An open letter, originally published in French, written by a collective of French ‘Gilets Jaunes’ university academics – reacting to the social inequalities raised by the Yellow Vests movement, the series of measures the French government has taken since the movement’s beginning on 17 November 2018, and to abuses by the police forces during demonstrations and protest actions. The letter demands an acknowledgement of the movement’s demands, the resignation of the Interior Minister, and public inquiries into the violent repression that has swept France. As of the 15 May 2019, the letter has collected over 20,000 signatures. It joins similar calls and reactions by famous artists and medical doctors
Since November 17, 2018, hundreds of thousands of citizens have expressed their concerns that their demands have been met by a deafening silence from the government. They have found the strength and courage to say, loud and clear, that they are tired and will no longer suffer the consequences of the harmful policies that have been plundering their work and common goods with impunity for decades.
The voices of the Yellow Vests have exposed the “scientific” lies and justifications given by the government and its assembly of courtiers to negate and cover-up the scale and significance of such exploitation. Their uprising showed the actual meaning of a policy that consciously organised the transfer of labour-accumulated value from 95% of the population to the 5% wealthiest elites. Their strength has been to raise awareness on the duplicity of power, power confident enough to boast about having multiplied by four the enormous wealth held by a tiny minority.
With the vast majority of the French people, we recognise ourselves in the awareness raised by the Yellow Vests. Each of us has become conscious of how we are faced, in all sectors of society, with the consequences of similar policies that only serve to intensify social inequalities.
From the start, the demands and expectations of change arising from this popular uprising have been clearly articulated. They immediately clashed with a power that never ceased to ignore their content, so as to reduce their challenging impact. It was first the deafening silence of a president and his court, holed up in their palace. It was then the attempt to deceive the crowd with false promises and crumbs from the table of the powerful–as always clawed back from the poor and from public services. Next came the setting up of a mere impression of consultation in which any possibility of interaction and debate was very skilfully excluded. It was, above all, the clear and thoughtful decision to prevent by all means the public expression of expectations and fully articulated demands.
Every effort has been made to silence the protesters. Starting from the initial weekly Saturday Acts, the authorities chose to respond with violence by asking the security forces to clear motorway tolls, roundabouts, to block access to demonstration rally spots and, above all, to “resolutely” intervene. We have all witnessed the consequences of these orders on the ground: we have witnessed with our own eyes the arbitrary filtering and arrests at town access points, preventing freedom of speech as well as demonstrations from taking place. We have witnessed the huts built at the roundabouts destroyed and relentlessly and bravely rebuilt. The purposely designed police intervention techniques (kettling, firing of tear gas from the beginning of the demonstrations, firing of defensive ball launcher grenades (LBD) without warning) were just incitements for the rare acts of violence triggered by deliberately seeking confrontation with the demonstrators.
Week after week, this lethal and repressive technique has been applied with increasing intensity. Protected by the government and covered by a code of silence shared by a large part of the media, exhausted police troops indulge into the worst abuses. Hundreds of peacefully protesting men and women have been attacked without reason and mostly with insane doggedness. Since December, the number of serious concussions has been steadily increasing: there are hundreds of people who have suffered severe injuries. Not a single mention was spoken by President Macron or his government regarding the victims, even for Zineb Redouane, killed after being hit by a teargas grenade as she was closing the windows of her 4th floor apartment. Nothing seems to be able to stop this dramatic escalation and we are ashamed to have to witness the self-congratulation of the authorities supposed to contain what President Macron termed a “hate crowd” (French: foules haineuses).
Choosing to violently repress all those who dare to rise and speak against these activities is certainly not new. It has been tested and practiced in the poor neighbourhoods and against vulnerable groups such as migrants and Roma or against other social movements. However, since November 2018 a threshold has been crossed. This strategy of violent repression culminated in the demonstration of May 1, 2019: not only was the full range of the state’s repressive arsenal deployed but the government was found once again guilty of fake news, with the supposed “attack” of the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital by demonstrators who had gone there to seek refuge. This government’s lie is a lie too many. It reveals the flimsy state of relentlessness and panic of a government at bay.
This state violence must stop!
We accuse the interior Minister of knowingly provoking violent reactions in our cities, on our roundabouts and public forums, in order to criminalise anyone who opposes its laws and harmful policies.
We accuse the governmentof using weapons of war banned in most Western countries against civilians, ignoring the repeated warnings of several international bodies.
We accuse the hierarchy of the judiciary of having agreed to cover up the government’s harmful policies by blindly and slavishly following orders given by the executive power.
We accuse the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN) of expediting fake investigations, which, to our knowledge, did not result in the indictment of any member of the “law and order” forces.
We accuse those in the press and television media who have agreed to become mouthpieces of the interior Ministry and the prefecture without any check or oversight of their sources.
We call on all citizens to join the social movement to denounce the authoritarian drift of the government.
We demand the resignation of Mr. Castaner, interior Minister, and the opening of an independent inquiry commission to shed light on the excesses of those accountable so that they can be brought to justice.