France shift to police state

After two years of application of this supposed “exceptional” regime, the government claimed to lift the state of emergency while bringing in its provisions in common law by adopting one of the most draconian legislation in Europe as regards the infringement of individual liberties. This is not to “leave the state of emergency” but to enter the police state permanently.

From left to right; the Minister of Interior, the President and the government spokesman.
© French Presidency

In the official picture, the president is flanked by his Minister of the Interior and the government spokesman. The Minister of Justice is absent; the police state is assumed even in the image.

This is France. No police officer has ever been convicted, even for murder, if the police unions support him. In recent months, armed, hooded, and aggressive police officers have held dozens of unauthorized street demonstrations of their own. The police were received in the Presidential Palace and received 250 million euros for new weapons. Two months later, a law was passed relaxing the conditions that justify self-defense for the police, giving them a license to kill. The murder of Liu Shaoyo took place only a month later.

After two years under the state of emergency, we count the dead, the wounded, the imprisoned. It has long been the case that ten to fifteen people die at the hands of the police each year in France, always from lower-income neighborhoods. But the level of violence has increased under the state of emergency, extending to the entire population. This supposedly exceptional regime, declared by the President after the attacks of November 13, 2015, gives the police extended power to arrest people, search premises without a warrant, and prohibit demonstrations. It bears a colonial pedigree: the legislation for the state of emergency was passed in April 1955, during the French occupation of Algeria.

The first unsanctioned demonstration under the state of emergency resulted in 344 arrests, without anyone being charged with a single crime; this set the tone for everything that followed. The police have arrested and injured thousands of protesters at the demonstrations of the past year, whether sanctioned or unsanctioned. At least 2031 political activists and trade union members have faced trial over the past 13 months.

The totalitarian drift of the state and institutionalized racism is even more blatant in the case of migrants. Living on the streets, they suffer cold and sickness; they are dehumanized, harassed, and imprisoned. Officers arrive early in the morning, take position in a neighborhood where migrants sleep together, and surround them with the now-familiar kettle. Sometimes they kettle an entire neighborhood, locking up everyone they catch, residents included. At the police station, migrants are often asked to sign an OQTF form (accepting the obligation to exit French territory within 30 days) on the false premise that it is an application for a place in a shelter.

France is proud to be the homeland of human rights. But chartered rights granted by a government or sovereign can also be revoked on account of real or imagined emergencies. Like people in the United States, we live in a country that can deny rights and put people on lists, often for purely political reasons. After the attacks, coinciding with the declaration of a state of emergency, the President proposed inscribing in the constitution “la déchéance de nationalité”, the ability to revoke the French nationality of any person committing an offense “constituting an attack on the fundamental interests of the nation.” This proposal has been withdrawn, formally speaking, but it continues in practice. In the eyes of the state, the inhabitants of working-class neighborhoods are sub-citizens, just as migrants are subhuman.

If your own government starts talking about proclaiming any “state of emergency”, especially while invoking your own safety, beware and oppose to it before it’s too late. A state of emergency is the hallmark of arbitrary repression and the establishment of a security regime; it paves the way for escalating racist violence and the opening of internment camps, without doing anything to prevent further terrorist attacks.


Joseph Paris is documentary filmmaker.
November 02, 2017 - © and the author.