This video of French police forcefully removing African immigrants from a protest on the streets of Paris has caused uproar across France. Many of the protesters were women, some with children. The demonstrators had set up camp on the streets of the banlieue of Saint-Denis (an area with a high immigrant population) to protest against their being evicted from a block of flats.
The video, which was filmed on the 21st of July, depicts a woman with a baby on her back being dragged by police across the ground as well as another woman, visibly pregnant, lying on the pavement apparently in a daze. The rights group Droit au Logement has said it plans to file a complaint against the Gendarmerie Nationale for police brutality. The group has apparently been criticised by other activists who work with the homeless for encouraging conflict between civilians and police.
What seems incredible to me is that the French media, in an apparent rush to condemn the gendarmes involved, ignores the fact that these women put their children, if not in harm’s way, then certainly in a place where trouble was bound to start.
I have spent a significant amount of time in France, am fluent in the language and would say that I have a fair grasp of the nation and it’s culture. One particular Gallic idiosyncrasy is that the Gendarmerie Nationale is not an individual institution separate from all others, but rather one part of the four sections of the French military forces (along with the navy, the army and the air force). French police are not trained as police, but as soldiers. In the case of war, the gendarmerie are considered just as much part of the war effort as the rest of the military.
It is, therefore, well-known in France that the police, unlike in some European nations, are not your friend. If I were to perform an act of civil disobedience, I would rather do it in Ireland than in France. But if I were to do so in France, there is not a chance in Hell I would allow my children to be present.
One thing I notice from this footage is that not one of the gendarmes makes any effort to stop the filming, even though they are clearly aware that they are being captured on camera. This suggests that the police do not feel that what they are doing is wrong, not to mention ‘brutal’ as some have described their behaviour. Indeed, the Gendarmerie Nationale later issued a statement saying that the officers involved had used ‘normal force’.
In conclusion, I do not find this video particularly shocking. In fact, if anything surprises me at all, it is the restraint which the policemen show – considering some of the protesters are depicted being undeniably violent in retaliation. These women should, and probably do know better. A protest of any kind is a dangerous place to bring children. Regardless of how peaceful it may seem, there is always potential for things to go very wrong, very quickly. The police are the police, not social workers.
And in France, they’re not just police. They’re soldiers.