War of images in Paris

One thing that the clip helps us understand is the “preventive” nature of the police action. The official argument was that these arrests were part of a new…

One thing that the clip helps us understand is the “preventive” nature of the police action. The official argument was that these arrests were part of a new strategy in which the police ploughed into the assembled demonstrators to “preventively” take out those who gave the “impression” of starting a “block”, that is to say one of the reputed “black-blocs” who have systematically caused trouble over the last five years but only at demonstrations by the trade unions or Gilets jaunes and never anywhere else.

The formula the Prefect of Police used was that they “intervened in the middle of the demonstration to prevent the creation of a group of violent black-blocs”.

There were none of these people there at the start of Saturday’s rally. How does one know? Because among the 142 arrests of “ultra-violent individuals” that so delighted Darmanin, only six made an appearance under comparution immediate in the courts on Monday. That is not to say they were guilty of anything – just that only against these six did the police think they could make some sort of case. Remember that all the violence you can see in these clips and photos takes place at the start of the rally. Think a moment about the patience and commitment to non-violence on the part of the demonstrators in the face of this provocation.

Look at another short clip from the same journalist you can find here. The individual is in a black jacket as he is hurried away by the police. But so he is in his normal working life as a lawyer.

Out there in the twittersphere you can see all sorts of messages of indignation or those that simply reported something similar to his experience:

QG Media put this out about one of their reporters detained until Monday:

The reporter Adrien Adcazz, of the media QG, has so far as he is concerned seen his GAV (garde à vue, detention in the hands of the police) prolonged this Sunday evening. ‘A completely abusive decision,’ denounced his lawyer David Libeskind. Around 4pm (on the Saturday) my client was lifted during a charge. He shouted ‘Journalist! Journalist!’

Attac, a movement promoting economic alternatives to austerity for the poor and tax breaks for the rich announced:

An Attac activist was placed in garde à vue this evening in Paris during the March for Liberties. Reason: face covered. He was just wearing a bonnet and a mask (against Covid-19).

From a parent:

My daughter was arrested yesterday though she was leaving the demonstration the police charged she filmed, an officer seized her and she was taken away. Several people testified that she had said nothing, offered no resistance but she is in GAV for “outrage”.

Another parent then immediately added:

My son Théo was also arrested right at the start of the demonstration, he is in GAV with your daughter, in the police station of the 20th arrondissement.

Claire, and Taha Bouhafs

A similar case that caught attention after the previous week’s rally, one that was effectively destroyed by a combination of police tear gas and black-bloc petty violence, is that of Claire. She is a 28-year-old single mother with a three year old child and an activist in the CGT trade union section for the unemployed. She was detained on Saturday 5 December accused of “rebellion” and carrying on the rally after it had ended. She was only let out on the Tuesday.

Luckily for her, she explained, videos showed her being dragged along the ground and beaten as opposed to the police case that she had kicked an officer while refusing to move.

It is these videos and photos that remain the central problem for Macron and his ministers in this on-going “war of images”. Go back to those two video clips and you may have noticed that the journalist filming them is a young student who describes himself on his Twitter account as a “journalist (still) in training”. Watch one of the videos again and you see that there are several moments when there are more young activist journalists with cameras facing the police than there are police on the screen.

In France, a journalist is defined in the law of 1881 on the freedom of the press as a permanent salaried employee. Few of these journalists fit that definition. An argument around this has just now divided Reporters sans frontiers, Reporters without Borders. It has refused to recognise someone like Taha Bouhafs as a real journalist and so take part alongside the unions in defending him against police harassment. It was Taha Bouhafs who caught on video Macron’s personal minder Alexandre Benalla roughing up and “arresting” demonstrators on May Day back in 2018, a few seconds of video that have caused the President his biggest personal crisis yet.

Bizarrely, RSF has this month launched a new video campaign using the slogan “Reality only exists if someone reports it” saying that “it aims to help viewers appreciate journalism’s importance in enabling people to understand issues that are decisive for the future and to take action.” The campaign is financially supported by the French government’s development agency and all the issues illustrated are from outside France.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.

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