We followed the demonstration with observers of police violence

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Each member of the team has a well-defined role during the observation mission. – H.Sergent / 20Minutes

  • The Paris Observatory of Public Liberties, created with the support of the League for Human Rights (LDH) and the Syndicat des Avocats de France (SAF), has set itself the task of documenting police practices.
  • Concretely, the collective sends a team to the processions of the demonstrations to observe the order-keeping system and any overflows or violence.
  • This Friday, January 24, three volunteers from the observatory agreed to be followed in Paris by 20 minutes as part of their mission during the demonstration against pension reform.

They did not make a meter, chasuble bearing the logo of the League for Human Rights (LDH) on the back, that already, a protester approaches them, sandwich in hand. ” Thank you for being here ! “Says the young man before heading to Place de la République, hence
the Paris demonstration against pension reform is due to start soon. Céline *, 23, Florent, 39, and Jérôme, 29, are all three volunteers with the very young
Paris Observatory of Public Liberties. Created in spring 2019 with the support of the LDH and the Syndicat des Avocats de France (SAF), the collective now brings together around twenty members.

In the observatory’s charter, which all of its members signed before joining it, the stated objective is clear: “document police practices”, “abuse of procedures”, and “inform people of their rights affected by these practices. ” In teams of three, volunteers criss-cross the protests and publish analysis reports on policing. Ant work, complex and demanding, which 20 minutes was able to attend this Friday.

Well-defined roles

It is not yet 11 a.m., but the three observers have already started their mission. “Before each procession begins, we go around the area to see if there are filtering dams in certain places, to assess the number of law enforcement officers deployed, note their type of equipment,” explains Florent. , dean of the team. Everything is scrutinized: the weapons carried, the number of trucks parked, or even the visibility of the RIOs, these identification numbers that gendarmes and police must normally wear.

At each meeting, the configuration of the teams is much the same. The roles of each were determined in advance. Jérôme, a lawyer by training, is responsible for filming the law enforcement system this Friday. GoPro camera in hand, he explains: “Céline takes care of the security of the group, we must never separate, she takes a step back to observe what is happening around us. Florent, he must take audio notes with a dictaphone with as much detail as possible, the context, the forces involved, their attitude, if the visors are lowered or the shields deployed ”.

Before starting the observation mission, the team members equip themselves to distinguish themselves from the crowd. – H. Sergeant / 20Minutes

A role that requires special concentration, since each device is detailed, minute by minute. “It is this rigor that allows us to have a global analysis and put it in perspective a posteriori with our feelings ”, continues Céline. “It also allows us to get very specific information if we need it, especially in the context of a judicial investigation, if we have witnessed violence or abusive practices,” adds Florent. At the beginning of January,
a yellow vest was thus released on appeal on the basis of a video filmed by the LDH as part of an observation mission in Montpellier.

Neutrality and distance

After the first round of “reconnaissance” of the site, the team heads to the procession. Along Saint-Martin Boulevard, large numbers of CRS and mobile gendarmes are waiting in line on each sidewalk. “This double framework is already information in itself, because it can participate in a climate of tension”, judges Céline, the youngest of the group, a law student who already has ten observation missions. “However, none wears a helmet or hood, we see their faces, it is also an important element,” she nuances.

“During our mission, we must have behavioral neutrality. We take sides neither for the demonstrators, nor for the police “

As they move forward, several protesters hand out leaflets to the team. Céline systematically refuses. Jérôme explains: “During our mission, we must have behavioral neutrality. We take sides neither for the demonstrators nor for the police. We are here in total neutrality, we are not going to sing the slogans, we are not going to collect leaflets, if something happens, we are not going to intervene. Unless there is a need to assist a person in danger. ” Neutrality not always well understood by the demonstrators, recognizes Céline.

Details that matter

As soon as the procession was launched, his head was immobilized by a cord of mobile gendarmes. The three volunteers note everything. At an intersection, the team is blocked by a member of the police force. “Can’t we pass? Asks Jerome. Constable’s response: “No, you cannot”. Behind him, onlookers circulate and cross the cordon. Jérôme raises: “Why can’t we pass? “, The answer is hesitant then fuse:” Because you wear chasubles “. Dictaphone in hand, Florent dictates: “A gendarme prevents us from circulating and explicitly evokes the wearing of chasubles”. An anecdote which will appear in the analysis produced by the group at the end of the demonstration.

On January 16, the observatory published a briefing note for protesters. Following field observations, members noted a systematic request from law enforcement to remove “stickers and other expressions to leave the rallies.” The practice “has no legal basis” and “undermines freedom of expression,” the organization said.

A “necessary” investment

If the atmosphere seemed relatively calm throughout the course of the Parisian event on Friday, Céline, Florent and Jérôme already know that they will not be able to provide a global vision of the policing carried out today. “We cannot be omniscient and everywhere at the same time, especially when there is only one team mobilized,” notes Céline.

Because certain types of violence can sometimes arise in the middle of a procession, not necessarily at the head or during the dispersal of the demonstration. In order not to “miss” possible abusive practices, the observatory therefore relies on images and testimonies of the demonstrators transmitted after the mobilization. Checked and sourced, these elements complement the observations of volunteers in the field. The group is also adapting to changes in mobilization.

This Friday evening, a wild demonstration is taking place around Saint-Lazare station after the arrival of the procession on Place de la Concorde, prompting the group to extend its mission. It’s only after the crowd has dispersed and the situation has subsided that the team meets to conduct a “debriefing” of the day. An essential moment to “objectify” everything they could see. The demonstration is only the first stage of a long synthesis work which will follow: “It is energy consuming and it requires a very important investment for all the members”, recognizes Céline. But necessary, concludes Jérôme: “The defense of public freedoms is everyone’s business. And it is also up to civil society to act. “

* The first name has been changed

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