Police Brutality in France and the Yellow Vests

On the weekend there was a protest by French people against police brutality in France. According to RT Russian:

The protest took place towards the third anniversary of the death of Adama Traore, who died in 2016 in a police station.

RT Russian, translated by the author

When I searched online for ‘protest against police brutality france’ [Monday 22nd July] I could not find much coverage in the English language. Most of the links I found related to protests on this issue in 2017, whereas the top link that came up for me was merely a google translation from the RT Russian page with the Ruptly video from this incident. From what I can tell this continues the trend in the Western media of ignoring much of the activity that is currently going on in France. The media have tried to portray the Gilets Jaunes as a flash in the pan movement by giving a little bit of coverage when it was made absolutely impossible to ignore it, but then refusing to cover the continuing actions. The only outlet that I have seen consistently covering the Gilets Jaunes every week with video footage is RT, though of course there are individuals who also cover the Gilets. The RT Russian link above provides a link to the video for those who understand French [I don’t speak French unfortunately].

I thought this protest provided a good opportunity to compile some information relating to this issue of police brutality in France.

The recent violence against the Gilets Jaunes in France has been covered heavily on Twitter although not in the mainstream media. But as this French protest on the weekend highlighted, this is not the first time that the French police have been criticised for police brutality. Two notable cases are generally highlighted, the case of Adama Traore and the case of Theo L. Adama Traore died in police custody in 2016. The police attempted to shift the blame but reports indicated that Traore died from asphyxiation. A police officer was charged with rape in the case of Theo L.

The Gilets Jaunes protests started in 2018 against increasing fuel taxes, although this was merely the trigger for the movement. Police repression has been a key part of the response by the French government. There are many examples of footage that show the violence by police against the protesters. Tear gas has been heavily used by the Macron police along with rubber bullets. Much of the violence has been against clearly unarmed protesters.

The French police have used LBD guns with rubber bullets, which many countries in Europe do not use. They can be very dangerous if they hit protesters in the face and can cause severe damage to eyes and sight loss if they strike an eye. The police have been firing these weapons at head height which increases the risk to protesters of losing an eye.

Police have also used certain types of grenade during the protest, which have caused cases of people losing their hand to the grenades. The very loud noises (130db) caused by the grenades can cause hearing loss and other effects related to the ear such as disorientation.

In the video interview with Vanessa Beeley she lists the injuries that have been caused to the Gilets Jaunes protesters in terms of data. This interview was recorded several months ago, so this data is from the first 2 months or so of the Yellow Vests:

  • 157 head injuries;
  • 11 hand injuries;
  • 28 upper body injuries;
  • 40 lower body injuries;
  • 3 injuries to the genitals;
  • 2000-3000 ‘lightly injured’.

Vanessa Beeley obtained these statistics from David Dufrense, a French journalist who has been focusing on the police brutality in the case of the Gilets Jaunes. His twitter account can be found at @davduf. It is clear he has continued to document the injuries suffered by the Gilets Jaunes. This tweet indicates more recent numbers. Being as this is just statistical information it is possible to translate without too much risk of getting it wrong:

  • 315 head injuries;
  • 18 hand injuries;
  • 28 back injuries;
  • 75 upper body injuries;
  • 131 lower body injuries;
  • 4 genitals;
  • 125 other;
  • 164 incidents involving restrictions on press freedom.

As has been noted it is not just the Gilets Jaunes themselves that have received injuries, but there have been multiple injuries to journalists. For example this article from RT Russian says:

A producer from the video news agency RT Ruptly received an injury during a film shooting at the Yellow Vest protests in Paris

RT Russian translation by the author

The data by David Dufrense notes that of the people injured during the Yellow Vest protests, 115 have been journalists.

There is one other factor that should be noted in connection with this topic, and that is the growth in police suicides since the beginning of the year. This issue was first brought to my attention by Gordon Dimmack, but it appears to have continued as the Yellow Vest protests have gone on. Ollie Richardson, a journalist who has covered the Yellow Vests, tweeted this:

Obviously we should not automatically assume that all of these are related to the Yellow Vests, but there are some factors that are worth noting here. Firstly, suicide rates are generally higher in professions where there is a high exposure to death and violence in general, and this is a well known fact among people who study suicide. Secondly, I would like to quote this from Thomas Szasz. I’ve always found this quote very striking even though I have many disagreements with Szasz’s politics:

When the [oppressed] realises that he is but a mockery of man, and the [oppressor] that he is but a mockery of God, the result is often explosive violence, the victim seeking revenge in murder, the victimiser oblivion in suicide.

Thomas Szasz, The Manufacture of Madness, Syracuse University Press [1970] 1997, p. 41.