This article originally appeared on VICE France
Last Wednesday, the French police union Alliance organised a demonstration in Paris condemning recently flared-up hatred and violence against the French police. Since the emergence of the Nuit Debout (Stand Up at Night) protest movement in March, police and protesters have regularly clashed violently, and Alliance wanted to take a stand.
Naturally, Nuit Debout protesters organised a counter-protest. So it's deeply ironic but not too surprising that the one image that will most likely be remembered is one of pretty intense anti-police violence. It's a video of a police car being set on fire, and one particularly ballsy officer getting out of his burning car, approaching the culprit and going all up in his face like, "Qu'est-ce qui l'y a, little shit?".
You'll see the police car receive a thrashing around the 3-minute 25 second mark, and the police officer perform the subsequent hand-to-stick combat at the 4-minute mark.
Since the 31st of March this year, French left-wing protesters have coalesced in the Nuit Debout movement, to rally against new labour laws and the right-leaning policies of the supposedly socialist Hollande government. Criticism of the movement is the same as the kind Occupy received in its day – not having a clear enough message and basically opposing everything that reeks of capitalism, right wing tendencies and oppression. But Nuit Debout is not messing about: many of its protests have ended in a fierce confrontation with the police, police stations in Paris and Rennes have been attacked and so far about 1300 people have been arrested. 51 protesters are awaiting a possible conviction.
According to the protesters, French police use excessive and unnecessary violence against them in what start out as peaceful protests. Protesters regularly post images of their bruises and injuries on Facebook and other social media – sustained, they say, while peacefully protesting the government, or perhaps verbally insulting a police officer.
The police and the protesting left are natural enemies: Alliance was close to the former right-wing Sarkozy government, and made an effort to point out that it considers Hollande's austerity reforms to be very lax. The fact that extreme right politicians Marion Maréchal-Le Pen and Gilbert Collar of the Front National and Eric Ciotti of the right-wing Les Républicains attended the demonstration to support Alliance further highlighted the ties between the French right and the police. And it fuelled the notion that in its aggressive treatment of protesters, the French police may have other motivations than just objectively keeping order.
Which is all just to say: French protesters have a point in organising a counter-protest during a pro-police rally. Lighting up a police car and trying to hit a police officer in the face with a stick, however, is not something you should be doing during such a counter-protest. It's not something you should ever be doing. Because before you know it, that officer you're trying to hit in the face with a stick comes off looking like the hero of the day.
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