A march organised by feminist groups took place on Saturday 7 March in Paris, ahead of the International Women’s Rights Day.
The march was planned to start at 7:00 p.m. from Place des Fêtes (19th) and finish at Place de la République. The whole march went peacefully, as underlined by the report of the police prefecture (see here), with thousands of people taking part in a festive atmosphere. A participant, quoted by FranceInfo explains that “there was music, women with drums, in a very joyful atmosphere, with young people and people who don’t necessarily go to many events.”
However, as the march was getting closer to an end, the police charged protesters and used teargas to scatter them. Journalists and participants to the demonstration reported a kittling strategy of the police, impeding several groups to leave the assembly through nearby streets, instead surrounding them and pushing them into the metro station “République”.
In its official explanation, the police prefecture stated that there was a “hostile atmosphere” towards police forces and that some participants were arrested for degradation of public goods. The report also mentions insults towards officers when the cortege arrived at Place de la République. The official justification for this use of teargas and violence was the non-respect of the scheduled end of the demonstration, set at 10:00 p.m. and attempts by smaller groups to go into an undeclared path.
Protesters confirm that the main cortege arrived around 10:30-10:45 on the square, but that they were kettled by the police, thus finding themselves stuck in the streets. On Sunday, videos from the police intervention emerged on social media and on TV channels, showing what seems a disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters, according to participants.
[TW] Des militantes féministes chargées et interpellées violemment par les forces de l’ordre lors de la #MarcheFéministe nocturne. Quelques heures avant le 8 mars. On nage en plein délire. 😡 https://t.co/rzIEGgvqVd
— #NousToutes (@NousToutesOrg) March 7, 2020
Much footage showed police officers violently pushing participants into the metro stairs. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo reacted on Twitter, saying that these images “were unacceptable”. Minister of Interior Christophe Castaner prompted an internal report by the police prefecture about the course of the demonstration.
On Sunday, the Feminist March organised in Nantes was interrupted when police forces launched teargas on participants, which included many young children. The official reason, again, was to put an end and disperse the protesters, who were then having a flashmob near a Tramway station. One of the participants, interviewed by France 3 Region, said that “[her] daughter almost received a grenade in her head” and felt very shocked by this use of force, in the middle of children and peaceful protesters.
Meanwhile, French media Mediapart was able to look at an internal note written by senior officials from the police and CRS (mobile companies in charge of securing demonstrations). Those are pointing at the Prefect’s methods used for policing demonstrations and protests. They notably denounce the “kettling” method, a police tactic for controlling large crowds during demonstrations or protests. This involves deployment of large numbers of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area. Protesters are left only one choice of exit controlled by the police, or sometimes denied exit. The officials at the origin of the note point out at violations of the existing legislation and disproportionate use of force. Didier Lallement, Prefect of Paris since March 2019, has regularly been confronted to critics for this management of police forces during protests in Paris. The Ministry of Interior has not yet made any public statement about these allegations of misconduct.