'Something Has to Be Done in Protest': Tension Escalates as Paris Students Blockade 20 Schools

VICE News speaks with demonstrators who blocked access to 20 high schools and marched throughout Paris to protest police violence.

by Virgile Dall’Armellina
Nov 6 2014, 10:25pm

On Thursday morning students in Paris blockaded 20 of the city's 200 high schools to protest police violence and to pay tribute to Rémi Fraisse, a 21-year-old student killed during clashes with the authorities at the site of a controversial dam project in the town of Sivens.

Gathering at 6am, high school students piled trashcans and shopping carts outside the doors to the schools before staging an impromptu march to Place de la Nation square.

Body Found Near Disputed Dam Site In Sivens, France. Read more here.

VICE News followed the 1,000-strong demonstration, which was organized by the Independent Inter-Struggle Movement, an activist group.

"We were expecting between 600 and 800 people but with social media and word of mouth, there are more," a police officer stationed near Place de le Nation told VICE News.

By 11am the procession was in full force. Some students chanted slogans such as, "police everywhere, justice nowhere," and, "police, assassins," while others held signs reading, "Rémi Fraisse, state crime," and"Rémi, our tree-brother." Some of the students wore the Guy Fawkes-type masks popularized by Anonymous, and a few teachers joined in the protests. The mood was generally cheerful.

Participants seemed surprised by the large turnout. Speaking to VICE News from the crowd, 17-year-old Danny explained, "There are different kinds of police officers, but some of them are dishonest. We're here today to support all those who have been victims of violence and unfairness." Another student, Nino, elaborated: "The police often abuse their power against citizens. During the demonstrations, they were using Tasers and flash balls for no reason."

Arriving at Bastille, students stopped drivers and interrupted oncoming traffic to pass through the square. Without a fixed itinerary, the procession wandered in confusion for a bit, with a few people mentioning Place de la République, before slowly converging on place d'Italie.

Student protesters cross Pont d'Austerlitz bridge over the Seine.

By Thursday afternoon, the event's Facebook page boasted of 2,800 participants, and one student by the name of Sacha confirmed that many students were there today thanks to social media. He noted that he finds the police "too violent," and that, "something has to be done in protest."

Victoria, 14, echoing Sasha's comments, told VICE News that 10 of her 33 classmates were participating in the day's demonstrations, though she did not believe her high school would be blockaded again tomorrow. She also concurred that there is currently, "a lot of police violence in France," and cited Rémi Fraisse as an example, saying, "he is not the first, nor will he be the last."

"We don't think it's normal that police officers are allowed to use military weapons like a grenade. […] A few months ago in Nantes, several people went blind because they were fired at by the police. They're meant to be here to protect us, and we feel more at risk than anything else," she said.

By the time the crowd arrived at Place d'Italie, it had dwindled down to a few hundred. One of the protesters then called for a sit-in in the middle of the road to block traffic, which the police attempted to redirect. At around 2pm, the students started to disperse.

The demonstration caused a flurry of reactions on Twitter, many of them scathing. Florian Philippot, vice president of France's extreme-right National Front party, denounced the protest as nothing more than a way for students to skip class after the recent vacation.

A meeting will be held once the demonstration is over to determine the future of the movement.

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