“Gassed, Bludgeoned, Thrown to the Ground and Beaten”: How Macron’s Police Treated Peaceful May Day Protestors in Paris

I am one of the 32 people who were arrested on Wednesday, May 1st, in the grounds of the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, for participating in a group in view to committing degradation or violence. After 30 hours of custody at the Palais de Justice in Paris, I discovered the extent of what happened and the political exploitation largely relayed by some media outlets. So here’s what I lived, from the inside.

At around 16:00 I was with friends near the hospital, the demonstration was quiet, we were stuck for a few minutes, waiting to continue to Place d’Italie. We assumed that there was a CRS cordon further out of our field of vision. Suddenly, without any explanation or warning, a rain of tear-gas shells fell on the whole compact crowd, there was no way to retreat or flee, we suffered the tear gas and its effects. Around me there were no breakers or supposed “Black Blocs”, only ordinary people of all ages.

As the gas dissipated, I saw a friend supporting an elderly woman (80 years of age?) who was suffocating and spitting, like most people around me, and me also. She asked me to take care of this woman while she tried to find her glasses lost in the general panic. I took this woman away to the sidewalk, and I saw dozens of people taking refuge in what looks like the entrance to a complex of buildings, a parking lot.

An unknown woman offered me saline to administer on the face and eyes of the elderly woman, who seemed to be better. Around me they were only simple pacifist demonstrators who tried to regain their spirits, nobody was masked or wearing a balaclava. My friends arrived and took refuge in this space, while outside the water cannon soaked the last protesters who tried to flee, the police forces aimed flash balls at everyone and bludgeoned people within their reach.

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A security officer (recognisable by the badge he wears on his jacket) and a woman he is responsible for (after some research, it turned out that this was the director of the hospital Marie-Anne Ruder), in front of the terrible “spectacle” that they also witnessed, told the small group that had formed around them, which I was a part of, that we could stay here (which we then understood to be the enclosure of the hospital) in the shelter while “it calms down”.

In their presence some helpers came down to help the demonstrators bring saline to, and take care of, the people most affected by the gas, the elderly woman was probably taken care of at that time because I never saw her again. A nurse gave a piece of plaster to my friend to repair these broken glasses. A few minutes passed, during which we witnessed the indiscriminate violence of the police outside, when a line of CRS was formed at the gate of the place where we took refuge.

The charge of law enforcement forced everyone to flee, I ran and I heard flash ball shots behind me. I remind that no one was masked or in a balaclava, there was only peaceful protesters of any age around me. Everyone ran and tried to flee in the opposite direction of the charge, but in front of us other CRS appeared, as well as motorcycle “voltigeurs”, batons and flash ball launchers in hand.

On each side of my escape I saw people being gassed and bludgeoned, thrown to the ground and beaten. Under panic, the only way out seemed to be this staircase that others had already started to climb, and so I began to climb this staircase but without really realising where it led. Fear made me go up. I heard the nurses parley with the first people in front of the door, no aggression was uttered, only fear and panic. From below, the bikers aimed at us with flash ball launchers and howled to put their hands on their heads.

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From the small platform of the stairs, we still witnessed the spectacle of people being gassed, bludgeoned, as they tried to put their hands up in the air. A CRS brought down everyone, while I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, part of our group thus formed was lying face down on the ground, hands on their head. Then begins our questioning and all the humiliation that went with it. We gave our identification, then the palpation began, one by one. The search gave nothing, not even a gas mask, just a few bottles of saline, probably what one of the caregivers had come to offer the demonstrators a few minutes before the charge.

The police seem disappointed, they do not deal with the dangerous long-awaited breakers. Soon the whole brigade dispersed to discuss, light a cigarette, and joke. The one who seems to be their leader said very clearly “You’re all being taken away for participation in a group!”, then discussed calmly with the head of security of the hospital and his superior. One of the biker “voltigeur” helmet in hand, approached and said: “I want to tell you that I am shocked, disgusted, we can see from your profiles that it is useless to question you. We mobilised 50 people to watch you while outside 300 blacks-blocs are destroying everything and we need to reinforce ourselves elsewhere!”

Indeed, the twenty motorcycles of the voltigeurs was aligned quietly along the wall, the men removed their helmets and were waiting. They stayed there for a good half hour, until we were taken on a bus to the former Palais de Justice in Paris, Quai de l’Horloge, on the Ile de la Cité. In the bus the atmosphere was relaxed, even if everyone was wondering what would happen to us, we still did not imagine custody.

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My neighbour Jacques is a 67-year-old man, the one we see in the video of the caregiver talking and saying that they want them to go back because they are afraid of the police. As you can see in my photo of the interior of the bus, the profile of the arrested is far from the description made by Mr. Castaner. I had been to the police, and apparently I wasn’t the only one, everyone was wondering what was going to happen, the rumours were going around so everyone wrote the name and phone number of a lawyer or a relative in pen on their forearms…

For those who ask for it, I can also describe the proceedings of the 30 hours of police custody.

Johann Maheut

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