The arrival of more grenades will undoubtedly contribute to the ongoing controversy about police violence in France. According to RT France, the Ministry of the Interior has ordered 40 000 new stun grenades to equip its law enforcement agencies. In a context of particularly delicate social crisis, this is not good news should for the Yellow Vests.
A stun grenade, also known as a flash grenade, flashbang, thunderflash or sound bomb, is an explosive device, ostensibly “non-lethal”, effectively used to for crowd control. The flash momentarily activates all photoreceptor cells in the eye, blinding it. The victim sees an afterimage that impairs sight while the loud blast disturbs the fluid in the ear, causing loss of balance.
Concussive blasts of the detonation of such grenades can cause severe injury, and the heat created often ignite flammable materials such as fuel. British technical experts created the first “flash bang” or “stun” grenade for the Special Air Service’s Counter terrorist wing.
In 2014, Rémi Fraisse, a French botanist involved in nature conservation, was killed in Lisle-sur-Tarn, France by a French police flashbang at the age of 21.
The new tender was launched on August 25, 2018, three months before the start of the movement, and was won by Alsetex on May 2. However, the order of this “Category A2 war material”, which has already caused numerous injuries and mutilations, and it could revive the “anti-cop” momentum that has been spreading since November.
Since the beginning of this social crisis, the Ministry of the Interior has recorded 4 952 such grenades, against 866 for the year 2016, a period rife with anti-labour law protests.
A similar controversy erupted in December 2018, when Place Beauvau had ordered more than 1 000 defensive bullet launchers (LBD) for the gendarmerie and the national police. On May 20, 2019, two investigating judges had also summoned a CRS for having assaulted a union activist, causing a great deal of disenchantment in 2016.
“After the demonstrations of Yellow Vests, there will be dozens of other similar cases. The cops will be accountable for their actions and not Christophe Castaner,” the spokesperson for the Union of Independent National Police told RT France when asked about the issue.
The head of the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN) meanwhile claims that no investigation has implicated a police officer in violence “to date”.
Since November 2018, demonstrations by Yellow Vests have resulted in numerous complaints of police violence. Since the beginning of the movement, the IGPN has received 755 reports and opened 265 investigations. However, despite serious injuries inflicted by the peacekeepers on the demonstrators, no police officer has yet been suspended.
IGPN chief Brigitte Julien, presented the activity report of the IGPN on the year 2018. According to French daily le Parisien, she “completely refuted the use of the term ‘police violence'”.
But some demonstrators have already been harshly judged for violence. She however justified her position: “When we [ordinary people] participate in an undeclared demonstration and we commit abuses, we are caught in flagrante delicto, it is logical that we quickly go to court. The police officer is in a different situation. The law gives him the right to use force, which is in itself violence. It must be determined whether this use is legitimate.”
Brigitte Julien added a second factor to explain the lack of convictions among the police force: “Many alleged victims have not managed to determine the exact locations and times of the events”.
She added: “For there to be a suspension, there must be fault. However, to date, no investigation has concluded that the responsibility of a police officer who was implicated individually. That does not mean that it will not happen … “, said the leader of the IGPN.
While groups have been created for mutilated Yellow Vests and questions in particular remain over the intensive use of the flashball launcher (LBD), Brigitte Julien admitted that the police “will not escape this reflection”.
In a report on LBDs, Senator LR evoked a “massive” use by law enforcement of these “non-lethal” weapons in recent weeks. The use of LBDs has increased significantly over the last two years.
A report by Republican Senator Jacqueline Eustache-Brinio, quoted by the Huffington Post, revealed new figures on the use of the LBD based on statistics obtained from the IGPN and the Ministry of the Interior.
And according to the data in this report, the non-lethal weapon has never been used as much as in recent months. “The specific social context that France has been experiencing for several months as well as the multiplication of violence and abuses on the sidelines of the Yellow Vest demonstrations have led to a more massive use of defense bullets in recent weeks as part of the maintenance and restoration operations,” noted the report.
According to the report’s figures cited by the Huffington Post, there were 3 814 LBD shots in 2014 and 6 604 in 2016. This number tripled in 2018 and goes up to 19 071 shots by members of the various police departments.
According to the Senator, from November 17, 2018 to February 5, 2019, “13 460 shots of defense bullets have been identified in the National Police”. The data evoked by this report also show that the police departments have the most recourse to the LBD, much more than the gendarmes.
The most possible explanation is that the protests by the Yellow Vests take place essentially in cities. But, for the Senator, “in recent weeks, numerous police units have been mobilized for the purposes of demonstrations for judicial or intelligence reasons. These units […] are responsible for a significant portion of the defense bullets fired,” which amounted to about 15 percent.
The increased reliance on LBDs has been accompanied by an “increase in the number of injury complaints”. Some 56 complaints were lodged against the police and one against the gendarmerie.
In conclusion, the Committee on the Laws of the Senate mentions “the need to reinforce the continuous training of the agents, judged today as insufficient to guarantee a perfect control of this weapon”.