France: Is Macron Outlawing Civil Disobedience?

Emmanuel Macron says if you are frail, elderly or in poor health you should not peacefully demonstrate in a “forbidden zone” because you could risk serious injury from the police.  His statement followed a police charge against a non-violent Yellow Vest rally in Nice, March 23, in which a 73-year-old protester suffered major head injuries.

“Quand on est fragile, qu’on peut se faire bousculer, on ne se rend pas dans des lieux qui sont définis comme interdits…” —Emmanuel Macron,

“When you are fragile and you can be shoved, you don’t go to a place which is defined as forbidden…”

There are so many things wrong with what Macron said that it is hard to understand why he would say such a thing even if he believes it.

From Thoreau to Vietnam

Let’s begin with Civil Disobedience which is the peaceful breaking of the law to make a point. People who conduct such protests are usually prepared for fines and even jail. Civil Disobedience is a bedrock of democracy and one should never fear for life or limb while conducting a sit-in or blocking a traffic circle.

Freedom Marchers Defy Forbidden Zones

Macron’s statement reminds me of the images I saw as a child when Freedom Marchers in the South went into “forbidden zones” to protest segregation and Jim Crow. Racist White police cracked skulls, broke bones and even killed people. Apparently, if one pushes his logic, Macron thinks this is all right as the zones were “forbidden” and the protesters knew it.

Fathers Daniel & Philip Berrigan

How many anti-Vietnam war protests conducted illegal sit-ins and blocked traffic, or schools? Perhaps the most famous passive resisters of the time were two Catholic priests known as the Berrigan Brothers (click here).

Forbidden Zones -Opening the Doors to Social Apartheid

Then there is this notion of “forbidden zones” which in France on March 23, just happened to be where the rich and beautiful play and where the banks and administration offices are. The decisions by the Prefects show just how dangerous is the new ‘anti-casseurs’ law Macron had voted by his majority in Parliament. The fact that a political appointee can decide who can protest and who cannot and where they can protest without judicial over-sight opens the doors to all sorts of arbitrary political repression in the future. Amnesty International was among many to condemn the Bill (on the law click here and for the AI statement in French click here).

University of Michigan Students Protest Vietnam War with an Illegal Sit-In

Of course, it was the burning and looting in Paris on March 16 by a few hundred hard leftists which was used to justify the ban. This too is an old tactic to deny peaceful protesters their voice by assimilating them to rioters. In a functioning democracy, it is the job of the police to protect demonstrators from those who are violent. Studies show that, of the some 2,000 people seriously injured by police during Yellow Vest demonstrations, the over whelming majority were not involved in acts of violence. Here is a video report on police violence and those hurt, click here.

State Monopoly on Violence Misused

Macron deployed the Army for the protests on March 23 to back up police; something not seen in France since 1948. On Friday, March 22, the military governor of Paris, General Bruno Leray, said his troops “could open fire if their lives or those they are protecting are threatened.” The problem here is soldiers are trained for war, not policing and have a different threat and response doctrine. (statement by General Leray in French)

The massive arbitrary searching and detaining of people, the extreme violence, fines and jail have dissuaded many from taking part in the Yellow Vest protests. The police charge in Nice on March 23 which sent Geneviève Legay to the hospital will further discourage people from voicing their protest.  Since Macron was elected in 2017, democracy has taken a back seat to reform; from creating a permanent State of Emergency under Presidential control (click here) without judicial over-sight, to pushing legislation through by decree thus stifling debate in parliament, to the new anti-casseur law and police charging peaceful protesters in “forbidden zones” have put in place all the means a despot will need to impose his “law and order” when the time comes.