A few days after the tense demonstration against the police violence in Nantes, Saturday, August 3rd, shortly after the discovery of the body of Steve Maia Caniço, a very precise sequence of the mobilisation continues to arouse strong reactions.
It shows a police officer trying to forcibly take away a flag held at the end of its handle by a protester. The man resists somehow, before falling to the ground under the pressure of the police who came to lend a hand to their colleague. He manages to exfiltrate the flag via the hands of another demonstrator, before getting up and facing the police, who eventually send tear gas into the crowd to disperse it.
If “Civicio”, the Facebook page that published this footage (viewed more than 29,000 times since it went online Monday, August 5th), ironically titled as “Brigade Anti-criminalité tutorial to transform a peaceful protester into a symbol of contestation”, several Internet users became outraged at the sight of this attack a priori unjustified against this protester. Some even see it as a direct attack against the French tri-color – while it is actually a flag in the colors of the city of Saint-Malo.
The scene, filmed by several journalists or videographers present on the spot, took place at the end of the day, halfway between the Commerce and Bouffay tram stops, on one of the most busiest arteries of the city.
“The dispersion of the demonstration had already begun, but the area in question was calm at that time,” said the independent journalist Clement Lanot, whose images show the incident from another angle (from 25:16 below).
“I did not see the demonstrator with the flag insulting the police or throwing projectiles at them, I could’ve missed something because I was slightly aside but there was no tension at that moment . I was quite surprised to see the policeman trying to tear away the flag, it was very sudden,” he continues.
Contacted by 20 Minutes, the manager of the page “Civicio” – who filmed the first part of his montage and retrieved the images filmed from another angle on another video – delivers the same testimony: “In the minutes before the intervention of the policeman, I filmed the places in a fixed shot and we can clearly see that nothing is happening there, the cordon of policemen is stable, nobody throws projectiles at them.”
From 2:46:46 on the live video archive of the more than 3 hours made by “Civicio”, we see that the protester with the flag stands in the middle of the police, without sketching the slightest movement, just before a policeman tries to pull his flag.
Contacted by 20 Minutes, the Information and Communication Service of the National Police (Sicop) specifies the purpose of this intervention: “It is not the flag that interested the police but its handle, because, more early in the mobilisation, the demonstrator brandished it up and down with threatening gestures. From the moment the person holding it makes such a use of it, the handle of the flag is likely to constitute a possible weapon [try not to laugh – ed], like a chair, for example, which is not dangerous if the we sit on it but it becomes dangerous if we use it against law enforcement.”
The protester was indeed already present in the procession before this sequence of events, as was confirmed by Clement Lanot and the manager of the page “Civicio”, who saw him earlier in the day – without having seen him being particularly hostile towards the police. He can be found in this screenshot of the mobilisation published in the afternoon by a user.
Voir un drapeau malouin pour Steve quelle fierté je salut cette personne qui la fait car leta français se fou de notre geule #Nantes #OuEstSteve #GiletsJaunes #Acte38 #CastanerDemission mais bon franchement et après il vienne dire que c'est accidentelle…… Ont va ou ! pic.twitter.com/37ngE49y5w— wiwie (@WillyLbn) August 3, 2019
At the time of the viral footage, “the police took advantage of the protester’s isolation to try to apprehend the handle, but the manoeuvre was unsuccessful in view of the support rally around the protester, which resulted in the use of tear gas to clear the crowd,” said Sicop. Before adding: “This person was finally arrested later for projectile throws at the end of the demonstration and placed in custody.”
As for the flag, as can be seen in Ruptly’s live archive, it was picked up by another protester before being given to a roller-skater wearing a yellow t-shirt, which hastened to put it out of reach of the police (at 3:53:58 below).