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Recently France has seen some massive protests against Macron’s pension law. Most of these protests are peaceful, but unavoidably there was some violence, especially since Macron decided to bypass the parliament vote on the pension law, a decision perceived as authoritarian and against the will of the people. It's worth noting that there was violence on both sides, some from the police and some from some protesters.

There have been multiple incidents of police brutality (see e.g. Guardian article, video 1, video 2). Police violence has always been an contentious issue in France; in this article [fr] (from a left-wing media), the author argues that there is at least a lack of will by the French institutions to try and change the police methods. Nevertheless the violence is critized internationally, with European institutions and human rights NGOs [fr] criticising abuses (in a sad irony, even Iran critised France for police brutality).

Protests are unavoidable in democratic countries, occasionally with some violence. In this context, is there any significant difference in terms of police methods between France and other similar countries?

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    Probably a better Q to ask is if there are objective metrics to compare police brutality between countries... Apr 1, 2023 at 15:55
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    That question has already been asked politics.stackexchange.com/questions/63911/…
    – James K
    Apr 1, 2023 at 16:43
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    Certainly anecdotal in nature, but while living in France in the 90s, it was common to see [CRS ](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) platoon/squad sized detachments of riot police deployed at locations without any particular disturbances going on, merely sitting there "just in case". These aren't regular police doing regular patrols. And that seems at odd with other Western countries I've been in. Apr 1, 2023 at 17:53
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    Maybe another way to approach this question is to ask whether the level of violence in current police suppression of the anti-reform protests is more violent than that seen in past French riot control. i.e. to me, 2 different questions seem possible: a) is French police generally more violent? and b) is French police under Macron more violent? b) seems a more pressing concern than a) and is certainly not a duplicate. When you see widespread civil disturbances, along with riot control efforts, it is not unreasonable to ask if the riot control is disproportionate to the protests. Apr 1, 2023 at 18:34
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: well, the French seemingly do like to protest more, at least in form of strikes politics.stackexchange.com/questions/78741/… And probably the "spirit of '68" and all that (at least going by what CGTN says, LOL.) Apr 2, 2023 at 0:46

3 Answers 3

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There are a few points that characterise French difference to other European countries

  • Police’s method
  • Use of peace enforcement weaponry

French police make an extensive use of Kettling which as been heavily contested as an efficient method. Many people claim it still used as a way to scare people and dissuade them from going to protests. During the latest pension protests, there have been claim that police randomly arrested people, again to dissuade them from protesting. (You can see in the linked article they even caught foreign teenagers students)

Since the early 2000s, France police have been updating its weaponry to more offensive means. The LBD (flash ball) have been widely popularised accros police’s units. This weapon has been widely criticised as it has been made responsible of critical wound that don’t match with the level of violence that was deploy by the target (protester). Yellow vest protests has been the turning point with a very extensive use of flash ball. Many case of use were litigious but the IGPN (which is kind of the MP, but for French’s police) systematically disculped the involved policeman.

Those 2 things hands in hands leads to a higher level of violence, and are the two main things you won’t find in other European countries.

Other arguments would be the use of police by the established political power, it’s an open debate in France that the political power uses the police to suppress people’s will and it has no popular legitimacy if you remove the police (basically it only hold thanks to police’s brutality). Others think France is on the verge of civil war and that french people are lucky to have the police enforcing republican order against mainly far-left revolutionaries.

But this part of the answer depend on your political leaning so I will let you make your own opinion on the matter.

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    Other differences include the IGPN being part of the police, which explains why it tends to always disculpate the involved policemen. In the UK for instance, the bureau that investigates policemen is completely separate from the police, which leads to fairer investigations. Also, in recent years the government has been offering "gifts" to the police to buy their loyalty. The vaccine pass is an example: for quite a while, people who didn't have proof of covid vaccine shots were forbidden from entering restaurants and other public places, but police officers were exempt from that rule.
    – Stef
    Jul 31, 2023 at 14:29
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Assuming brutality is directly related to deaths*

Looking at statistics on police killings by country we can see France has a rate of 3.8 deaths per 10 million compared to surrounding european countries:

  • Switzerland: 0 deaths
  • Denmark: 0 deaths
  • United Kingdom: 0.5 deaths per 10 million
  • Portugal: 1.0 deaths per 10 million
  • Sweden: 1.0 deaths per 10 million
  • Germany: 1.3 deaths per 10 million
  • Finland: 1.8 deaths per 10 million
  • Norway: 1.9 deaths per 10 million
  • Netherlands: 2.7 deaths per 10 million
  • Belgium: 4.3 deaths per 10 million*

From this we can see that the rate of police killings are markedly higher in France compared to surrounding european democracies. Only Belgium sitting at a similar rate. It is worth noting that the rate of protest is also higher in France - with 20 recorded protests vs:

  • Norway: 1
  • Sweden: 2
  • Netherlands: 3
  • Portugal: 4
  • Belgium: 5
  • Germany: 8
  • United Kingdom: 11

Where larger clashes are more likely to occur and police are likely to resort to harsher methods than in smaller incidents where the police may more easily control the situation. Please note this is not an attempt to blame the populous for protesting only noting how situations and methods may vary between countries.

It is also worth noting a direct comparison between countries assumes similar methods recording of deaths attributed to police action and honesty of the systems.


*Deaths leading from brutality obviously depend on methods, for this reason I've left the US out by comparison as their police have much easier access to more lethal means of enforcement. For reference, the US' rate is 28.54 deaths per 10 million citizens.

*Worth bearing in mind Belgium has a small population so the statistic is less generalised. France's 3.8 deaths per 10 million is actually 26 total killings whereas Belgium's is only 5 total killings.

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    Am I right to assume the unit is deaths per 10 million per year?
    – Stef
    Aug 1, 2023 at 13:09
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    "Where larger clashes are more likely to occur and police are likely to resort to harsher methods than in smaller incidents where the police may more easily control the situation." Except that in many cases the situation was already under control, i.e. the protests were peaceful, but then the police attacked and that's how the situation got out of control.
    – Stef
    Aug 1, 2023 at 13:12
  • @Stef Yep it is per year. The mention of protests is just pointing out that there is a different balance for comparing countries, not trying to say who started it. Police at a protest are likely to be equipped with harsher deterrents than those on patrol - riot gear for one - and so the likelihood of police brutality ending in death is higher. Aug 1, 2023 at 15:06
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    Most death, if not all, don't occur in protests. But in the other hand, these deaths can cause protests (see latest protests, after Nahel's death). As the main question was about police brutality in protests, I don't think it's a good metric. It's 2 different cases. Death caused by police are usually a lone policeman that used his service weapon to act in self defence (some can argue that in many cases it's made in an abusive way, and against racial minorities). Police brutality in protests are more structural in the way that the whole hierarchy consent to it Aug 2, 2023 at 8:04
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Many countries, both democratic and authoritarian, often use police brutality to enforce order. However a crucial difference is that authoritarian countries use police brutality to crush any possible dissent and instil fear into the poplace. Authoritarian examples include China and Russia who have used police brutality to crush protests. This is different to France as such who are not doing it to crush dissent but rather enforce order. Police brutality of course should be avoided at all costs but in democratic countries like France the purpose of the police brutality is different to that of authoritarian regimes.

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    I agree that this is an important point, but it doesn't really answer the question: how does France compare to other non-authoritarian countries? For example the police uses a wider range of weapons than other European countries. There are even people in France who think that the police was actually instructed to act harshly in order to discourage the protests.
    – Erwan
    Apr 9, 2023 at 19:26
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    @Erwan It does partly answer the question regarding differences differences in police methods between France and authoritarian countries. Answer can be improved though with more comparison with other non-authoritarian countries.
    – sfxedit
    Apr 10, 2023 at 5:27
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    No, this really isn't what I had in mind on the bounty either. How does France compare to its democratic peers in violence by riot police? For example, many studies and articles compare the use of lethal force by US police. The implicit question there is how does the US compare to democratic countries. No one wants a strawman argument saying "no, our police and legal systems are just fine cuz look at Russia or China". Note "other similar countries?" at the end of the question. Apr 10, 2023 at 21:45
  • After reading the question and this answer, I, too, feel this doesn't answer the question in the sense of comparing something like "the degree of police violence" between France and (preferrably politically similar) other countries. At the same time, as an answer to the (also somewhat possible) interpretation to compare "the overall rationale/reasons for police violence", this answer would have to dig deeper. At least I think public statements from the listed authoritarian examples time and again do justify certain police action as nothing but a rightful way to "enforce order". Apr 10, 2023 at 23:05

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