May 1st in Paris: Did the Police Have the Right to Confiscate Yellow Vests?

At the end of the demonstration in Paris on May 1st, which was particularly tense and restless, law enforcement ordered some protesters to take off and abandon their yellow vests in order to leave Place d’Italie – an injunction that raises questions.

In order to join the procession, this Wednesday, May 1st, it was necessary to be checked. Near the route of the demonstration in Paris, which stretched from Montparnasse to Place d’Italie, “filtering” searches were omnipresent. Bag searches, identity checks… The goal: confiscate objects that can be used as “possible weapons” and stop possible “disruptive elements”, which the police unions warned us about the day prior. But once the parade was over, the demonstrators again had to pass through searches in order to leave the secure perimeter, as “Marianne” could see. Filtering this time … their clothing.


At around 18:00, the various exits of Place d’Italie were “locked” by the police. For the demonstrators wanting to leave the end point of the event, it was only possible to exit via l’avenue d’Italie. Lined up, blocking the road, a dozen policemen filtered the demonstrators, granting them the right to drift away from the area drowned by the smoke of tear gas. “It’s a classic evacuation strategy,” said Yves Lefebvre, General Secretary of the “Unité SGP Police FO” union to “Marianne”. “We create a kind of bottleneck to make sure that all the protesters go in the same direction. Thus, the crowd is under control and the risk of riots and incidents is reduced in all adjacent streets.”

More than this strategy, it is an injunction given to certain demonstrators by the mobilised gendarmes that raises questions. In order to have the right to leave, they had to remove and leave their yellow vests behind at the feet of the agents. “It’s intolerable,” cries a protester, his yellow vest still on his back. “I’m wearing my vest, it’s not negotiable!”. “It’s a humiliation,” said another. On the ground, or hanging on street furniture, yellow vests piled up as people went out.

Should we perceive this as an order from above? “This was not an order,” said Yves Lefebvre. “It was only a personal initiative, an excess of zeal of a man or a unit, which I do not understand”. A “shameful” act, according to him, which can be explained by the feeling of fed up police forces mobilised on the ground “non stop” for six months. “Without excusing it, it’s important to understand that some of us are at the end of one’s tether,” he said. “We are in a tight situation due to chronic understaffing. We keep being moved around, we are away from our families permanently in order maintain order and be insulted. So some give in to pressure and some sort of personal revenge… “


On the side of the police headquarters in Paris, contacted by “Marianne”, they also denied any instructions but were not offended by this order given to protesters. “From the moment they decide to leave the event, it is quite normal to ask them to remove any sign of protest,” they pleaded. “This outfit, in this case the yellow vest, can today be considered as such, as a sign for example”.

“False!” retorts Arié Alimi – a lawyer, yellow vest, and member of the League of Human Rights – to “Marianne” concerning such a justification. “No text gives them this right,” he said. Since the implementation of theAnti-Breaker Law, the police can search bags and vehicles on the requisition of the prosecutor, with the sole purpose of searching for “perpetrators of an offence likely to seriously disturb the course of a demonstration”. And if confiscations can take place, the objects involved must represent potential “weapons”. “Removing the protesters’ yellow vests, or even simply asking them to abandon them, is liable to criminal prosecution, it is robbery, an abuse of power,” said the lawyer. “They will never ask a unionist or a football supporter to do this. But Yellow Vests – yes. I got wind of several similar cases elsewhere in France, it’s absurd”.

On the side of the “Alliance” police union, while affirming to having “just discovered this initiative”, they nevertheless defend the “traditional and banal” practice. “It’s just common sense,” said Frédéric Lagache, its deputy Secretary General, to “Marianne”. “When an event is over, you must remove anything that identifies you as an activist. If the protesters are allowed to walk around with their signs of belonging, we can consider that the demonstration can continue elsewhere, later and possibly degenerate in contact with other groups”. It’s not certain that these explanations content the Yellow Vests who had to abandon their famous tunic that has rallied them for months.

Anthony Cortes, Marianne

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