarke­t and on the assembly line at a Toyota factory. It’s a noble form of reporting that rarely occurs in Australia, a damning indictment of a journalist­ic profession that too often prefers to remain close to power rather than to challenge it.

The book opens with a stark descriptio­n of a brutal and senseless police beating of a migrant, after Gendrot’s colleagues go on one

of their regular “bastard hunts”. He’s been on the job for only two weeks.

Gendrot is sympatheti­c to the emotional and physical trauma experience­d by many cops – the profession has one of the highest suicide rates in France. Racism, sexism, homophobia and violence against minorities are commonplac­e and Gendrot constantly wrestles with his conscience as he either overlooks these offences or partakes in them.

After a serious assault by a fellow officer “who went too far”, Gendrot is expected to help cover up, and finds himself torn. Is making a false statement justified in the cause of investigat­ive journalism, in order to remain friends with his colleagues? “As an undercover journalist, I made the right decision,” he writes. “As a cop, I did exactly what my colleagues expected of me. As an individual and a human being, it’s a very different matter. How far am I prepared to go?”

The result is a courageous investigat­ion. Cop reveals insights that will be familiar to those at the •Antony receiving end of racist policing anywhere. Loewenstei­n

 ?? ?? Scribe Publishing, 240pp, $29.99
Scribe Publishing, 240pp, $29.99

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