France: Hundreds of thousands demonstrate against police brutality and racism

Protesters against police violence during last weekend's massive demonstration in Paris (Photo: GR)

Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated across the streets of France, including more than a hundred thousand people in Paris, alone. These demonstrations were originally against a draft law moved by the government, the very much misnamed Global Security law. This was a further repressive step being taken by the country’s president Emmanuel Macron.

Article 24 of this draft law, which may now be completely re-written under pressure or even removed, stated that it would be illegal and punishable by one year’s imprisonment and a €45,000 fine to “circulate images” identifying a policeman or a military officer in the course of his duties “with the aim of causing physical or psychological harm” in a “manifest” manner. The problem would therefore be the circulation of footage of violent policemen and not the violent acts of the police.

This paves the way to almost total impunity for the police since it restricts any possibility of bringing evidence or elements from independent sources. This is just when, in recent years, and particularly lately, a number of cases of police brutality have been “revealed” by videos circulated online.

On Monday, November 23rd, hundreds of migrants who had been occupying the République square in Paris for a few hours were evacuated by the police with horrendous violence. Their tents were seized and several people, including journalists, were savagely beaten by members of the infamous BAC (anti-crime brigade). Even the Minister of the Interior, Gerald Darmanin had to concede that the footage was “shocking”.

Just after that, another piece of footage went viral, which showed a black music producer, Michel Zecler, being cornered in the lobby of his workplace and savagely beaten by three policemen. They apparently used racist insults and falsified their report to present Zecler as the aggressor. These footages provoked immense outrage and swelled the ranks of the protesters on the demonstrations that took place on Saturday, demanding that article 24 be withdrawn.

Odious law

But it is the whole draft law that must go! Even if the focus is mostly on article 24, the text is divided into seven chapters and contains 32 articles, all of which are protective of the police. The so-called “security” budget has been increased by more than one billion euros and 10,000 more police officers are to be recruited in the next five years.

The draft law plans to allow the extensive use of drones and “action cams”. We do not have the right to film the police but they have every right to film us! Even worse, police officers will be able to carry their weapons when they are off duty, in establishments open to the public. Eventually, they will be able to use their weapons, on duty or off duty, without ever being questioned. Many police officers will therefore not be “at the service of the law” but “above it”, with all the dangers of abuse of power that this reinforces.

Anger at Macron

Enough hypocrisy! It is this repressive, pro-capitalist government that is developing “insecurity” with policies that plunge more and more families into unemployment or poverty. It is this government that lets big companies and multinationals make massive lay-offs and refuses to create public, decent, socially useful jobs. Their only response is to increase the number of policemen and their resources.

In reality, these measures only serve to increase the intensity of repression. The police violence has increased in recent years because the policemen/gendarmes are covered up for, or even incited, by their superiors and, more broadly, by the state, to further repress and be violent. In the country of the so-called rights of man, people have lost eyes, limbs or even their lives through repression while demonstrating against the government’s policies.

The big protests that took place all around the country last weekend were fuelled by anger that has been building up against Macron and his authoritarian policies and government in the last period. It has been quite clear to a number of people that the only priority of this government has been the protection of the economic interests of the big corporations and shareholders on the backs of millions of working-class people.

On the demonstrations last weekend many different people came with genuine anger. It was not only a demo against police brutality and Article 24. It was also with widespread anger against racism, against yet another brutal lockdown, against Macron’s policy and his government, against this unjust society as a whole. The demonstrators in Paris even chanted “Darmanin démission”, following the refusal of the Interior Minister to condemn the violence, merely stating that “some have messed up”!

All this is happening while the lockdown is still in place. It shows the potential for a mass revolt and struggles against the present government.

What we say

As Gauche Révolutionnaire put it in the leaflet we handed out: “Massive lay-offs, calamitous management of the health crisis, exhaustion of teachers, lack of resources in the health sector, the destruction of public services… there are plenty of reasons to revolt to put an end to this policy!

“And Macron knows it; his only answer is always more repression because they are afraid of a mass struggle. So we need to mobilise into a mass movement of workers and young people united together to put an end to this policy and the government.

“It is such an important struggle that the unions and the parties that represent workers should prepare right now, demanding an end to repression, better public services (health, education, transport…) with public jobs to end unemployment, with wage increases, etc.

“A society where the exploitation of the majority of the population by a minority of capitalists continues will remain unequal, using sexism, racism, etc. to divide and oppress. The police, and especially the very repressive bodies (CRS, BAC…), are there to maintain this unjust social order.

“We must therefore put an end to capitalism seeing it is possible to fight for another society – a society where the economy is publicly owned, managed and planned democratically by representatives of workers and young people for the satisfaction of the needs of all and not the profits of a handful of ultra-rich people.

“This is what we are fighting for – socialism: a society that will put an end to injustice and exploitation. Join us in this fight!”

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December 2020