Confinement and Class Justice

May 2, 2020

This is a translation of an article from Engrenages Journal, published here with the permission of our comrades in the Unité Communiste Lyon. The original can be found here.

Since the declaration of the quarantine in France on March 17th, 2020, it has been police violence which has been out on the street. Such has been circulating across social media: all sorts of videos, testimonies speaking to varying degrees of police violence, from extremely violently swarming and arresting people with far from probable cause, to unjustified and openly arbitrary fines, with the most vulgar contempt on the part of the so-called “keepers of the peace.”

No one is safe in the face of police violence from the capitalist State: For many, this is an abstract reality, or even nothing more than a vagary, hardly revealing anything real, nothing in any case that could justify incriminating those who protect society from itself through the state, those avengers to whom we owe full submission.

For others, it is a humiliating, daily routine: bad memories of, arrests, long-term harassment, painful scars in the lives of
thousands of people. It’s submission by amrlock and fear of an untouchable and all-powerful clique, declaring itself above the law, all while benefiting from it systematically. A uniformed horde, morally pure, the state and its media absolving its every “blunder” as quite “understandable” given the “hard work” of imposing the
bourgeois social order by means of physical violence and abuse upon the racialized, poorest, and most marginalized peripheries of the proletariat. Who knows, let’s be honest, maybe among all the
assassinated, there might have been one who deserved it a little? It’s either that, or anarchy after all! This status quo, sometimes ignored, other times tolerated, brings nothing new to the country of human rights and of the LBD40 [a riot control gun used against the Gilets Jaunes], which is nevertheless far from being the worst of the capitalist regimes to
live in.

The quarantine, as a collective national experience, thus only plays the role of a catalyst, a revealer of an already existing and persistent reality in the class society we live in. The novelty we notice with regards to state control is not in class society itself, but in the general intensification of the force and control exercised by the police. In poor and working class neighborhoods, where the diverse incarnations of police presence are mundane, the establishment of the quarantine is characterized by a generalized infantilization of the population, of mothers and fathers finding themselves barked at smugly, with ultimately very minor results.

During this time, on the shore of the Seine, or in the 16th district [affluent district in Paris], no one was yelling at family outings and other gatherings, activities clearly more essential than running errands. The mainstream media was quick to relay a government statement on individual irresponsibility, the fig leaf of its incompetence, its incoherence (let’s not forget that city police were “essential”!), and its lies, reinforced by videos of crowds, strangely never in the bourgeois neighborhoods of the capital.

Another reminder that the reign of the bourgeoisie is also a class call to order.
It is the same working class neighborhoods which have seen the most astonishing demonstrations of police repression, shortly after the beginning of the quarantine. The examples are numerous, although we have likely only seen a small sample: A woman accompanied by her little seven-year old brother, returning back home with her shopping cart, violently pushed, tazed, and tackled to the ground by 8 officers. Sofiane, an Amazon worker from les Ulis, going to his night shift, was violently assaulted after hanging out under a porch, completely unable to work for 4 days. Why? Because he didn’t have his certificate, and fled when seeing the BAC [Anti-criminality brigade–a branch of the police which specializes in patroling “sensitive” neighborhoods], well known for their civility and delicacy.

Again in les Ulis, a thirty-year old was going to buy bread and got beaten up without any legal process: “They brought me into the building without asking me any questions, without even asking for my certificate, and hit me continuously. They smashed my head twice against the wall and hit me right in the head with the butt of their flashball rifle.” Unable to work for 5 days.

This list could be continued for a long time from an abundance of testimonies and other videos of free distribution of kicking and insults. The violence is undeniable, but for what wrongdoing? Not having your certificate? One wrong look? Or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time in the territory of the police? The big change during the quarantine is that the violence is less confined to working class neighborhoods, but now, through certificate checkpoints, reaches a larger portion of the population, less used to being confronted in such a manner by the forces of the capitalist order, even in a more or less sugar-coated form.

On this day alone, 500,000 tickets were given out among 8.5 million people checked. Here too, the list of reported abuse is long: a man who was riding his bike to see the doctor (when apparently he was only supposed to walk or drive); a woman told that menstrual products are non-essential. An autistic man who could not find the receipt from his errands. A man on unemployment who was going to see his psychiatrist. A traveller in his RV who was told by a calm, respectful officer, following the law, to leave the empty parking lot he had confined himself in.
This young person who was going to pick up his computer, important for his work in communication. A farmer going to feed
her animals. A family leaving a burial. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Whatever the situation, one thing remains the same: infantilization, contempt, intimidation, and 135 € to pay. Why? A certificate forgotten, incorrectly filled out, incorrectly dated, incorrectly signed… Lucky if a question or an answer to the disapproval of the officers doesn’t earn you a supplement for “disrespect.”

This situation certainly has some aspects opposite to what was seen during the Yellow Vest movement, composed primarily of ordinary, peaceful citizens, suddenly discovering a reality that was to them unsuspect, the reality of a police institution which considers itself above society, arbitrarily playing the role of judge, jury, and executioner, freely legislating what is worthy or not of a ticket. It’s pointless to mention that a 135 € ticket, whether given to a precarious wage worker, someone unemployed, or a member of the bourgeoisie, since it’s always the poorest neighborhoods and poorest workers, those for whom quarantine is the most economically and humanly difficult to live through, who are targeted and who pay the most!

It’s surely an isolated coincidence that Mr Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, president of MEDEF [Movement of the Enterprises of France–the largest employer federation in France], today still doesn’t have the slightest worry, as he takes refuge in his manshion on the seashore (far from a small, overpopulated apartment), going back and forth to and from the capital. Beyond the expasion of checkpoints to a larger portion of the population, quarantine also represents an expansion of the coercive apparatus itself: drones, geolocation, and digital tracking!

This is the arsenal that will be mobilized against the next popular uprising!
Let’s remember that while the hospitals, understaffed and underequipped, went on strike, the government considered
establising a generalized system for digital tracking and facial recognition. Even at this time, 3.6 million € of tear gas are being ordered, even as we have to wait until the end of june for the state to be able to provide face masks in sufficient quantity and quality! Here are the priorities of the capitalist order.

The most important is to prepare for post-quarantine repression! Let us not disappoint them, let us prepare to launch a popular uprising as soon as possible for justice in the street and at work! Let us find guilty those who have the blood of the violently assaulted people, the blood of nurses, and the blood of the sick on their hands! We will not forget!