26 May 2016
The repression which is cracking down on the social movement against the labour law, and indeed against all struggles, didn’t just appear from nowhere. It has long been ongoing in the ZAD (autonomous zones), and from the town centre of Rennes to the streets of Paris and the picket lines. This State violence has been deployed for years in working class neighbourhoods, and its use has now been generalized to the entire population. From the teams of BAC (plainclothes/undercover “anti-criminal brigades”) or Companie d’Intervention (riot police units) that are unleashed like rabid dogs on the marches, to the RAID (elite police unit) which was deployed to evict an occupied building, and what seems like a culprit fabrication by a servile Justice system; such occurrences have marked the daily life of our neighbourhoods for 30 years.
The security tourniquet used to strangle social protests in our neighbourhoods is now being used to criminalise the social movements. The figure of the rioter in a Lacoste tracksuit and baseball cap shown in the media is replaced by one in a black anorak. Governments always try to depict working class opposition as juvenile delinquents intent on looting. For the social movement, it’s the cliché of the petit-bourgeois class-traitor who “plays at revolution before taking over daddy’s company”. Reducing rioters and demonstrators to these symbolic caricatures enables the deployment of an exceptional police and judiciary arsenal, which reassures the “good French citizenry” only too happy to beat up the roguish proletarian or the rebellious petit-bourgeois. This media staging, with its two rioter typologies, presented every evening on the televised news, serves to patently and latently answer the hidden question: why are men and women in the suburbs or town centres confronting the police?
With these two symbolic figures, the petit-bourgeois and the delinquent, the answer is simple: the thug in sweatpants is just out to loot, the petit-bourgeois is just going through adolescence. It’s in their nature.
The second effect, and not the least, of this media staging is that it prevents any unity between these populations which live in separate areas but are fighting against a common enemy: the State.
Who, in the middle class or the petite-bourgeoisie, feels sympathy for the suburban looter? Who, in the suburbs, feels sympathy for the petit-bourgeois, whose revolt is presented as factitious?
These two symbolic figures serve to foment division and foil a union which might overcome the oligarchy which governs us.
It is nothing new, however, to see “petit-bourgeois” risking their freedom and health to stand up to the guard dogs of the state and the bourgeoisie. Here is what Marx and Engels wrote in the manifesto in 1848:
“Finally, in times when the class-struggle nears the decisive hour, the process of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact, within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movements as a whole.”
Not new, either, that during riots in the working class neighbourhoods, lumpen-proletarians take to the streets alongside the rioters. Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party explained that “more and more of the proletariat will become unemployable, become lumpen, until they have become the popular class, the revolutionary class”.
From the penal and police treatment to the fabrication of caricatures, the ongoing repression of social movements is a direct copy of the securitarian management of the suburbs.
The memory of struggles in proletarian neighbourhoods is there for us to recall. A history among others of popular uprisings perfectly illustrates these similarities. At Dammarie-lès-Lys, the police, judiciary and media techniques deployed to break a protest movement were in all respects identical to those used today. That was nearly fifteen years ago.
At Dammarie, on the 21st of May 2002, Xavier Dem, overcome by dementia, shoots at two police officers with a pellet gun, lightly injuring one on the elbow. The second officer answers by killing Xavier with a bullet to the head. Two days later, Mohamed Berrichi dies during a motorbike chase by the police. Mohamed Berrichi was the brother of the President of the Bouge qui Bouge association, which was created following the assassination of Abedelkader Bouziane (16 years old) by a BAC officer in 1997. His death two days after that of Xavier Dem, combined with a national climate in which the far-right National Front succeed in entering the second round of the presidential elections, sends a shock wave throughout the neighbourhood.
On the 27th of May 2002, 800 people protest together against police brutality. For the first time in a suburban neighbourhood a demonstration was cordoned by an imposing group made up of by activists from the neighbourhood. It’s a peaceful show of strength without precedent in the popular neighbourhoods of France. The stand-off in front of the Dammarie police station remains a highlight in the annals of many activists. During the night, the demo’s banners in memory of Abdelkader, Xavier and Mohamed, are hung up on the Bas-Moulin highrise.
Looking for “responsible” people in the neighbourhood with which to talk to, the State authorities in Dammarie dispatch the rector of the Évry mosque and representatives of the Paris mosque to offer their condolences “and those of the Mayor and the Prefect” to the father of Mohamed Berrichi.
Supported by the MIB (immigration and suburbs movement association), Mohamed’s father replies that mourning is a family affair. The MIB points out that such a mobilisation was politically motivated, and points the finger at the hypocrisy of the State, which didn’t summon catholic authorities to visit Xavier Dem’s family. The State’s religious messengers are sent packing, back to their flocks.
Vexed, Khalil Merroun, rector of the Évry mosque, states that “the family is taken hostage by people who refuse dialogue”. One would think one was reading the prose of a union bureaucrat bidden to condemn the violence of demonstrators resolved not to let themselves be gassed and beaten up by the police. This is a typical tactic of the State, which tries to use intermediary religious or syndical bodies to sort the “good” citizens from the “bad”.
The mobilisation around Mohamed Berrichi’s death gives way to many pressure surges from the police, with the instrumentalisation of “contempt of cop” and judiciary repression instruments. This is a technique we witness today, for instance with the indictment under counter-terrorism motives (conspiracy, organised gang…) of young protesters who took over into the Rennes metro to organise a “free transport” operation.
Already, in 2002, supposed “anti-police hatred” is used to justify, and to sway public opinion in favour of, repression. In June 2002, the SPNT (national union of uniformed police officers) demands the suppression of banners which it deems are “calling for anti-police hatred”. The union calls for a demonstration on the 2nd of July 2002, in front of the Seine-et-Marne prefecture. It’s an avant-premiere, 14 years early, of the recent love-the-police demonstration at Place de la République.
At Dammarie, the elite RAID unit is deployed in the neighbourhood during a police search of the premises of the association Bouge qui Bouge, similarly to its recent use during the evacuation of the “people’s house” in Rennes…
In each of these struggles, one encounters the instruments and techniques of repression which are used today against the social movement. These last few years have seen the emergence of an increasingly violent arsenal, first destined and tested in popular neighbourhoods, and now used on everybody.
In addition to the physical, comes a judiciary repression. The Kamara brothers from Villiers-le-Bel were the first victims of this State vengeance, which can have people sentenced on the basis of “white notes” or anonymous tips. In Paris, after the burning of a police car, 4 people were brought in by police for “attempted homicide of a representative of public authority”, with the only evidence being the anonymous account of an infiltrated police officer. As with the Kamara brothers, the only evidence consists of elements constructed by the police or intelligence services. The generalization of these methods is yet another step towards a police state. With them, the police services can fabricate entire cases, as illustrated by the Quai de Valmy affair. A few hours after the fire, 4 known activists, singled out by the DGSI (general direction of interior security), were arrested. The investigators even admit that “their implication in the arson of the vehicle is not established”. As with the case of the Kamara brothers, an entire apparatus articulated around police services and governmental storytelling is used to justify these incarcerations.
These similarities between the repression of neighbourhood unrest and that of social movements create the conditions for such struggles to converge. Those who are fighting on the front lines in our neighbourhoods and those in our social movements faced with police brutality are fully aware of this. They realize that now isn’t the time to argue over who was doing what back in 2005, but instead to work on building bridges and battlegrounds common to all those who refuse to resign themselves to mere survival in this unequal and violent world.