“Maintaining order is an extremely political science”: Interview with Patrice Ribeiro, General Secratary of the French Police Officer’s Union.

Quelque policiers

The following was published a couple of days ago in the Catholic-linked French newspaper La Croix [FRENCH ORIGINAL]. It’s a quite startlingly direct account of the challenges of policing the current movement. More coming up this evening, hopefully.

Patrice Ribeiro: “Maintaining order is an extremely political science”

Against the casseurs, essentially kids from the suburbs and militants of the extreme left, the police have orders to act with prudence, so as to avoid a mistake at any cost. Interview with Patrice Ribeiro, General Secretary of Synergie, the Police Officer’s Union.

La Croix: What is the profile of the casseurs arrested in the last few days on the margin of the demonstrations?

Patrice Ribeeiro: One finds, apart from a few lycéens without a record who, in the collective fervour, let themselves go and throw projectiles, two principal sorts of person. On the one hand the casseurs from the suburbs, whose aim is predation and destruction. They smash, burn and pillage shops, when they’re not ripping off demonstrators.

On the other hand, militants from the extreme left or the ultra left who, sometimes, belong to political formations and who smash uniquely according to a subversive logic. They are to the lycéen demonstrations what the Black Blocks (Editor’s note, autonomous, ultraviolent groups) are to the G8 summits.

The distribution between casseurs from the suburbs and militants of the extreme left varies from one cortege to another, as a function of the social environment: the former were in the majority during the incidents at Nanterre, and less numerous on the margin of the demonstration in Lyon last Tuesday. There’s nothing really new there, except perhaps that new technologies permit these young guys to meet up more quickly and, in due course [le cas écheant], to promote their “exploits” on the blogs.

Why are the casseurs difficult to control?

Normally, these are people known by the police services. The problem is that they’re extremely mobile and form “clouds” [nebuleuses]. They get together inside the cortege, leave it – often masked – to smash windows, then return to blend in amongst the demonstrators. In these conditions, it’s difficult to charge because one risks creating a dangerous, panicked movement. The most effective thing is to send small, mobile units, with support at the rear to prevent their being lynched.

Do the police sometimes have orders to allow vandalism instead of taking risks?

Of course. The maintenance of order is an extremely political science [science haut politique]. The government wouldn’t fall if an enquiry into a break-in wasn’t successful. But it would put its survival at stake if a demo turned bad. Therefore, the whole thing consists in finding an equilibrium between the different risks.

Are the stewards at the demonstrations totally disarmed?

Those of the huge confederations – notably those from the CGT, without hesitation [sans etat d’ame], organised like an army, and collaborate well with the police – never let themselves go. But the stewards of the lycéen unions, when they exist, commit sins because of their amateurism. Elsewhere, those who push the youths into the street are perfectly conscious of the risk of disorder.

Recorded by Denis Peiron
(La Croix, 20th October)

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