‘We became guardians of law’: French govt ‘exploits’ police, union head says after protest violence

‘We became guardians of law’: French govt ‘exploits’ police, union head says after protest violence
The French authorities are outright exploiting the police by forcing them to work overtime amid unending Yellow Vest protests, while making them scapegoats to cover up their superiors’ mistakes, a police union chief told RT.

Police are literally “exhausted” as France continues to witness what has been described as the worst civil unrest in decades – the unending wave of Yellow Vest protests held for the 14th weekend in a row. The government has forced the police to work overtime in an attempt to curb the unrest while apparently ignoring the consequences, Alexandre Langlois, the secretary-general of the VIGI police union, said in an interview with RT France.

‘Squeezing police dry’

“The entire police mechanism is exhausted, it breaks down,” Langlois said, adding that the conditions the officers are forced to work in are “inhumane.”

“I cannot understand how my colleagues can endure it,” he said. Senior police officials have only made the situation worse as they introduced new rules which literally forbid the officers from leaving their posts.

“The authorities keep saying that they can ‘squeeze [the officers] dry,’” the police union chief said, adding that the police have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The officers have to work despite exhaustion to “provide security at the protests” but any mistake they make would be blamed on their own “irresponsible conduct” and not on fatigue, he said.

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Langlois also blamed poor management and decision-making by senior police officials and the authorities for cases of police violence.

“There were so many cases of improper use [of force],” before the authorities finally understood that they cannot just “use arms indiscriminately at random,” the union head said.

‘Cover-up of mismanagement’

The office of the General Inspector of the National Police (IGPN) is now looking into 140 cases of alleged excessive use of force by the police during the Yellow Vest demonstrations, the state secretary to the French Interior Ministry, Laurent Nunez, said, adding that, “in most cases” the police actions were “proportionate” to the protesters’ violence.

Langlois is skeptical about the potential outcome of such investigations and describes them as smoke and mirrors aimed at covering up the misdeeds of the real culprits in the top offices. Even if the investigators see it through, it is only “our colleagues on the ground… that will be punished while there will be no consequences for the higher hierarchy up to the… minister, who really allowed this whole catastrophic situation to take place.”

The chaos that has continuously gripped the streets of French cities has been provoked by “insufficient training… mismanagement and incoherent orders,” the police union chief said. However, the IGPN is likely to pursue “one single goal: covering up our superiors and severely punishing our colleagues, even though their mistakes are just the tip of the iceberg, which hides everything else – something that will never change.”

The protest actions will see new [police] mistakes as those who provoke these faults are not punished… as a result our colleagues will continue to lose their jobs, while peaceful protesters will still face the threat of being injured or maimed.

Anti-riot law a ‘catastrophe’ for freedoms

The police union chief also lambasted the controversial new ‘anti-riot’ law, which was overwhelmingly supported by the French National Assembly in early February. It bans protesters from hiding their faces and allows the authorities to bar those they consider ‘troublemakers’ from protesting.

Those who “participate in disorder” or even find themselves in the vicinity of a violent demonstration on a public road may be punished with one year in prison and a €15,000 fine under the new law. These measures are unnecessary and violate basic rights, Langlois believes.

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Police already have their own list of “troublemakers” and do not need a new one, he said. Besides, taking action against someone on the basis of mere suspicion would be a “catastrophe,” he added. The police union head also called a provision banning people from “executing their constitutional right to protest” a “very serious violation” of rights.

Growing anxiety

Tensions between the police and the Yellow Vests seem to be boiling over. Many demonstrators have suffered horrific injuries, losing their eyes and limbs to riot gun rounds and grenades. After last week’s protests, the Interior Ministry reported that 1,300 policemen and over 2,000 demonstrators suffered various traumas. However, many French media outlets speculate that the real civilian toll might be several times higher.

Angered by the police crackdown and the government’s disregard of their demands, some protesters now seem to be venting their anger on the officers. A video that surfaced on social media shows a police car driving on a motorway near the city of Lyon being pelted with large stones and bricks by an angry mob dressed in yellow vests. The attackers managed to smash several windows of the car while others attempted to block the way. One man was seen jumping on the hood.

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“This is the first time we have been attacked by the protesters,” one of the officers in the car told the media, adding that he and his colleague felt “real danger.”

The continuous unrest has led to a situation in which the police gradually lose touch with the people, while turning into servants of the state, Langlois said, adding that the newly issued police codex appears to have changed one major principle.

Before, we were the champions of personal freedoms; under the new codex, we became the guardians of the laws. Unfortunately… a law can make something legal, although it is not always legitimate.

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