Macron struggles to respond to death of Jérémy Cohen, the new symbol of France’s out-of-control crime problem

Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP
By John Cody
5 Min Read

The death of Jewish man Jérémy Cohen has become a flashpoint in France’s presidential election, with President Emmanuel Macron’s rivals pointing to the man’s death as the latest evidence of a France that is becoming increasingly dangerous under his tenure.

Macron has struggled to respond after harrowing video of Cohen’s death was reportedly leaked by the victim’s father. The 30-year-old was violently attacked by a large group of youths in mid-February, and then in his attempt to run away, was struck by a tram in Bobigny in the Paris suburbs. The area is known as a “lawless” zone and features one of the highest concentrations of Middle Eastern migrants in France. Although it has not been proven whether the attack was antisemitic, the man was described as nearly always wearing his yarmulke, and even sleeping with it on, according to friends and family.

While the death of Cohen dramatically entered the public debate earlier in the week, Macron only reacted to the man’s death on Tuesday after public pressure grew, and he could no longer ignore the tragedy.

“We were all shocked by the scenes that have been made public,” Macron said, expressing his alleged solidarity and support for the relatives, who, by his words, experienced “something awful.”

Macron, perhaps sensing his lead is slipping in the polls, is struggling to address concerns over rising crime and mass migration, two areas he has been hit hard on and two problems that have only grown during his presidency. Just days before Sunday’s election, Macron said that France is “not overwhelmed” by mass migration, although a range of polls show that the vast majority of French people disagree. In particular, two-thirds of French people consider that immigration has a negative effect in terms of overall security and crime, and 53 percent of the French believes it maximizes the risk of terrorism. 

Claims that security fears are not grounded in reality and only promoted by scaremongers to create a false public perception are inaccurate. As French government crime data shows, 2021 saw a dramatic increase in rape, drug use, and physical assault. More broadly speaking, murder and attempted murder have jumped 91 percent since 2000.

Macron accused of using empty rhetoric as his lead shrinks

Many French see the country’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, as right behind Macron as the public face of France’s soft-on-crime policy. As a result, Darmanin has also been forced to step up his rhetoric over the issue, as he has countless times before over similar tragedies, including the beheading of Samuel Paty by a Chechen Islamist radical and various other terror attacks that continue to plague the country.

“Justice must win,” Darmanin said after a judicial investigation started on Mar. 29.

Macron also picked up on the theme of “justice.”

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“Justice carries out its work independently, and we respect it. I guarantee it. And I understand that the prosecutor has chosen to speak in the coming hours. I think it is a good thing,” the French president said, saying that it would be best if the investigation concludes as quickly as possible for the sake of transparency.

Recalling that his office contacted the parents of the 30-year-old Jewish man on Monday evening, the head of state claimed that the ministers have obviously been following the file from the start, according to Le Figaro.

The death of Cohen was brought to the public attention by Éric Zemmour, who met with the victim’s father on Tuesday. The presidential candidate criticized what he considered to be Macron’s attempts to assuage the public over Cohen’s death during the campaign.

“There are human tragedies every day. They must not give rise to political manipulation of any kind,” Macron had asserted while trying to downplay the tragedy.

Le Pen has also decried the death of Cohen, writing, “What was presented as an accident could be an antisemitic murder,” and then asking: “How should we explain the silence on this affair and its motivations?”

The French head to the polls on April 10, with Macron and Le Pen expected to head to the second round. Macron’s lead has dramatically shrunk in recent days, with an Atlas-Politico poll placing Le Pen ahead of Macron for the first time ever.

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