Last updated on 28th July 2019
The first-aid workers of the demonstrations felt particularly targeted by the police last Saturday (March 30th). This upsurge in repression that they denounce raises many questions about the continuation of the movement. Their testimonies converge with the vision of an autonomous collective of police officers.
The Street Medics fear very harsh police repression against them, in this act 20 of the Yellow Vests. Yet Sophie – aka “Pitchounette” – had forced respect last Saturday. Small and slender, but very determined, this 26-year-old first-aid worker helped a 47-year-old brigadier-in-chief who suffered a heart attack at the end of the demonstration at the Place de la République in Paris. She did not fear to impose herself while the police officers surrounding their unfortunate colleague had just pushed back her teammates: “I am a first-aid worker and I have equipment”. On the spot, with a civilian doctor and a policeman, she de-equipped the victim, still conscious but breathing with difficulty. “The procedure took time because of the kilos of equipment that had to be removed”. When the policeman fell unconscious, the cardiac massages of the doctor, then the policeman, were alternated with the insufflations made by Sophie. By radio, the medic sent one of her teammates to search for a defibrillator in the area, before the firefighters arrived to take charge of the officer’s cardiac arrest.
This rare image of collaboration between Street Medics and law enforcement corresponds in essence to what spurs on most of these volunteers in the heart of the yellow processions: the neutrality of care. In short: if, in fact, they treat a majority of protesters, the medics intervene in the same way for the police who need them. “I did not think, there was urgency. Even though thirty minutes earlier, 500 meters away, a policeman had targeted and gassed me for nothing!” adds Sophie, speaking about a “black sheep”. “I fully respect the work of the police. When I hear the slogans ‘Cops: pigs, assassins!’ it irritates me as much as the tear gas!” she added.
If Christophe Castaner later congratulated the policeman and the firefighters who rescued the brigadier, he did not have a word for the medic. Not even thanks from the police unions. Sophie has so far had no response to the email sent to the prefecture to hear from the victim. “I had notified the number of the police officer to prove that I was present at the intervention,” said the medic, who sees little consideration for civilians, while the doctor was also not cited and thanked. Only the Autonomous Collective of Police of Ile-de-France (CAP IDF; this collective is dependant on the Union of Independent National Police officers – UPNI), very touched by the medic/police pair, thanked the action of the doctor and the medic on his Facebook page. With nearly 4000 shares, the publication of the police association sparked a wave of praise for the medic, who didn’t expect it. Contacted on March 28th by a member of the collective, Sophie said: “This is the first policeman who called me to thank me. On behalf of his association and on behalf of many of his colleagues. I must say that it feels good. We do not do this to receive a medal, but the silence of the authorities and the police annoys me a little.”
Close to the movement of Yellow Vests in which it “identifies itself with”, CAP IDF does not hide that its very committed positions “ruffle the police unions”. “We have enemies but many of our colleagues, from the grassroots to the rank and file and bosses, support us. They will not say it openly, because they fear the reprisals of the hierarchy and the unions,” explained a policeman of the association, before adding: “We are for understanding between the medics and the police force, because we know that they are indispensable for providing first aid. They saved lives when firefighters could not access the victims. It is also thought that they rescued many of our colleagues. If we can be in touch with some medics, we will do it. We are already in contact with some Yellow Vests.”
However, the policeman noted: “There is a medic and a ‘medic’. The majority of them are pros and we are there to facilitate their work in the field, but some call themselves medics when they are not at all or are very virulent vis-à-vis colleagues who do not really know who they are dealing with. Relationships are sometimes tense.”
They were indeed very tense last Saturday (March 30th), while Act 19 took place quietly. Much less protesters and “Black Block” than the previous Saturday, little material damage… It had nothing in common with the “ultimatum” act. Yet, everywhere in France, the medics felt targeted by the police. Medic since the beginning of the movement, Vanessa, 36, an ambulance worker and firefighter, was in Toulouse last weekend. “During these past few weeks, when the Yellow Vests increased the pressure a bit, it has been felt that the relationship with the police is degrading. Last weekend, we were definitely the number one target of the Anti-Crime Brigade! They blocked us from accessing the victims, sprayed gas at us, fired tear gas at our bags, our helmets, confiscated all our protection (goggles, helmets, masks) to prevent us from intervening…”
In Nice, Melissa, 18, spent 5 days being incapacitated. In her live FaceBook videos she appears with a neck brace and a knee brace. She explains firstly that she was surprised by the aggressiveness of the police that day. “The Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité spoke to us very badly: ‘get away, get out of there!'”. When she went to the commissioner to tell them that her medics team was there for them if they had a problem, he answered: “I am in charge, you have nothing to say to me. We do not need you, medics”. Later, when the demonstration degenerated, near the train station, she received a shower of blows on her leg while she was rescuing an elderly lady on the ground, suffocating under the gas. With one blow, the knee of the medic was fractured, according to the doctors of the hospital, who were quite shocked.
Nouvelle vidéo qui appuie les témoignages des secouristes volontaires du 06 #Nice sur les faits, au sujet des médics qui ont été empêchés d’intervenir (sur la dame âgée) par « un policier portant un brassard tricolore sur lui » #ActeXIX #GiletsJaunes (Source Alexander S. YouTube) pic.twitter.com/IYFefrFWQV— Street Medic France (Média) (@CStreetmedic) March 25, 2019
Always in Nice, Thierry, hospital and first-aid worker, was part of the medics who left in handcuffs and spent nine hours in custody. They wanted to help Geneviève Legay, the “Attac” activist who was knocked down by the police, at Place Garibaldi, but the Commissioner’s order prevented them. “You have equipment that we do not have. It is the state prosecutor who will appreciate it”. Three days after the event, the hospital worker is still upset: “We could have given this lady first aid, it was terrible to prevent us from going … It’s the non-assistance for anyone in danger! This is not my France, these are not the values that I inculcate in my children. Even the police officers were uncomfortable”. For him, it was a “matter of commandment”: “The commissioner panicked! Us and the police of the Anti-Crime Brigade know each other. When they saw us leaving, they said, ‘But no! We are not going to detain the medics! Many whispered to us that they were sorry’.”
“It was the worst Saturday!”, said Freddy, 40, a graduate first aid worker, who has attended the Parisian demonstrations since act 4. “We were even more hunted down than the Black Block!” Originating from the “working class quarters”, the medic is exigent when it comes to training his teams: identity, accreditation, maintenance, and trial period. “It’s like in a business. I cannot imagine others taking risks because of dissidents who do not respect the ethics of the medics and who mess things up“. Freddy had to run “several kilometers” with very heavy equipment at the moment when the Yellow Vests arrived on the Grands Boulevards and around Place de la République. “I’ve never had so much pressure on me. There were rows of men in black without registration or insignia. I wondered if they were European forces. They were not here to shoot flash balls or to disperse, but to barrage”. Along with other medics, he found himself trapped in the street after evacuating a family caught in the demo. “The quarter was segmented by the police, we were trapped. The men in black did not leave us alone, we had to cross the car park of the Saint-Louis hospital to escape them,” said Freddy, who finally sheltered, with his teammates, in a cafe. “The boss opened his doors for us and offered to swap our clothes for civilian ones.” Freddy said that afterwards a man entered the bar and passed in front of them with his telephone was glued to his ear. Two men riding a scooter parked in front of the terrace, tapping away on their mobiles. The man joined them, made a call, and the three finally left. “Certain medics are wanted,” said Freddy, convinced that they were plainclothes policemen. “All of France came to Paris for the ultimatum act. The medic teams were numerous. Certain elements had unacceptable behavior,” he explained.
“The medics say they are derailed by small networks that tarnish their image. This is the same principle in the Yellow Vests. This is also true among the police, where some colleagues are obtuse and others more open,” said the police officer of CAP IDF. Asked about the amalgamation between Yellow Vests and medics in the management of law and order, the police confided that “since the appointment of Didier Lallement to the Paris Prefecture, the watchword is to go for contact”.
Former companion of a police officer, Celine considers that these acts of repression against the medics may eventually do a disservice to the police, who will not win the sympathy of the protesters. Responsible for collecting, coordinating, and reporting information from several networks of medics on the ground, she explains: “Since the beginning of the movement, despite the arrests and harassment of medics, we played the game vis-à-vis law enforcement: we clearly identified ourselves, we communicated with them to install trust between us, and we were not the first to denounce the police violence. Today, the medics are shot like rabbits. We do not understand.”
“I think it’s purely strategic from the side of the Anti-Crime Brigade, because they proceed from the principle that if there are no more medics, the movement will weaken,” said Vanessa. “By targeting the first-aid workers, they are destroying the morale of the troops,” added Thierry. All the medics interviewed feel that there is the desire to “break the movement”. It is a possible strategy that is confirmed by the policeman of CAP IDF: “Like it or not, we are in the domain of police repression. Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité and the Anti-Crime Brigade are more repressive than gendarmes or the military. The authorities want to scare the medics so that they are less and less numerous on the field. If there are fewer caregivers, it can dampen the protesters.”
For now, it has had the opposite effect, because everyone was on the ground for act 20. “They’re wrong when they think they’re weakening the movement, because when you take out a medic, there are two who will take their place There is a special solidarity between us and we know that the people, including the police, need us. The authorities must understand that we are a link in the chain and they must let us do our job,” concludes Vanessa. Courageous medics …
Vanessa Boy-Landry, Paris Match