Last updated on 28th July 2019
On May 1st Shérazade and Neïla drank a glass at Place de la Contrescarpe. While the police brutally question a man in front of their eyes, they find themselves also detained. The motive, as they will discover in custody: the police accused the two students of outraging them by saying “kill yourself”. This is how the two friends will discover the incredible universe of justice.
It took many months for the media to allow itself to cover correctly the facts of police brutality that spread massively on social networks. Let’s face it, politicians and editorialists did not beat around the bush with their denials. It was repeated over and over again to those who wanted to hear it: “There is no police violence, we are in a lawful state. Repression does not exist.” Whatever the reasons that may have pushed so many media agencies to not see and to not mention such massive and proven police abuses, it is clear that this issue is now part of the public debate.
It is important to point out, however, that the field of repression is not limited to batons, insults, explosive grenades, and LBD-40 shots, i.e., only the misdeeds of the police. For repression to be effective and to do its job, one must not only hurt the bodies in order to frighten the spirits, it must also record all this judicially, judge, punish, and lock up; this is the role of justice. Unlike the work of the police, this other part of the repressive power is much more difficult to document and thus to publicise: no images, no sounds, few scandals. And this is a great loss for the public intelligence, every citizen would better know what is happening behind the doors of the courts and the role played by, or arrogated to, judges and prosecutors. The story we tell in this article is tied to a small office of the Grand Tribunal of Paris. It is at the same time anecdotal and revealing, it will resonate in any case with the experience lived by these thousands of Yellow Vests who had to deal with the judicial mill in the past few months.
On the evening of May 1st at Place de la Contrescarpe, Shérazade and Neïla [Their first names have been changed – ed] drink glasses on the terrace with 3 of their friends, students like them. The bars are full, the streets too, but despite the festive atmosphere, many bands of heavily equipped police rode around the neighbourhood. If the repression against the day’s demonstration is over, a part of the police seems to have deported itself to this quiet district of the left bank, which has become famous since the Benalla affair.
In their idleness, the police decide to arrest somebody vigorously in front of Shérazade and Neïla. Without understanding the purpose of the manoeuvre, they suddenly find themselves in the hands of the police, handcuffed and taken away. What are the two friends accused of? To have fired at the men the weapon of “Kill yourself! Kill yourself”, an injunction that became scandalous since the week prior when a communication operation of the government had been launched to comfort its last supporters. Although the two young women explained to the judicial police officer who placed them in custody that they never said these words, here they were locked up for two days, i.e., until Friday.
It is the turn of the public prosecutor to decide their fate and the follow-up to be given to the accusations of the police, which they contest and in relation to which obviously nobody is able to provide any proof. Despite their lack of a criminal record, the latter chose to call them for a trial in October and seek their placement under judicial review until then: a prohibition to appear in Paris for 6 months and a mandatory visit to a police station every week, whenever they wish to flee to Guatemala to escape trial.
As everyone knows, since the representatives of the prosecutor’s office are not considered to be independent – they are subject to the policy of their supervisory minister, the procedure is that an independent judge can validate or reverse their decisions, so Shérazade and Neïla go to the next office to meet one of those so-called custodial judges.
It is then that a properly surrealistic discussion begins. The magistrate first asks the young women, who had so far remained silent during their custody, if they intend to contest having committed this outrage, to which they answer in the affirmative one after the other. The judge, however, has a subsidiary question: what do they think of these outrages against police officers who have been particularly mobilised in recent weeks? In short, do they regret these insults or incitement to commit suicide, which they claim they did not say? As citizens they must have an opinion, insists the magistrate, faced with their refusal to speak about facts they say do not concern them. One of them will concede finally that in his eyes, it is always necessary to know how to contextualise the facts. The judge responsible for liberties is then also the judge of good opinions, in any case those conforming to his, and decides to punish the two not yet judged women with judicial supervision. The judgment brilliantly sets out its reasoning:
Whereas the person concerned is accused of acts of contempt with regard to a person in charge of public authority: ‘Kill yourself, kill yourself’ in the context of demonstrations organised throughout the national territory but mainly in Paris for several months; whereas the terms used with regard to police officers have aroused considerable emotion in view of their repetition by many people during the above-mentioned events; whereas, if the person concerned denies making these comments and has indicated to explain themselves on the day of the judgment, since they did not want to comment on our question concerning her opinion vis-a-vis this insult thus characterised with regard to police officers particularly mobilised in recent weeks, stating that one must know ‘all contextualisation’; whereas there is reason to fear a repetition of the facts;
While it is customary to think that in the rule of law, the role of justice is limited to punishing acts and behaviours conscientiously defined by the penal code as tortious or criminal, some judges now seem to allow themselves to sanction opinions, in this case even the refusal to formulate the required opinion. By all accounts, justice that is often hastily termed archaic or ankylotic can find the necessary resources and creativity to adapt to the times. The Parisian police can sleep soundly, magistrates are there to watch over it: neither Shérazade nor Neïla will risk to outrage them during these next six months.
As a bonus, the latest song of the rapper L’1consolable.