Pam Barker | Director of TLB Europe Reloaded Project
Fraser Myers of Spiked Online put out a great little opinion piece on June 2, titled ‘Do French Lives Matter? Where was the outrage when police were maiming protesters in France?’
Watching the mass protests for France’s equivalent of George Floyd – Adama Traoré, 24 years of age and black, dead in 2016 after spending time in policy custody following two prior escapes to avoid questioning, invoked some disgust in me.
From November 17, 2018, for the next 72 Saturdays until the Virus Plandemic and lockdown took hold in March, 2020, France’s Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) had been protesting against the economic desperation and precarity of their lives. The videos and photos from that period, showing police repression of the average ordinary citizen up and down the country, of any age, skin color, background and profession – including members of the medical profession (see below), irony of ironies – were shocking. Here is Myers:
What is striking in this sudden outpouring of protest is how much it contrasts with the total indifference to the police violence which was, not long ago, on display week in, week out practically on our doorstep. I’m talking, of course, about the yellow-vest protests in France. The gilets jaunes revolt was the most significant and sustained period of unrest in France since 1968. But the protests themselves garnered disproportionately little media attention. And the many acts of police violence against the protesters raised barely any comment or condemnation whatsoever. The perception of a media blackout was so strong that fake-news stories spread online saying that the British government had actually banned our press from covering the gilets jaunes. (ER: these stories may not have been fake. We wouldn’t trust fullfact.org charity to set us straight on this.)
The scale of police violence was astonishing and stomach-churning. Between November 2018 and June 2019, according to figures compiled by Médiapart, 860 protesters were injured by the police – 315 suffered head injuries; 24 lost the use of an eye; and five had hands torn off. In December 2018, an elderly woman who had no involvement in the protests was killed when police threw a grenade into her flat. (ER: There were a handful of other deaths, too.)
Among these victims are not only protesters but also journalists and medics. Police have been filmed beating elderly and disabled people, as well as using tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. The main source of injuries was ‘Flashball’ rubber bullets (see image) – a non-lethal weapon that has been banned in every EU country except France. More than 13,000 of these bullets were fired in the first three months of the protests. Another extreme weapon used by police was the GLI-F4 – a teargas grenade which contains explosives that maimed numerous protesters. The grenade was eventually banned by the French government in early 2020.
Myers notes that the UN called for an investigation, while the EU wanted a complete halt to the use of the rubber bullet weapon; Amnesty denounced what it called disproportionate police methods. ‘Eventually, even the French government acknowledged it had a problem with police violence.’ Check out Myer’s short piece here.
It has to be said that the Yellow Vests have publicly protested in support of alleged police violence against Traoré. But watching a protest exclusively for this long-dead young man without including the many thousands of Yellow Vests – in other words, weaponizing the racial element – is laughable.
Among those many, consecutive weeks of police brutality, four things stuck out in my mind that weren’t on the level of dangerous weaponry and maiming, but yet were totally gratuitous acts of violence against vulnerable people who were in no way posing a physical threat. All were captured on video and distributed on social media at the time:
- A 30-something woman was walking non-threateningly towards an officer to clear the public street area, as instructed. He took the initiative, approached her very suddenly and karate-kicked her in the stomach, sending her crashing to the floor.
- Same event, a frail old man was walking slowly, holding onto a railing, because he’d been told to evacuate the area and was slowly complying. A policeman took him by the hair, pulled back his head and sprayed souped-up toxic pepper spray into his eyes. He couldn’t comply without help because he could no longer walk independently.
- A 70-something woman was protesting on a local residential street with a group of others, doing not very much in the way of physical action. Three fit young policemen wrestled her to the ground in seconds, pinning her down. She was shouting and screaming, likely shocked that in her own country such a thing could happen.
- A man was standing against the wall of a bank when a police officer, who later turned out to have a history of violence, grabbed him and started repeatedly punching him in the head. He had only been guilty of standing against a wall. The man was black, but given the massive scope of police violence against so many members of the general population, skin color was clearly irrelevant.
VIDEOS & PHOTOS
A 25-second video showing how a group of police deal with a single man: https://www.facebook.com/davidfonseca2007/videos/10214858170260209/
A 1 minute 40 second video showing a series of small altercations where people are getting pushed and hit by individual police officers: https://www.facebook.com/Cedricecile/videos/10213372174918712/
And saving the best for last, here’s a sample of police treatment of doctors and nurses when they held their own protest during June, 2019:
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