“Stop the global security law”, “Smile, you’re being…beaten up”, “Your weapons vs. our cameras” … Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched across the country against police brutality and the ban on filming police interventions that the government wants to impose. Anger and emotion were all the more intense as everybody had in mind the images of the violent and racist beating of Michel Zecler a few days before.
Those images show how police officers behave when they think they won’t be seen. Without those images, we would have known nothing about this assault. Worse, the victim would have been wrongly accused, as has happened so many times before. So, filming and providing evidence of police interventions is not only a matter of freedom of information and freedom of the press, it’s also a basic means of defending oneself.
Regarding the beating of Michel Zecler, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin pointed fingers at the police officers “who messed up”! But when three police officers follow a man home, beat him for fifteen minutes, call for reinforcement to arrest him and then write up false reports, all because he wasn’t wearing a face mask, that’s what you call an outburst of gratuitous, racist violence. And downplaying the facts, as Darmanin is doing, only encourages police officers to feel they are authorized to act in such ways.
Like Darmanin, many political leaders deny police brutality even exists. Last March, President Macron declared, “There will be no talk of repression or police brutality, such words are unacceptable in a state of law”. And last June, following the death of George Floyd in the US, Marine Le Pen declared, “No, there is no problem with police violence” and she still claims so.
All governments—left-wing and right-wing alike—are used to covering up acts of ill-treatment and violence, letting them go unpunished and proclaiming their trust in the police force. From Nicolas Sarkozy to Manuel Valls, from Brice Hortefeux to Christophe Castaner, every interior minister has taken on the role of France’s “Top Cop”. Even now, they still want people to believe that the recent assault was the fault of a few bad apples. But given the number of violent acts, it’s more like the whole lot is spoiled! In other words, we can’t count on the authorities to fight against police violence.
Governments need the police too much to take the risk of criticizing or weakening them. The government uses the police as a last resort to impose its anti-working-class policies and to make people accept an unjust and unequal social order.
The fact that part of the police force and its hierarchy have far-right tendencies and hold racist and anti-poor prejudices isn’t new to political leaders, nor is it a problem to them. When men and women are needed to impose order in working-class and immigrant neighborhoods, even in the most violent way, they can actually be an asset!
Sacking Lallement, the Prefect of Paris, or the interior minister Darmanin; reforming the police force’s disciplinary unit; training police officers to form an anti-racist police force capable of bringing peace: those suggested “solutions” are all illusions. Such a police force can never exist because its fundamental function is to make sure that the exploited stay exploited and quiet. The police do useful work when they come to the aid of the less fortunate, but their main job is to repress. It’s to enforce the laws of a system where the prosperity of a capitalist minority is based on the sacrifices and sufferings of the overwhelming majority. Without this authoritarian and repressive apparatus, capitalism wouldn’t stand. This is even truer now with the economic crisis which is causing unemployment and poverty to skyrocket and making an already decaying society even worse.
For several years now, the government has piled up security laws one after the other under the pretext of fighting crime, drug trafficking and terrorism but also to repress social protests such as the Yellow Vests.
In this period of crisis, as the government and capitalists are imposing more sacrifices on workers and preparing to roll back our rights like never before, they are also expecting social unrest. In anticipation, they are preparing to muzzle and crush such reactions, with violence if need be. So yes, the present reactionary and authoritarian turn is likely to get worse, as will the police’s sense of unlimited power and absolute authority. Those who protest and don’t want to see society go down that path must understand the link between police violence and capitalist exploitation. We won’t get rid of racism or police brutality without questioning the capitalist foundation of society.