A first-hand account of an unpermitted march by the cops in Paris
Translators intro: This article really wants to insist on the actions of the police being illegal and on the problem being “police impunity”, not policing itself. But in spite of these weaknesses, it’s still worth reading and discussing. Although this kind of discourse is annoying, here the talk of legality can be understood a bit differently, because the police aren’t just any group of people. Of course, the police break the law all the time — the law is a weapon in their hands, not something that binds them, and as anarchists we shouldn’t uphold the myth of the just (or the accountable) cop. But it is worth noticing when a mass of police feel that they can openly break the law, disobeying the minister of the interior, to march armed on government buildings at night.
The police marches are, most immediately, a response to a molotov attack against some cops who were guarding a surveillance camera that had been getting destroyed. The police started rallying in front of the hospital where one of the injured cops was being treated and then leaving from there on marches. Similar rallies by the police outside of their union structure are being held in most big French cities
For the past four days, the police have been illegally protesting in the streets of Paris each night. On Wednesday (October 19, 2016), their meet-up was set for 9:30pm in Republic Square. Some friends decided to go down and show their opposition to the gathering. First off, we were very few, at most fifty, and not nearly enough to confront the growing crowd of police, from 200 to a thousand. Here’s the story of a strange night caught between the state of emergency and the scent of mutiny.
The atmosphere was strange, there in Republic Square, where on one side a rally of Colombians was wrapping up, while on another a Jewish celebration was being held, and where a skatepark has sprung up in the same place where the General Assemblies for Nuit Debout were held this spring.
All the police cars that we watched arrive weren’t there to monitor the march, but rather to take part. Then the mobile gendarmerie (1) got their riot gear out and made several attempts to encircle anyone who looked like a counter-protester.
A strange dance unfolded, there in Republic Square, very silent, lulling us into a daze. The police who were present mostly seemed to be from the BAC (2), with their caps, lanyards, masks, and police armbands clearly visible. These rallies give us cold shivers, and so far no cop has been sanctioned, even though these rallies are forbidden and the profession isn’t allowed to demonstrate while on duty. Tonight, there are both on and off duty cops present.
In answer to the question, “Just what are you asking for?”, a group of police told me, “For the 35 hour work week. We’re temps at McDonalds and they’re making us put in 38 hours.” Following this answer, as sincere as Cahuzac (3) caught with his hand in the cookie jar, they turned away from me.
After a while, finally, we came to grips with the frightening spectacle and started into some chants, like “Siamo tutti antifascisti”(4) and the ever so famous “Everyone hates the police”. This awakening was liberatory, in that we could quite legitimately feel oppressed, surveilled, with the police taking up so much space, but it provoked an immediate reaction from the mobile gendarmerie who tried to surround us and chased us around the square. Our crew ran and dispersed. In passing, some groups of BAC pigs decide to take action without getting too involved — one hit me in the leg and tried to grab my shoulder.
In front of the bar/restaurant “La Taverne”, a man who I immediately took for a cop asked us what was happening. While I realized that in the group around me, there was only one of the friends with whom I’d come, a youth answered him, explaining about the cop demo and the counter-demo. The kid didn’t notice the cop opening his coat and taking his gun out of the holster. He told us to fuck off, his hand on the grip in plain sight, in the middle of the street, alone. I quickly reacted to move our buddy away while the cop told us pretty fiercely to leave, the gun still half way out of the holster, his hand still on the grip, as he walked towards Republic Square. At this point, we got nervous and started trying to check in with everyone.
During the same time period, a group of friends all got detained and ID’d together at the top of Voltaire blvd and another friend, alone and running for his life, was followed by a truck and two cars. He got detained by ten cops, one of whom was particularly aggressive and made him put his hands on the wall and kicked him in the knee. Finally, they let him go.
We went back to Voltaire blvd to support our pals who were kind of being kettled. The cops were letting them out one by on, but the captain came over to intimidate us, telling us to get out of there and threatening, “Back off or else your friends won’t be released.”
Unfortunately, in spite of our attempts at discussion and our explanations of the illegality of what was happening, we finally gave in and obeyed. Our comrades were released one by one, after showing ID and being searched.
As we regrouped, we felt sadness, frustration, rage. The cops continued their march to the Élysée (5) and were only held back by the mobile gendarmerie at the Élysée itself. Take a minute to imagine any other section of society daring to try to the same thing, even without any acts of sabotage or violence, how quickly they would feel the repression come down, with arrests, tear gas…
Here, nothing at all, even though it was an illegal, armed demonstration.
And so, those who club, gas, and repress at every turn, causing ever more injuries from ever more illegal acts, now move on to open illegality, forbidding even the slightest opposition while crossing Paris (from Republic to the Arc de Triomphe) without even one second of worry. The state did not respond. But it’s a real mutiny though, of a kind that has rarely been positive. Maybe, without knowing it, they’re acting as a militia. Why else demonstrate while openly armed?
Some are masked up, which remains illegal, as those protestors who have been arrested for covering their faces in public know. Their badges aren’t visible. These further illegal acts almost make them clandestine. Without going so far as to speak of a coup d’état, the atmosphere is truly grim and the risk of them continuing to gain strength is distressing.
That they’d be fed up with being the tools of desperate politicians is understandable. But that that some of them are calling for harsher sentences for minor crimes and that court decisions be based even more so on their recommendations is worrying.
To those of you who don’t reject the Republic and its values, do you still consider these cops to be republicans when they’re calling to reduce the separation of powers, thereby attacking one of the pillars of the Republic?
To all of us, it’s obvious that we haven’t been able to react collectively. That said, how do we respond to these unpermitted demonstrations by the police? I think we need to find a collective answer to this question.
We need to bring the debate back to the state of emergency, its uselessness, and the thousands of abuses it has permitted, or to the weapons and impunity of the police. Because very few cops realize that the hate they’re shown is the result of their own actions, of their impunity. They are the only profession exposed only to administrative sanctions when they kill or blind someone in a situation that posed them no risk. If a teacher raises a hand against a student, they’d be fired. On the other hand, a death in custody is no problem. As long as they don’t understand that this impunity is also one of the sources of their problems, the root of the problem will remain. Or we head towards a police state… And the “scandal” provoked by some anti-police tags and these night marches don’t convince us this isn’t where things are headed (6).
It’s a serious task. What we are seeing now in the streets of Paris is maybe just a taste of what we might have to get used to in the years to come. An episode of “Là-bas si j’y suis” (7) described France as a laboratory of repression and an experiment on the role of police in society. And this is yet another fine example.
There is no shortage of reasons to revolt. Let’s get organized, we can’t afford to stay quiet.
1) The gendarmes are a military-style policing body, separate from the regular police. This mobile gendermerie can be deployed anywhere on the French territory, rather than being confined to a specific region.
2) The Anti-Criminality Brigade – the pigs in the demo who aren’t in uniform and single out people to attack. Goon squad.
3) A former minister involved in a scandal about tax fraud
4) “We are all antifascist”, in case you really refuse to understand Italian
5) Presidential palace
6) Some anti-police tags have been going up in universities in downtown Paris
7) A well-known daily radio show and podcast that deals with social movements. The clip in question is here