Several European politicians have expressed their support for the American protests against racism and police brutality. However, they were seemingly unperturbed when they mobilised police against their own citizens, ordering them to use water cannons or rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
One does not need to go back too far in the past to notice some inconsistencies in France. Last autumn, the yellow-vest protests, initiated by French citizens against the measures French President Emmanuel Macron had taken, were in full swing. More often than not, the protests were marred by clashes against police that typically ended with the use of water cannons and rubber bullets by law enforcement officers.
Les forces de l'ordre tentent d'intervenir Place d'Italie, où des incidents ont éclaté en début d'après-midi.— Yahoo Actualités (@YahooActuFR) November 16, 2019
Suivez notre live ️ https://t.co/qHMTb4qU7l#giletsjaunes #Acte53 #16novembre pic.twitter.com/GtfY4TjXMw
At the time, Macron remained silent about police violence, but now that several protests have sprung up across the globe against racism, or simply the current establishment and police, the French president decided to speak out.
Emmanuel Macron was quick to express his views when the protests, modelled after the US demonstrations against police brutality and racism, kicked off in France. Determined to resolve the situation, the president asked the government to look into the issue of police violence and suggested that the case of Adama Traore, a man who died in police custody four years ago, should be re-examined with regard to the functioning of the country's judiciary.
Commenting on the recent protests against racism and police violence, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told BFMTV that a number of changes and measures will be introduced in law enforcement. For instance, there will be a ban on the chokehold method or kneeling on suspects' necks, and these methods would no longer be taught in police and gendarmerie schools. Castener is expected to hold a discussion with trade unions on Thursday and Friday and announce that the chokehold method will be adandoned. Instead, police will use tasers during the arrests, according to Le Parisien.
The interior minister underlined that there would be zero tolerance for racism in law enforcement, adding that officers strongly suspected of racism will be immediately suspended and investigated. If evidence of racism is found, authorities will launch proceedings.
Dès lors qu'il est établi qu'il y a eu des actes ou des propos racistes ou discriminatoires de la part d'un policier ou d'un gendarme, je veux qu'une mesure conservatoire de suspension soit systématiquement envisagée sans attendre les conclusions de l'enquête administrative. pic.twitter.com/zXKcXaL3Xk— Christophe Castaner (@CCastaner) June 9, 2020
Journalist Alexandre Devecchio points to one obvious inconsistency in Castaner's approach, saying the interior minister is guilty of applying double standards because, contrary to his declared zero tolerance policy for yellow-vest protesters, those who flout the pandemic restrictions to participate in today's illegal street protests are facing no sanctions.
"Les propos de Christophe Castaner donnent un sentiment de deux poids, deux mesures. C'est tolérance zéro envers les Gilets jaunes et les petits commerces, mais on laisse faire des manifestations interdites" @AlexDevecchio journaliste dans Conversations avec Anna Cabana pic.twitter.com/7DYWOlSgBM— i24NEWS Français (@i24NEWS_FR) June 9, 2020
Christophe Castaner's words also contradict his earlier statement. On 2 June, after the peaceful demonstrations commemorating Adama Traore had escalated into violence, he taked about infringements and violations on the part of the protesters, whose mayhem caused around 1 million euros worth of damage.
Brutality is not unprecedented in Macron's immediate environment, either. A private video that surfaced in the summer of 2018 shows a man dragging a woman protester away from the crowd and brutally beating a male protester during the May Day march. The identity of the man equipped with a radio, a police armband and a helmet was revealed only weeks later: he was Emmanuel Macron's security chief, Alexandre Benalla.
Benalla was suspended for two weeks after the incident and then transferred to another district, but in July he was eventually expelled as a result of the huge general outcry surrounding the case.
We also witnessed a similar about-face from Hungary's former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany. In 2006, thousands marched into the streets demanding his resignation after his monologue - also known as the "Oszod Speech" - was leaked from a cabinet meeting. In his speech, the ex-prime minister acknowledged that his ruling Socialist party had consistently deceived the public in the year and a half leading up to the parliamentary elections, and shared false data with the European Union about the country's economic situation. "I almost died having to pretend for a year and a half that we were governing. Instead, we lied in the morning, at noon and at night."
The speech was ensued by several weeks of anti-government protests in Budapest and other cities in Hungary. Finally, on 23 October, the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution, more than 100 thousand people flocked to the streets in a series of mass demonstrations. These, however, were brutally dispersed by the police chief on the instructions of Hungary's premier. Police patrolling on horseback without ID tags marched into the peaceful crowd of commemorators, beating and tear gassing them indiscriminately. The officers used unregulated rubber bullets that caused severe injuries, even permanent disabilities.
During the riots 167 people suffered various injuries, 33 of whom needed hospital treatment. Two protesters were left blind in one eye. After the incident, hundreds filed complaints about their ill-treatment at the prosecutor's office, to no avail. As the officers wore masks and helmets, but no ID tags, their identification was nearly impossible.Eventually, only six police officers were charged.
Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, now president of the opposition Democratic Coalition (DK) party, seems to have forgotten about these atrocities, as he recently stood up for the protesters and even shared a video on social media, in which he condemns police brutality and racism.
Spain's Socialists also appear to be applying double standards. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has expressed his concerns about the latest events in the US following protests over George Floyd's death. He said "I stand in solidarity" with the demonstrations, adding that they are very concerned about the authoritarian ways the US government is handling the issue.
In 2019, however, after Catalan leaders were sentenced to several years in prison and people took to the streets to protest, Spanish police used rubber bullets against the demonstrators, and four protesters lost an eye.
| Police charge at high speed in riot vans at a large group of gathered demonstrators at Plaça Catalunya to disperse the crowd pic.twitter.com/6ukJml9GQe— Catalan News (@catalannews) October 18, 2019
Several advocacy organisations came forward to declare that Spanish and Catalan police have used excessive force in Catalonia. The Spanish government responded by saying that police had done an exemplary job during the riots and authorities have refused to launch an investigation into police brutality.