01:37:39 pmCategories: Politics, Riots, Distinctions

Les cassurs – the “demonstration breaker” phenomenon

“The demonstrators shall be protected, and the casseurs shall be taken in for questioning,” Interior Minister Sarkozy said some days ago. It’s not the first time Sarkozy has expresses his binary vision of the youth in this country (“real and fake youth”). For a minister in charge of interior security, the world might be this simple, (though I remember how he during the November riots used the to two single cases of attacks on humans to discredit the whole three week and enormously widespread revolt). To me it seems like this broad casseur category hides at least three distinct, but perhaps related phenomena: There are the anarchists and left wing radicals who attack the police (and far right “fachos”, if present). Attacks on publicity boards (JCDecaux) and perhaps also on banks and multinationals (as is common in i.e. the UK) can probably also be connected to this category of casseurs - although in my opinion a distinction should always be kept in mind between attacks on property and on humans (including police officers).

The next category of casseurs seems also to have some kind of political motivation, though less articulated. It was a funny situation on TV the other day: Two youths were asked why they were demonstrating. “We’re against the CPE, of course, ” the one replied quickly. “No,” the other goes plainly, “I’m here to fight the CRS [riot police].” It seems to me that this category of casseurs might be related to the November riots, against “Sarko” and probably also the CRS. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the incident sparking off the revolt was an identity control and a police chase ending in the (accidental) death of two young boys and the serious wounding of a third, - facts that were curiously misrepresented by the infamous “Sarko” himself. Such identity controls are a daily ordeal for certain French citizens.

The third category of casseurs is a phenomenon so unheard of that I can’t understand it in any other way than as alienation… There are groups of kids robbing demonstrators of their mobiles and other valuables…! In fact there was one trying to snap my camera as well on Tuesday. (I so much wished that I had the lens open so I had been ready to capture his surprise as he noticed that I had the camera attached in a string around my neck, and it wasn’t just to pick it. My reaction time will never make me a good photojournalist…).

This third category of casseurs is a very sad phenomenon indeed, particularly if the French demonstrations are seen – as I do – as a symbol of the strong participatory sense of citizenship in this country.

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