The excessive use of force morally discredits the mandate of Emmanuel Macron. The carte blanche given to the police has already left two dead and hundreds wounded in a few months. How far does this power go? From the prosecutors to the governmental orders given to the IGPN, which almost systematically whitewashes law enforcement, it is the whole system that has to be reviewed.
In two years of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron will have at least managed one thing: to record the worst number of deaths and wounded during law enforcement operations since 1968, by encouraging the brutal repression of social movements, by using force without any moderation, to the point of looking like a weak republican monarch, almost in the hands of the police and the gendarmerie. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, and Secretary of State Laurent Nuñez are also accountable for this dismal record.
After the death in Marseille of Zineb Redouane, badly wounded in the face by a tear gas grenade while she closed her shutters on December 1st, and after the death of Steve Maia Caniço, whose body has just been recovered in Nantes, the number of victims of dangerous and excessive policing operations raises to two in just a few months. This, while the French police boasted of being the champion of law enforcement without lethal weapons or deaths, and it provides training in many countries.
The number of people mutilated, injured, or seriously wounded during the Yellow Vests movement shows that this era of professionalism and restraint (if it really existed) is well over. 786 head injuries, 24 people blinded, 5 hands blown off: this is the record of the state police violence documented by our colleague David Dufresne for Mediapart, during the six months of Yellow Vests protests in the street.
Authoritarian and cynical, this political power also does not hesitate to utter lies, wanting to make people believe, contrary to the evidence, that the police had nothing to do with the death of Steve Maia Caniço in Nantes; that Geneviève Legay was not touched by the police in Nice when she suffered a serious head injury; or that demonstrators wanted to ransack Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris. Fake news.
This government never has compassion or words that are worthy of victims of the police violence that it encourages. It reserves its speeches for the police, to deputies who tremble for their permanence, and economic actors. Worse, it also decorates the police implicated in violence.
During this systematic repression, demanded and assumed by the Macronian power, many average French people who don’t have a criminal record were able to feel on their flesh what others have lived for several years in the poor suburbs: police brutality and impunity. With an almost universal indifference, several generations of young people from diverse backgrounds have experienced discrimination, repeated identity checks, provocations, racist insults, excessive fines, and police violence.
Some were killed during their arrest, such as Adama Traoré in 2016, or Ali Ziri in 2009, without any sanction. It can no longer be hidden or tolerated.
Even if all the police do not cross the yellow line, and their working conditions are extremely difficult, too loose a command and political power that “covers” them systematically have the effect of loosening the bridle to the most violent elements. Police officers and gendarmes are, on the whole, closer to the extreme right than to the rest of the population.
The strategy of tension that has been at work for several months is not the prerogative of the only the Philippe government. Manuel Valls and Bernard Cazeneuve had initiated it during their reign, during demonstrations against the labor law, and even during the parade of May 1st. The policies of the worst is the same: rather than dealing with a social, economic, or political problem, they play on dissent decaying, they denounce the shop breakers, and they announce new repressive laws, with the blessing of a great complacent media and info channels eager for spectacular images.
Meanwhile, other countries such as Germany are handling protest movements sensitively, avoiding contact between protesters and police, and seeking de-escalation rather than resorting massively to tear gas grenades, de-encircling grenades, and other rubber bullet launchers.
The predecessors of Emmanuel Macron have, to varying degrees, initiated this slippery slope. Francois Hollande gave Valls and Cazeneuve a free hand to encircle and gas protesters against the labor law, and the death of Rémi Fraisse in Sivens will remain an indelible stain on this five-year supposedly left-wing.
Nicolas Sarkozy dismantled the local police, cut police and gendarme jobs, and launched a policy of calamitous numbers. As for Jacques Chirac, he remains the president of the absurd death of young Zyed and Bouna in Clichy-sous-Bois, during the riots in poor neighbourhoods at the time.
François Mitterrand, during the period of cohabitation, experienced the death of Malik Oussekine, in 1986, hit on the ground by voltigeurs … which the Macronian power has just put back into service against the Yellow Vests. As for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, he must answer morally for the death of Vital Michalon, killed by an offensive grenade, in 1977 in Creys-Malville. The peak of violence was reached during the riots of May and June 1968, under Charles de Gaulle, which resulted in seven deaths.
The most revolting aspect of recent police excesses is the organised impunity that surrounds them. It takes a concrete dossier (videos, photos, witnesses, medical expertise, a good lawyer …) to hope to prosecute a violent policeman in court. The cases of Rémi Fraisse, Zineb Redouane, and Steve Maia Caniço are obvious: the creation of a body of investigators entirely independent of the police and the gendarmerie would be greatly needed.
But today, it is gendarmes who investigate gendarmes, and police for police officers. Unsurprisingly, the IGGN and IGPN reports almost systematically whitewash the violent elements of the police, giving the power the illusion of protecting the institution, while the gap is growing dangerously between the population and his police supposed to protect it.
In the same way, the prosecutors appointed by the government only moderately venture to prosecute the police, who they work with on a daily basis. To make a career in the prosecutor’s office, the government or the almighty president must not be troubled. Even a strong IGPN report will not necessarily result in criminal prosecution of a police officer, let alone a conviction. Public policies remain focused on repression, with an arsenal of laws that have been hardened for three decades.
On the justice side, most of the state’s resources go on prisons, which are always fuller, while there is a serious shortage of magistrates, clerks, probation and integration counsellors, and social investigators. Prevention and reintegration are the poor parents of the judicial chain.
The Yellow Vests have experienced this implacable machine of punishment: custody, staying overnight in a cell, and immediate appearance in court. While convictions have often been measured, the contrast is still striking with the absence of prosecution and punishment for violent police officers.
In the end, this modern power is one of the most authoritarian of the Fifth Republic. Even a Jacques Toubon would pass for one of the last defenders of freedom to be heard; it speaks about how disturbing the situation is.
Mediapart, Michel Deléan