A State of Emergency That Does Not Say His Name
According to Vincent Brengarth, a lawyer at the Paris Bar, in recent years we have been witnessing a disturbing drift in police repression in France, more specifically since November 2015 when the state of emergency was pronounced and extended several times, before being integrated into common law. We would henceforth be under “a state of emergency that does not say its name,” with preventive arrests only based on suspicion, without concrete evidence of an offence.
Figures from the Ministry of Law Enforcement
On Saturday, 8th December, the “Yellow Vests” movement maintained its progress as it gathered a total of 136,000 demonstrators throughout the country (including nearly 10,000 in Paris), a comparable level on Saturday the 1stof December while 106,301 people were counted during the previous weekend, according to the, regularly underestimated, figures of the Ministry of the Interior. In the wake of the mobilisation on the 1st of December, the Minister Christophe Castaner was quick to review the figures of the 24th of November, as he re-evaluated the number of protesters to 166,000 people instead of the previously announced 106,000. We may notice this jump of nearly 60,000 people that suddenly appeared in the Department’s own numbers, an accounting manipulation that allows to say that the movement is decreasing…
Paris on insurgent alert
For this fourth Saturday of demonstrations for the Yellow Vests, 89,000 members of the so-called “law” enforcement authorities were mobilised, including 8,000 in Paris, supported by 14 “VBRG” (Véhicules Blindés à Roues de la Gendarmerie – Wheeled Armoured Vehicles of the Gendarmerie). The tension was palpable. In the capital, 36 metro stations were closed to the public, many shops did not raise their curtains and the doors of a dozen museums (including the Louvre, the musée d’Orsay, the Grand Palais, the musée de l’Homme or the Museum of Modern Art) as well as other iconic tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Catacombs or the Arc de Triomphe, remained closed. Performance halls, from the Opéra to the Comédie-Française, to the Théâtre Marigny and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées cancelled their performances.
A massive wave of arrests took place this Saturday, 8th December, the fourth Saturday or act IV of the mobilisation of the “Yellow Vests” movement. Arrests were made in which the police confiscated vials of physiological saline, brought to help and relieve people asphyxiated by tear gas, protection masks, cyclist helmets, etc. Stealing the protective material from the protesters aroused indignation and added fuel to the fire. Despite being non-violent, with the legitimate intention of protecting themselves from the violence of the weapons used by the police, these intimidations end up prompting them to no longer “remain peaceful, since it is useless”, as confided by Jean-Philippe interviewed by Mediapart.
In the capital, the race for arrests was in full swing. We went from 121 arrests at 7:30 in the morning to 575 at 2 pm. Police stations very quickly became saturated. Finally, on the day of Saturday, 8th December, police forces arrested 1,723 people participating in the movement, including 1,082 in Paris alone, which resulted in 820 in police custody. A young mother delivered a damning testimony when she found herself in custody without having been accused of anything and without being able to breastfeed her four-month-old baby. “It’s a state of emergency that does not say its name, a misuse of power for the benefit of the judiciary,” insists the lawyer registered with the Bar of Paris, Vincent Brengarth. Since the start of the Yellow Vest movement in mid-November, the French police have carried out 4,523 arrests, of which 4,099 resulted in police custody.
Florent Compain, president of Friends of the Earth – France, and Denys Crolotte, of the Movement for a nonviolent alternative, were arrested in the procession of the Climate March in Nancy. Their only crime was to have organised and held a demonstration despite the ban made by the Prefecture. It proved to be a real success, gathering between 1,000 and 1,500 people. Here too, it seems that bringing “an answer to the problems of the end of the world as much as the problems of the end of the month” to converge the national stakes of the mobilisation have not been to the taste of the police who have done everything possible to avoid this convergence on the ground. But, supporters have multiplied and the police station switchboard collapsed beneath phone calls. Denys and Florent were finally released after being detained in custody for more than 21 hours by the police. They face a possible six-month prison sentence and a 7,500 euros fine.
In the meantime, the complaints lodged loom large as we celebrate, on 10th December, the 70thanniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 9 of which states: “No one shall be arbitrarily arrested, detained or exiled.”
Violence, let’s talk about it!
Saturday, 1stDecember, while protests were held throughout France, Zineb Redouane, an 80 year old woman, was in her apartment on the fourth floor of 12, rue des Feuillants, adjacent to la Canebière in Marseille. Suddenly, as she was about to close her shutters she received a tear gas bomb in her face, shot during incidents on la Canebière after the demonstrations. Her neighbour Nadjia Takouche, listened to the old lady’s description of events while she was transported to La Timone hospital, then to Conception Hospital, to be operated on. “But how could they fire on the fourth floor? The police took a good aim at me. They fired with a gun, then got into the car and left. Maybe they thought I was filming with a mobile,” she wondered before dying a few hours later, in the operating room of Conception Hospital, on Sunday, 2nd December. A judicial investigation, yet another, will be entrusted by the prosecutor to the IGPN, the police of the police.
A few days later, young people from Simone-de-Beauvoir High School in Garges-lès-Gonesse demonstrated on 5th December, 2018 against Parcoursup in front of their High School. One of them, Issam, a final-grade student aged 17, was hit by a Flash-Ball shot and collapsed in front of his teacher Mathieu Barraquier, with his cheek ripped open. On the same day, 16-year-old Oumar was seriously injured by a shot from a Flash-Ball (lanceur de balles de défense – LBD), at the door of lycée Jacques-Monod high school in Saint-Jean-de-Braye, near Orléans. On the next day, the 6th of December, came the shocking news of the arrest of 151 young people in Mantes-la-Jolie. On images that went viral on the Internet, students were lined up, kneeling on the ground, hands on their heads or handcuffed with Rilsan (plastic bracelets), under the surveillance of armed agents. A policeman was distinctly heard commenting on the scene: “Here’s a class that knows how to keep quiet.” The same day, 6th December, some 130 former high school students engaged in the movements of 1968, 1977, 1986, 1990, 1994, 2000, 2005 or 2013 under the various governments of General De Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy or Francois Hollande sounded the alarm. “A step has been taken” towards further repression, they worried.
Two days later, Fiorina, a 20-year-old student from Amiens, and Thomas, also aged 20, a student from Nîmes, were badly wounded in the face by rubber bullets on the Champs-Élysées. Le Front de Mères, the first parent’s union in the lower-income neighbourhoods, has published a forumin which parents denounce “the infamous police repression worthy of a dictatorship” suffered by their children. Le Front de mères claims to be “in solidarity with the legitimate demands of our children, who refuse to comply with “reform” after “reform” that restrict their fields of possibilities and their future prospects, (…) in solidarity with their claims against Parcoursup, the “reform” of the bac, the elimination of 2,600 positions since September, and discrimination in the school system. They demand that “the right of our children to protest and express themselves” be respected and supports the complaints lodged by lawyers of high school students who are the victims of police violence. Finally, le Front de mères calls for the protection of its children by intervening as shields against the police, because: “A country where children are terrorised is heading towards dictatorship and fascism.”
At the rally in Bordeaux on 8th December, Antoine, 26, had his right hand amputated after the explosion of a grenade he was trying to return to “the law enforcement”. 32 other protesters were injured. Antoine was probably mutilated by a GLI-F4 explosive grenade, a weapon made up of 25 grams of TNT and tear gas, which reaches 165 decibels when it explodes, louder than a plane taking off and that only France uses in Europe in its operations to “maintain public order”. “I don’t exactly blame the cops,” says Antoine, “but this system that has left people arming themselves in such a way against other people who are not at all ready to face that. However, as early as the 30th of November, a group of lawyers of people wounded by this type of ammunition sent an open letter to the Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, in which they called on him to stop the use of this grenade in view of the protest planned for the next day, the 1stof December. “Despite the fact that since 2016, both le Défenseur des droits (the Defender of Rights) and Christians Against Torture (ACAT) have sounded the alarm about the use of these firearms, the State continues to make extensive use of these explosive grenades at the risk of mutilating or even killing”, they denounced in their letter. For now, the only answer to this letter is the indiscriminate repression of a government in disarray. The collective plans to bring appeals before the administrative court. “In a joint report dated 2014, the Inspectorate General of the National Gendarmerie, as well as that of the National Police, indicate that these grenades are likely to mutilate or mortally injure,” says Raphael Kempf, one of the lawyers of the collective. “Whether on the area to defend Bure (Meuse) or Notre-Dame-des-Landes (Loire-Atlantique), this grenade has already resulted in many wounded…” denounces Aïnoha Pascual, the lawyer of Gabriel, another demonstrator who had half his hand torn off on 24th November.
Confiscated protective equipment, rights of the press violated
Several photo-reporters said they had their work equipment confiscated. The photographer Véronique de Viguerie told L’Express how the protective equipment of this journalist were confiscated by the police, making her vulnerable in the heart of Saturday’s demonstrations. “I arrived in front of the Louvre and there were four boys sitting on a pavement. They had just been stopped by the police. I took a picture and that’s when the police approached me. They searched me, told me to turn around. I showed my press card and reminded them that I was a journalist. But they took my bag, in which I had two snowboard helmets, which had “press” written on them with tape, two snowboard masks and two painting masks.”
Four journalists’ unions, the SNJ, the SNJ-CGT, the CFDT and FO, asked on Monday, 10th December to be received “urgently” by Emmanuel Macron after “inadmissible blunders” made by the police, especially in Paris, against field reporters and photographers on the sidelines of the Yellow Vests demonstration. They “demand explanations from the police headquarters, the Ministry of the Interior and the government on the instructions given to arrive at this situation”. “From 8 am on Saturday, many press photographers, clearly identified as such, had their personal protective equipment (helmets, goggles, gas mask) confiscated, sometimes under the threat of being taken into police custody”, they wrote in a joint statement. Among the wounded journalists on Saturday, the 8th of December, two Parisien photographers were targeted by Flash-Ball, one of them, Yann Foreix, was the target of a shot in the back by a policeman, at a distance of two metres. Same scenario for Boris Kharlamoff, a photographer from the agency A2PRL, also hit in the back by a rubber projectile fired by a plainclothes policeman. A Le Journal du dimanche photographer, Eric Dessons, was hospitalised for a fracture in his hand after being hit twice by a CRS policeman and a Reuters photographer was hit by a flash-ball shot in Bordeaux. Also in Paris, on Saturday, 8th December, the reporter of the famous radio show, Là-bas si j’y suis, Gaylord Van Wymeersch, was attacked by an agent of the BAC (anti-crime squads of the National Police deployed on a huge scale in civilian clothing, with or without armband) who gave him a blow from a truncheon and broke his phone. His colleague, Dillah Teibi, recorded the scene.
Finally, when a Republican law enforcement officer spoke to an independent photographer, covering the protests, in these terms: “If you want to stay alive, then go back home! You’ve got no business being here! “, then we can ask questions about the maintenance of the Republican order. Macron, in his speech of 10th December, spoke exclusively of the violence of the “thugs”, without even mentioning the countless victims wounded by the lethal weapons of the police. However, the provisional record of the fourth Saturday of 8th December demonstration is heavy: 264 wounded including 39 police, greater than the previous week of 229 wounded including 28 police officers. Hospitals in Paris took care of 170 wounded, compared with 162 on the 1stof December. In all, since the beginning of the movement in mid-November, nearly a thousand people have been injured and sometimes very seriously. A non-exhaustive list of the serious injuries of these last demonstrations prepared by the Désarmons-les! collective sends a shiver down the spine. It mentions 3 hands amputated by GLI F4 grenades and at least 4 eyes gouged out by LBD 40 shots.
Unfortunately, to cope with such an influx of wounded, of which we list only too few, the health services suffer from a glaring lack of resources that could easily be mobilised by restoring the ISF – Impôt sur la fortune (wealth tax) for example. Following the demonstration on 8th December, the Association of Users and Health Personnel (AUP’S) revolted in a statement against the fact that the human resources and material resources intended to treat people with dignity are reduced from year to year, while “People die in emergency services or sleep on camp beds for lack of space.” The association says it is preparing to go down the street again and demonstrate with the Yellow Vests.
Note Bene, 16th December, 2018: The arms manufacturer Jean Verney-Carron, general manager of the eponymous company that invented the famous Flash-Ball (the Verney-Carron company, in Saint-Etienne, employs 90 employees and represents 15 million euros in turnover), said in a statement that the Flash-Ball is no longer used by the police and begs the journalists to no longer mention it regarding the repression of the current social movement. The brand Flash-Ball is however reproduced here in this text according to the journalistic sources that use it. It should be noted however that the Flash-Ball, in use since 1995, has effectively been replaced by the LBD 40, a machine of the same kind but much more dangerous as it is more precise and more powerful. In addition, the Flash-Ball, after having seriously injured many demonstrators, including Alexandre and Bruno de Villiers-le-Bel who lost an eye in 2009, is now intended for export for keeping the peace operations abroad. As with the methods of counterrevolutionary war used by the French army during the Algerian war, then taught in the United States and Latin America to support the dictatorships in place, French equipment and know-how in repression cross the borders.
Sources : Le Canard enchaîné, 12th December 2018, Le Parisien, 9th December 2018 and the book by Marie-Monique Robin, Escadrons de la mort, l’école française, 2004, reissue poche 2008.
Translation by Jenny Bright.