Police, anarchists, and windows

Police demonstrating in Paris, October 14, 2015. Photo by Michel Euler. Photo source: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/photos/thousand-french-police-officers-gathering-next-french-justice-photo-111136198.html.
Police demonstrating in Paris, October 14, 2015. Photo by Michel Euler. Photo source: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/photos/thousand-french-police-officers-gathering-next-french-justice-photo-111136198.html.

Police in France are pissed.  In France, pretty much any group can and will demonstrate and/or go on strike.  Manifestation (“demonstration”) is a word that you learn in French 101–it’s not typically a 101-level vocabulary item, but it’s so totally culturally relevant in France that you really need to know it.

The police are generally an exception to the French tendency to demonstrate–in fact, they haven’t done so in 30 years.  All of that changed this week, when thousands of French police officers demonstrated in cities all  over France.  They are protesting a lack of resources, as well as a general laxness in the criminal justice system, the latter complaint having been stimulated by the murder of a police officer by a criminal on leave from jail.

Policing in France, especially in Paris, is interesting.  As Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow explain in their book 60 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, French mayors generally have control of the local police force in their town.  Paris is the exception to this.  Rather than being policed by a local force, Paris is protected by the National Police.  (Look at the shoulder patches of every policeman you see in Paris the next time you’re there–you’ll see.)  Nadeau and Barlow explain that this is because France doesn’t trust Paris with a police force of its own, for fear that the city will rebel.  I couldn’t understand why people would think this was a possibility until recently, when I read about the Paris Commune of 1871 in Graham Robb’s Parisians: An adventure history.  The Commune was an anarchist revolutionary government under which Paris briefly broke off from the rest of France after basically having been abandoned in the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War.  The army crushed the Parisian populace in a brutal assault known as la semaine sanglante (“the bloody week”).

The National Police themselves have an interesting and somewhat bizarre history, having been founded by Eugène François Vidocq, a career criminal who became a law officer and later started the world’s first private detective agency.  (He may also have faked the storming of a barricade during the Commune–see above.)  But, we’ll save that for another time.

  • défiler sous les fenêtre de quelqu’un: No exact translation.  It means something like to protest in front of someone.  Literally, it’s “to parade under the windows of someone.”  The police have been défiler sous les fenêtres’ing the Ministry of Justice.

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