In France the cops are being targeted by those who ought to be targeted

By Marilyn Z. Tomlins, Paris, France.



The French have never liked their police.

It is said that this dislike dates from the Second World War when the police, France, having capitulated to the Germany enemy, had collaborated with the victors.

When, in June 1940, France fell and the victorious Germans occupied the northern part of the country, which included Paris, policemen were given the choice of resigning or working under German orders, and few resigned.

Therefore, the Germans, being the police force’s new masters, it meant that the police had to, and did, at the end of each day pass on all the day’s dossiers to the occupier. This was done through the office of the Prefect (préfet) of Paris – Amédée Bussière – who, in turn, handed the dossiers over to ‘Free’ or Vichy France’s representative or ambassador to Occupied France – Count Ferdinand de Brinon. He would, in turn, inform the Germans who would be the ones to decide what action would be taken against those who had committed a crime. (At the end of the war Bussière was taken into custody and was convicted for ‘collaboration with the enemy’, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment but was released after having served five years. De Brinon fled to Germany but was soon arrested, and on trial in France he was, like Bussière, convicted for ‘collaboration with the enemy’, found guilty and shot outside Paris.)

Such memories die hard.

A more recent grievance the French have against their police is that a policeman can at any time and in any place request from anyone to give proof of one’s identity as well as proof of the legality of living in France . The latter is if one is a foreigner. This is the law in France.

For this reason, all in France, foreigner like French national, have to have some form of identity on them whenever they step from their home. A foreigner resident in France is issued with a residence permit – carte de sejour – obtained from the police on proof of residence and income, and it is this document which has to be shown to a cop. As for a French national, if over the age of 18, he or she must show the national identity card – the Carte Nationale d’Intentité. Anyone who can not oblige is taken to the nearest police station house – préfecture de police – to be held until identity has been established, and, if that person is a foreigner that he or she is indeed legally in the country. A foreigner without such a residence permit might be deported.

Another grievance the French have is that when someone is thus being stopped by the police for an ‘identity control’ they do not want to be addressed by the familiar ‘tu’, but the respectful ‘vous’. This they also want in the event of an arrest. The police’s reply to such a grievance is: “Are we to say ‘sir’ to a man who is pointing a gun at us?”

France’s Minister of the Interior, Manual Vals, had though earlier this year order his police to manifest respect to all they deal with.

I have consequently seen on television just a day ago in a documentary about the police how four heavily-armed and wearing bulletproof vests cops – one a woman – chase a man along one of Paris’s crime-ridden streets and calling out to him “Monsieur! Monsieur! Arrêt! S’il vous plait!” (Sir! Sir! Halt! Please!)

All law-abiding inhabitants of France do, though, despite not liking the police, respect them, and for this reason, what is happening in France currently is not to their liking.

It is that the US website, Copwatch – or rather a French version of it – is now tracking cops and ‘outing’ them on the Internet. This, in a country where uniformed cops are not eager to be identified as police and are in plainclothes when they set of from home for their shift to change to their uniform at the station house.

The method the culprits employ is that during a public demonstration the demonstrators photograph the police with their cell phones and publish the photos on the ‘copwatch’ site asking viewers to identity the cops. This also happens when there is an altercation between the police and a member or members of the public, or when an identity control is underway.

Once a cop has been identified in this manner he or she begins to receive menacing phone calls and emails. A cop can even be followed in order to complete his identification.

 A case of such identification of policemen occurred as a result of a three-day riot in July in the town of Trappes (30,000 pop.) west of Paris.

 The riot which started on July 19 was provoked because of an identity control the day before of a Muslim woman in a niqab. Since September 14, 2010 all face-covering headgear – niqab, mask, balaclava or helmet – as well as the full-body burqa has been banned in France in an act passed by the French parliament (National Assembly of France) and confirmed by the higher House of Senate.

 On July 18, the woman, covered but for her eyes, was accompanied by her husband to a supermarket and when patrolling police asked for either her identity card or her residence permit and to accompany them to their station house to be formally warned that she was breaking the law, the husband challenged the policemen and in the argument which followed he grabbed one of the policemen by the neck and almost strangled him to death. The policeman needed hospitalisation. The husband was arrested.

The following afternoon – July 19 – around fifty youths from a nearby estate (cité) of subsidised housing gathered outside the station house and by nightfall their number had grown to about 250 and a riot was in full swing, the rioters pelting the police and the building with stones and whatever else they could get hold of, as well as turning over cars and setting them alight. By then the special riot police (CRS – Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité) were on site and several arrests were made.

Meanwhile the cell phone owners when given the opportunity had photographed the police, the CRS and also some of the plainclothes cops present, and the photos were published on the ‘copwatch’ site as well as on blogs and forums and some well-known social sites.

Those whose photos were published were duly identified and under each photograph appeared the name of each one’s unit in the force. So too accusations. For example, one policeman was accused of ‘islamophobia’, another of ‘lacking respect’, and another of being a follower of Marine le Pen. Ms le Pen, 45, is President of the National Front Party, France’s third-largest political party (some claim that it has become the largest) and 2012 presidential candidate.

But how did these youths find out just from a photograph and perhaps one which might not have been clear, the name of the cops and their details?

The answer is: they found the names on-line and on a police forum. The ‘police of the police’ have now closed the forum.

On the forum police wrote things like: “I spent last night in Trappes with my colleagues. Poor France. Long live le Bleu Marine!” Or, “The hunting season is open. It is time for a proper clean-up.”

During the 2012 presidential campaign Ms le Pen named the various blogs and forums supporting her ‘Toile Bleu Marine’ – the Navy Blue Web.

She promises her supporters that should she become President she will reduce immigration considerably. She also opposes France’s membership to the European Union and the Eurozone, and she is against same-gender marriage, euthanasia and abortion.

In the 2012 presidential election she came third with 18% after François Hollande and the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

What is being asked in France now is why the police and/or the Ministry of the Interior have not closed the ‘cop-bashing’ sites and forums and especially the ‘copwatch’ site.

A previous version of the ‘copwatch’ site was indeed closed at the beginning of 2012 by the then Minister of Interior, Claude Guéant, but Mr Guéant’s party, UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) lost power in May of 2012 to Mr Vals’s Socialist Party, and the site was re-launched.

And France with a new President (François Hollande) and a new Prime Minister (Jean-Marc Ayrault) is allowing it to stay on-line.


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