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Montpellier: Wounded Yellow Vests Received Medals for “Courage and Dignity”

Who among you has seen or heard from the “mainstream” media about the action of August 1st in Montpellier in tribute to the dead and wounded by sub-lethal weapons (LBD 40, defensive grenades, and tear gas)? Nobody? So let me tell you about this day of fraternity and humanity in the heart of the summer.

On the beach in the heart of the summer, courage and dignity

Who among you has seen or heard from the “mainstream” media about the action of August 1st in Montpellier in tribute to those killed and wounded by sub-lethal weapons? Who among you has seen or heard about the air banner that says “STOP LBD-40 and defensive grenades”? Who among you have seen or heard about the “Courage and Dignity” Medal Presentation to recognise the status of victims to the wounded? Nobody? So let me tell you about this day of fraternity and humanity in the heart of the summer.

Exactly under the sun

August 1st 2019 – “Petit travers” beach, Carnon, 11 km from Montpellier. Midday. It was the precise hour when the colourful troupe had made an appointment to assemble its makeshift marquee with hanging yellow balloons and a large number of medals. In the background, we could see pictures of the wounded hung to remind everyone about the violence of recent months.

Sharing a moment between human brothers, paying respects to the victims of sublethal weapons, and saying STOP concerning their use against the civil population in France: these are the objectives of this day. The citizen group thus gathered included people from all socio-professional backgrounds: caregivers (a doctor, a nurse, a nursing assistant), teachers, engineers, webmaster-designers, workers, employees, unemployed, pensioners … Several representatives of citizen rights defence associations (Article 35 DH, TUCIV30, le Mur Jaune) and Yellow Vests (Coordination-Montpellier, Rond Point Près d’Arènes, Convergence 34) were present, accompanied by a local wounded group of examples of mutilations. After a good-natured friendship lunch, the many journalists who accepted the invitation were able to ask their questions to the various speakers (RT France, France 3 Région, AFP, France Bleu Languedoc, Le Midi Libre, Gazette de Montpellier, la Mule du pape), the event being broadcasted live on the pages of Vécu Le Média and Tintin & the Yellow Vests. The interviews were going well but waiting for the first surprise of the day, an airborne banner, the tension was gradually becoming palpable…

In the summer sky

An SMS had warned us of its upcoming arrival. The excitement was at its height when it appeared on the horizon – a dot and a line. Pulled by a coloured plane, it left Valras beach and was flying peacefully to Grau-du-Roi to warn, despite the summer break, the French opinion about the dangerousness of sublethal weapons. The little crowd exulted as it passed over the astonished beach. The message was clear: “STOP the mutilations of Yellow Vests by LBD-40 and grenades”, asking again the Interior Ministry and the Council of State to definitively prohibit the use of these deadly and mutilating weapons, unworthy of the homeland of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

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The week prior, the Council of State had once again dismissed the Defender of Rights, associations (League of Human Rights), lawyers, and trade unions in their request to ban sublethal weapons – LBD-40, the GLI-F4 grenade, the dispersal grenade, and tear gas grenades. Yet other voices have also been raised in recent years against these category 2 weapons (war material) used by the army in foreign operations and on the territory against the civilian population: Désarmons-les, “ACAT”, and “Amnesty International”. More recently, French health care workers also protested against the extreme danger of these weapons: an open letter addressed to the Minister of Health by the French Society of Ophthalmology and then to President Macron by 35 renowned ophthalmologists followed by a petition from French medical care workers for a moratorium on these weapons having collected 176,000 signatures had done nothing … However, France had already been condemned several times for the disproportionate use of force by international bodies – first of all the commission of the Council of Europe, then the United Nations, and was finally classified among the countries it once criticised: Venezuela, Sudan, Russia. More recently, the Die Zeit newspaper even placed the French police in the ranks of the most violent in Europe. Nothing seemed to be able to stop the headfirst lunge of a government that provided only repressive responses to the social crisis, when strong political solutions were still expected.

An appalling record

Once the banner passed, the ceremony could then start on the beach, and it opened with a reminder of the appalling record of these weapons.

Since November 17th 2018 a new, intensive (+ 200%), and often disproportionate use had been carried out against the civilian population with more than 19,000 shots of LBD-40, 5,400 shots of GMD, and 1,400 throws of GLI-F4. Among the 2,500 Yellow Vests who were wounded at the end of May 2019 during the demonstrations, the balance sheet included more than 435 serious wounded (the tally of David Dufresne) by LBD-40 (nearly 300 cases), explosive dispersal grenades – GMD (nearly 100 cases), and instant explosive tear gas grenades – GLIF4 (about 35 cases). There was thus: 1 elderly person (Zineb Redouane) who died in Marseilles as a result of tear gas that was fired at her window, 1 person drowned in the Loire (Steve Maia Caniço) following a police charge with LBD and tear gas during the Music Festival in Nantes, 7 Yellow Vests have had limbs either fully or partially amputated, 25 Yellow Vests have been blinded (plus 1 football supporter in Lyon during the final of the African Cup of Nations), and more than 80 Yellow Vests have suffered cranio-facial wounds constituting new processions of “broken jaws”. Used for 20 years in France, these weapons were also responsible between 1999 and 2018 for 53 mutilations indiscriminately hitting passers-by, high school students on strike, young people from the suburbs, environmental protesters (deaths of Rémy Fraisse in Sivens), or football fans (Casti in Montpellier ).

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Kaina, mother and Yellow Vest holding two jobs and providing assistance to the homeless in the region, herself hit frontally by a LBD-40, then took the floor to go through the record of the wounded in the Montpellier-Nîmes region: Dylan, who was blinded by LBD-40; Alexis, who received an ankle injury due to a tear gas puck; Charlotte, who was injured by LBD-40; Axel, who was wounded in the forehead by LBD-40; Geoffrey, who was gravely hit in the face by LBD-40; Laurent, who was wounded in the forehead by LBD-40; Yvan, a Street-Medic injured at the arcade by LBD-40; Sébastien, who suffered multiple jaw fractures due to the LBD-40; Martin, who was badly hit frontally by LBD-40; Christophe, who suffered severe leg wounds due to a GLI-F4; a stranger injured in the back of the head by LBD-40; and finally a soldier who was wounded in the head by LBD-40. Representative of the local examples of mutilations, Kaina did not fail to recall what we carers know perfectly well in the poly-traumatised department, namely the invisible handicaps persisting throughout life after the initial mutilation: sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, job loss, family difficulties, social disintegration, neurological sequelae (memory, smell …).

Courage and dignity

The time then came for the second surprise of this day. After others rewarded those who are still burdened by the weight of investigations into the disproportionate use of force, a ceremony awarding “courage and dignity” medals for the wounded present punctuated with a strong note of emotion the heart of this event. The group wanted to find a humane way of recognising the victim status of the “examples of mutilations”, who often suffer the triple pain of being both injured but not recognised by justice and sometimes considered as outcasts by the rest of society. Beyond that, it was also a matter of saluting fellow citizens for their courage to defend their ideals and their rights, and for their dignity in the descent into hell they were going through as a seriously wounded person. After vivid tributes to Street-Medics, Zineb Redouane, and Steve Maia Caniço, whose body had just been identified, the group launched a call to join the big rally scheduled for August 31st 2019 in Geneva at the Place des Nations, at the doors of the European headquarters of the UN. Supported by their Swiss counterparts, they urge the parliament of Geneva to ban the export of the LBD-40 in France and the French government to ban the use of these weapons of war against its civilian population. A second and more important “courage and dignity” medal ceremony will also be scheduled on this occasion for all the French “examples of mutilations”.

That day, we were very far from all this talk heard here and there, and which, like in the daily newspapers, insidiously tends to dehumanise the protesters, whoever they are, and the wounded in order to make our passive consciences better accept the horror of human tragedies that happen every week just a few steps from home. To reaffirm that no material good will ever be worth the price of the life, hand, or eye of one of our fellow citizens: that was our goal. With each medal received in the arms of one of its brothers, it is an individual story that asserts itself, it is a recognised suffering, it is a rediscovered brotherhood, and it is a saved hope.

Notes:

LBD-40: a hard bullet launched at 324 km/h, impact at 200 Joules = 1 breeze-block of 20kg fired 1m away, there is a formal prohibition to shoot at less than 10m away and to aim at the head (regulation of the manufacturer and the National Police).

GMD: explosive grenade with 25g of TNT inside propelling 18 hard shells at 126 km/h at a distance of 30m.

GLI-F4: explosive grenade with 25g of TNT inside producing a blast of 165db (a jet engine at takeoff).


Mediapart, Laurent Thines

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