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AGAINST a backdrop of street protest — even in the midst of a Covid lockdown — and increasing police violence and repression, France passed the draconian Global Security Law this week, which could make it an offence punishable by a year in jail and a €45,000 fine to film, post and identify police officers committing violent actions.
Representatives of President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party, whose title La Republic En Marche claims that they are concerned about rights and liberties, on Tuesday morning would have seen footage on the news of the police brutally rousting homeless people from Republique, the square commemorating these rights.
On Tuesday afternoon they voted in favour of the law, claiming that there was no contradiction between the two events.
Even Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin, who is in charge of police intervention, pronounced the use of force in this case “shocking,” while Macron’s own former speech-writer, termed the sequence “hypocrisy without end.”
The event began Monday night with police roughly dismantling a homeless encampment at Republique, an event that was filmed by activists and widely broadcast.
Militant defenders of the homeless then marched to Hotel de Ville, the Paris City Hall, in protest and were dispersed by police using tear gas.
Also gassed and picked out as a target by police was a web journalist, Remy Busine, whose internet site Brut or Raw has often featured police beatings, including those in Republique in 2016 of the movement Nuit Debout, or Up All Night, and of the gilets jaune, the people’s movement protesting against the disenfranchisement of rural and peripheral areas.
At the Trocadero, across from the Eiffel Tower, on the weekend before the global security law was voted on, French journalists spoke out at a rally claiming that they were now vulnerable to jail and fines for simply covering demonstrations.
The law comes in the wake of a widely praised film about the police, whose French title translates as A Country Which Counts Itself Wise and whose English title is The Monopoly on Violence.
The film opens with footage of a police lead ball hitting a gilet jaune in the eye and knocking him to the ground.
We then see him with a patch over the eye which he has lost, commenting on the footage.
The film consists of historians and sociologists asking why state violence is encouraged and pointing out that the gassing and beating of the gilets jaunes, which has driven their protests out of the cities and stifled the movement, is done mainly by the national police force, which reports only to the Minister of Defence, divorced from any local contact, and separate from municipal police who must work on local terrain.
The film is made up of mostly mobile phone footage of police and demonstrator interactions and has been singled out by French critics for bringing a new vividness and a new style of shooting to the documentary.
The director, David Dufresne, describes the way “the electronic eye enlarges the battle for truth.”
Under the new law, the film could not have existed.
Police violence has increased under Macron. Official police statistics from last June identify the police as having wounded 2,448 marchers, having fired 19,071 lead balls (known as LBDs) and released 1,428 tear gas grenades.
The effects of these weapons are documented by the website Allo Place Beauveau, named after the site of the French Interior Ministry, which counts 344 head wounds, 29 eye gougings and five mangled hands.
The use of LBDs in particular has been condemned by the European Council and by the United Nations council on human rights — condemnations ignored by the current and past interior minister.
The woundings are also the result of a recent policy of direct engagement with demonstrators where the police, instead of as before attempting to patrol the fringes of the march, now wade into the centre and begin contesting those on the street.
The background to this increased contestation is the rampant inequality in both the suburbs, or banlieu, and the rural areas outside the global cities; the worsening of air pollution within the cities, which has brought the Greens to power in many of them, including Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon; and the continued decline of small shopkeepers exacerbated by the Covid crisis.
The country is known for its recalcitrant and battling working class and for the proclivity of its citizens to take to the streets to contest injustice, as was seen in the breaking of the Covid restrictions last Saturday to protest against what the French are calling “liberticide,” the stripping away and systematic destruction of their rights.
Macron, the Rothschild banker who came to power in 2017, was elected as a defender of liberties and bulwark against Marine Le Pen and the far-right National Front.
Once in power, he began a merciless Reagan-Thatcher-type neoliberal attack on working people, attempting to tame the French rail unions by privatising the railways, continuing to make it easier for employers to fire workers and attacking the safeguards built up over years in the French pension system, all of which provoked massive resistance and protest.
He presented himself as an ally of the environmentalists, but the Green Party turned against LREM and instead made alliances with the often divided parties of the left in several major cities to win this year’s municipal elections.
Since that moment, Macron, recognising that the left is no longer amenable to his message, has tilted not only right toward the Republicans but also increasingly to the far right, setting himself up to take votes from both in his 2022 bid for re-election.
The Global Security Law is part of that right and far-right tilt and it remains to be seen whether the majority of the French population will accept this trampling of the Enlightenment values of free speech and liberty of expression.
Currently, four court cases hinge on citizen recordings of police violence and if that right is denied, there will be few safeguards on a police force let loose on the populace.
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