Did French police join in the protests against Covid-19 restrictions?
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Tweets in several languages have been circulating online claiming that French police officers joined in with people protesting health measures taken by the French government during the Covid 19 pandemic. While the video was indeed from the protest in question, which was held on July 17, 2021, the officers there were simply supervising the protest – not joining in.
People on Twitter have been circulating a 22-second-long video showing French gendarmes marching ahead of a group of protesters, some of whom are wearing the Yellow Vests that have become a symbol of French protests in recent years. People tweeting in at least 15 different languages shared the video, claiming that it shows police protesting vaccine passports on July 17.
This Tweet in Italian garnered nearly 450 likes while this one in Mandarin garnered more than 200. There are dozens of posts featuring this video on both Twitter and Facebook in English, Korean, Swedish and Japanese.
The most widely circulated Tweet featuring the video was posted on the evening of July 17 by the account "Qlobal Army," a name that refers to the conspiracy theory at the root of the QAnon movement, made up of supporters of former United States president Donald Trump. It has been retweeted more than 1,200 times and gotten plenty of comments, including "Vive la France" or "We need this worldwide".
Police are joining the protestors in France pic.twitter.com/uui269fZn6— Qlobal Army ✪ (@QlobalArmy) July 17, 2021
These Tweets were right about one thing: the video was indeed filmed on July 17, during a protest against vaccine passes held in Paris, France.
The video was filmed on Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire Street. Our team was able to verify the location by checking Google Street View, where you can see both the stone wall with trees above it that appears on the left of the video and the buildings that appear on the right. One of the protests held against the vaccine passport in Paris ended up on this street. The protest, led by the Yellow Vest Movement (Gilets Jaunes), left from Plaisance (in the 14th arrondissement, or district, of Paris) and ended up in Jussieu (in the 5th arrondissement of Paris).
The video is an excerpt from footage of the protest live-streamed by Civicio, an independent media outlet that regularly covers Yellow Vest protests. The 22-second excerpt, with a slightly larger framing, appears three hours, 9 minutes and 40 seconds into this video when protesters start shouting “Liberté! Liberté!” (“Freedom! Freedom!”).
'Classic protest management'
While this video does indeed show people protesting on July 17, the officers in the footage aren’t joining in with protesters.
They aren’t shouting slogans and, moreover, they are the only ones in the crowd wearing masks. They are also carrying equipment for managing protests, including riot shields, loudspeakers and helmets, which are all visible in the wider framing of the original live-streamed footage.
Moreover, at other points in the live-streamed video, you can see the same officers working to control the crowd. This is especially apparent at 03:15:05, when the protesters arrive at Jussieu or, a bit earlier, at 02:32:40 when they are in front of Notre-Dame-de-la-Gare Church.
Moreover, officers wouldn’t join in on a protest, says Frédéric Le Louette, the president of the gendarme’s association GENDXXI. He spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers team:
Gendarmes are soldiers, they aren’t allowed to protest even if they are wearing civilian clothes, and certainly not in uniform. This video just shows classic protest management, they aren’t joining in with the protesters. The gendarmes are just doing their job.
He also clarified why the officers were placed at the head of the procession of protesters:
The "control" at the head of the procession serves most often to ensure that the crowd doesn't just go anywhere. To follow a route. Often we have to deal with undeclared demonstrations without a set route.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team also contacted the person who filmed the video, Yasin Blotas from Civicio, who said that the gendarmes definitely didn’t join in the protest. In fact, there was tension between the police and protesters:
The gendarmes were doing their job correctly. They were leaving space for the protesters to exit and allowing them to advance at a decent speed. But towards the end of the protest, the demonstrators started to speed up and one gendarme released tear gas at the front of the crowd, against the orders of his commander.
The protesters were increasing the pressure to move forward but they weren’t acting aggressively at all, which made the use of gas unjustified. Indeed, after it went off, it increased tensions.
This is not the only video to be used as proof that French security forces have joined protesters to demonstrate against pandemic health measures.
People shared another video and claimed that it showed police joining this protest on July 17. In reality, the video showed a group of police officers who had set their helmets and batons on the ground and were applauding medical workers in the town of Nîmes, France back in June 2020. Indian Today published a fact-check looking into the real origin of the video.