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The Affair of the Burning Police Car: Translations of a Court Case

By Lu Jin and La Serveuse, 16 February 2019
Image: Poulets Rôtis Prix Libres - Roast Pigs, Pay what you want






The Affair of the Burning Police Car

Introduction, La Serveuse, 2018

Texts, Frédéric Lordon, Nathalie Quintane, Serge Quaddrupanni & Alain Damasio, for 2017

Translations Lu Jin and La Serveuse, 2017


On May 18th 2016 a police car was spectacularly burnt on the Quai de Valmy, Paris. This happened in the midst of a counter-demonstration against a protest which was called by police to end “the hatred against police”. The counter protest became a manif sauvage, spilling out of République and thus the car was burnt. République was, at this time, a highly symbolic location, one which had been occupied as part of the social movement against the Loi du Travail, the new set of labour reforms proposed by the “socialist” President François Hollande, and had been violently evicted only 3 weeks before in the course of a strike day (28th April 2016). 


The social movement ran from February-June 2016, and involved near constant and serious public sector strikes, spectacular street demonstrations, co-ordinated actions and blockades, as well as the significant involvement of students and particularly high school students. Owing partly to the State of Emergency set up by Hollande after the Paris terrorist attacks which permitted extended police and military powers, as well as prohibiting public protest, and to the subsequent attempts of Hollande’s government to repress the movement against the labour laws, policing had been fairly militarised during the period. Therefore the police’s manifestation against the ‘hatred’ of cops can only be seen as a provocative intervention in the context of a hard fought social movement, which had only seen anti-strike and anti-protest policing. 


At the time of this particular demonstration the government had just pushed through the work law using a special decree (the 49-3, on the 10th May 2016). As well as the persistent violences suffered by those participating in the social movement since February 2016, that week, the CGT, among others had supported the idea that casseurs (i.e. breakers, or outside ‘provocateurs’) were sabotaging the demonstrations through property damage (or indeed through resisting the police). The union’s Service d’Ordre had that week begun openly collaborating with the police on a street level (at the demonstration of Tuesday the 17th May in Paris, where the CGT S d’O actually kettled protesters and tried to hand them over to police).


It will not be possible to summarise a ‘union’ position with respect to the police; such a thing would rely on the officer line given by the CGT bosses and Service d’Ordre (a part of the march originally intended to protect the demonstration, that sometimes does, depending on the union), and would ignore, for example the base, the videos of gas workers on pickets singing anti-police songs. Similarly, the CGT very successfully, along with other unions, stalled the country several weeks after this demonstration with oil refinery strikes which were reinforced by road blockades and other ‘non unionised’ support (for example the mass breaking of ATMs in Rennes meant that there was neither petrol nor cash in the town for several days, making their blockade effective - voila, the ways in which the casseurs and the union might work together). However this same union did not choose to continue to strike after June 14th, which is one of the many reasons the movement was ‘lost’. 


While it is therefore not possible to summarise the unions’ positions on strategy with respect to the new Laws (ie continuing or not the strike), neither is it possible to summarise the position of unionised members towards the police or toward the burning of the police car. What is certain, however, is that those who participated in the movement on the level of street protest (whether big demonstrations or manif sauvage), Nuit Debout (the occupation and its surrounding demonstrations), came up against or witnessed extreme police and state violence, bolstered by a considerable use of tear gas and legal machinery (individual and collective protest bans). Of course police violence is experienced constantly by especially racialised and poor people and was experienced prior to the state of Emergency and the protest movements. In this case, the State of Emergency marks a kind of tightening of the mechanisms in the face of terrorist attacks, and indeed facilitated thousands of house arrests and raids. Participation in repressed protest is one way that people experience police violence and this in itself is a politicising experience. The anti police sentiment that the police demonstrated against was tangible: the main chant, chanted constantly during the movement social contre la loi travail was “Tout le monde déteste la police”. This remains anecdotal. Given the violence against strikes and protesters delivered by the police, the paranoiac and divisive discourse of the (higher parts of the) CGT regarding casseurs and property damage was obfuscatory of the police violence leading up to those weeks.


Besides the fact that it is impossible to summarise a ‘union’ position on the police, even trying to do so should be resisted, since asking the question in this way has as its subtext the idea of the respective ‘legitimacy’ of different ‘sections’ participating in the movement, based on unionisation. Divisive lines are drawn, disputing the ‘legitimacy’ of students, precarious workers, sans papiers or the unemployed, sometimes even on the basis that they should have no ‘interest in’ and therefore ‘no right’ to protest about, labour laws. This are the reactionary talons of a certain wing of thinking but could be conceived of as a kind of crisis in formal union structures in the face of neo-liberal reforms to work. 


These tensions about ‘legitimacy’ were expressed in the course of the movement itself. The casseur discourse was only a continuation of an argument between the main unions and what had emerged as the ‘tete de cortege’ (the head of the march), as unionised, precarious, students, or sans papiers (in otherwise, not represented by the big unions) fought to have the front of the march. This was symbolic as well as tactical, meaning that more ‘militant’ elements of the march would steer the demonstration. The unions (in general) claimed that the ‘téte de cortege’ had no stake, and therefore no claim, in the movement: they did not count as workers. But the work law would be bringing in exactly the kinds of conditions that the tete de cortege were already working under. In other words, there was a crisis in the image and the capacity of formal, older unions, to accommodate the needs and demands of this younger ‘ungovernable’ generation. 


That should sketch out the existing divisions within the movement with respect to property damage and positioning itself against the cops (whether or not the cops were positioned specifically against the movement), with the obvious caveat that what the CGT branch and CGT service d’ordre say is obviously not reflective of the base. The police protest on that day was also supported by elements of the extreme right, who, as République was secured by police forces, gained a platform in the square. This extreme right included Marion Maréchal LePen, as well as, conflictingly, the antisemite Alain Soral and the Jewish Defense League [Ligue Défense Juive].


The police car burnt, and two police officers inside were safely escorted out of the car, with a kind of scuffle occurring between them and another protester. However, no-one was hurt. Politicians, led by prime minister Manuel Valls, were quick to condemn the car burning. As Serge Quaddruppani writes intranslation 4, the legal system was under a dual pressure: external, that of public moral outrage, stirred up by politicians who wanted to damage the reputation of the movement, and internal, that of the police unions and police anger. Very swiftly, the names of the 9 people suspected to have burnt the car were ‘found’: that is a special branch detective made a phone called based on no evidence, and they were arrested and placed in garde à vue. The anonymous police phone call was subsequently backed up by an anonymous police witness. The 9 defendants were tried the following Autumn (2017), and whilst 2 defendants were let off, the total sentencing for the remaining 7 came to 29 years. 


The following texts are four essays written by four different authors, whom the online magazine asked to cover the court case. The trial, having very little evidence aside from the smartphone and press footage that frenetically captured the event, was the first in France to centre solely around images: “essentially a long video projection with a commentary” (Quintaine, translation 2). Both the writers and the defendants comment on the way the images cannot exist as evidence without arrows, prompts, and commentaries of lawyers; and even then the images are not so convincing as ‘identifying’ ones. Most people in view of the camera had been ‘masked up’ and this rendered the results of the image search more ambivalent: on the one hand it was impossible to see a face, on the other hand the colour of some boxer shorts became guilt. At least in the case of the two defendants let off, it was found that “being masked up did not constitute guilt; the element of ‘intention’ was not upheld” [Libération]. 


Also at stake in the court case were questions of the inequality in judicial treatment of those charged with violence against police, and the police who had attacked civilians. This is particularly stark when considering the murders in the following year, by police, of Adama Traore (Beaumont sur Oise), Shaoyao Liu (Paris) and Aboubakar F. (Nantes), to name only a few. In the trial it was pointed out that it was unfair that police were able to form a civil party (ie a collective case) when appearing in court. Police were represented by their union, Alliance, because the case concerned a ‘threat’ to the police profession itself. It was therefore necessary to set a legal precedent, even if no police had been killed. The justification of this decision lay in jurisprudence from direct action lawsuits in the 1980s, notably that of Action Directe, who were accused of assassinating the CEO of Renault. The police are a civil party because they are in danger ‘because of their profession’, just as CEOs are in danger of being kidnapped or assassinated because they are CEOs, said the police lawyers. The defendants’ lawyer argued that demonstrators or high school students were in danger from police because they were high school students and demonstrators, she argued that one goes on a demonstration precisely ‘because of and not in spite of’ one’s class position. The question of ‘legitimacy’ (ie. casseur, anti-casseur) comes through in the ways the judges call the defendants ‘vandals’; and in the same breath, ask -  given that the demonstration was ‘violent’ (that violence coming from the police), why didn’t the protesters just go home? Quintane replies: ‘for [the judges] the reasons for protesting are sufficiently light that they would go home should it cease to be a nice walk’. Intriguing, is the case of Nicolas, a “gaullist” IT technician, who accidentally went on a protest one day and describes having had a ‘revelation’ about the French state and the police. A couple of months later, he was arrested for having hit one of the police officers next to the car in self defence (“I knew he could kill me” said Nicolas Fensch). He was given five years, and has, from prison released a book of interviews about his ‘radicalisation’, called Radicalisation Express (Éditions Divergences, 2018).


Day one: “Everybody hates small rooms” by Frédéric Lordon

—Translation Lu Jin. 


At the entrance to Courtroom 14 the forces of order organise disorder: that’s their job. They do this with the help, of course, of the justice system itself (although isn’t a fusion of these two institutions [the police and justice system], already far underway, at least on a local level and despite the fact that certain people here in the law court still resist it, as far as they can?) In any case, some strategist somewhere in the Palace of Justice thought it cunning, for this trial, to assign a cubby hole in place of a courtroom. Obviously for the simple pleasure of pissing people off. The thing is that this police-justice/police-law is an institution, that guards a wealth of pettiness and small-mindedness on behalf of particular parts of the population, and that clings to the taste of vile humiliation as it does its own body. ‘They will not enter’, is probably what this génie des alpages thought when he found the broom cupboard of his dreams on the floor plans.


As we are waiting, it’s the cops at the entrance who channel this thought. Not without their own small contribution to the general disorder, obliged as they are by professional conscience and force of habit. The trickle of admissions becomes a drip. Backed by common sense, particularly that which says that two is better than one, the police search everyone again, even though everyone already went through the detectors at the entrance to the building. The flow of admissions is clearly being siphoned in the desired direction. Lawyers are admitted. Then journalists, who are here held in the highest public esteem. It should be recognised that the automatic ratification of the police version of events by the mainstream media, and their concerted effort to make the accused seem at the very least technically guilty, and if not pathological murderers, discourages nuanced views.


So here we are, and whatever remnant of serenity the ‘chariot of justice’ ought to uphold begins to to dissipate for good. Comrades of the defendants put themselves forward for entry in dribs and drabs. Comrades of comrades open umbrellas to block the cameras’ field of vision. One is reminded that during the debates about the hijab, certain institutional philosophers had no problem invoking Lévinas and his ‘ethics of the revealed face’. If it’s not already been suggested, hoods will be next in line, because the philosophy of certain institutional philosophers really is whorish. It is worth noting in passing how often the establishment of arguments about Arab populations is destined to open up onto wider uses. Still, Lévinas enlisted here, in the service of the police databases is some tour de force.


Shot, reverse shot: one of the comrades lands an umbrella on the head of the guard at the entrance. His hat doesn’t fall off but only just. Everyone starts laughing, and making a lot of noise. Now the distress following the definitive refusal of entry is finally negated: because we feel that it’s no longer inside the courtroom that ‘it’s going to happen’. But outside. And indeed, it’s good that it should happen here. Because everyone has realised that we wouldn’t have been able to go in, now that the room is stuffed with plainclothes police and journalists. As it happens, we find out that even the lawyers have started seriously protesting. They should be happy that the génie des alpages has saved them a seat, at any rate not a table.


A table, for all those waiting at the door, would be gold dust. It’s a simple matter of attributing to the words ‘public trial’ the minimum of the meaning concerning them. And so the yelling begins. And a lot of it, because there are almost a hundred people outside. We demand ‘a big room’, cry ‘seats for all, or no trial at all’, and then - of course - ‘everybody hates small rooms’. The racket is so loud as to make the courtroom reverberate. Inside, things are boiling up. And outside, there is a realisation: that we can influence the law without being invited in by the law. Doubtless, influence it only at a short range and only via the lawyers inside, but influence it nonetheless; it’s a reminder that a justice supposedly dispensed ‘in the name of the people’ will struggle to remain applicable when things go awry with the people. Making noise, one physically prevents the address of an audience that can no longer morally justify itself.


As a postponement of today’s hearing has still not been settled, one person, denied entry, shouts out in a tone that raises ambiguity: ‘it’s a scandal in a State of Law,’ and there’s a burst of laughter. The trial will take place, and things will happen in it, it will be reported, but, these terms are as far as its truth goes. In the France of 2017, the ‘rule of law’ is nothing more than a laughing matter, in fact a massive joke. Of course that’s been known for a long time but things now have a blinding clarity. With the collapse of the legitimacy of leaders, the methodical break with all intermediaries - and those cumbersome ties to the kind of insulated government to which they so fundamentally aspire - in short the total bankruptcy of political institutions, necessarily leaves the police with the sole function of ‘enforcing’ social policies. If the police had two ounces of sense, they would understand the impossibility of the role that they have to uphold, and draw some conclusions from this. But maybe that’s too much to ask. In any case, in the current context, it’s impossible to rule other than through the police.


Or put better: it’s impossible to rule other than through police-justice/police-law. It’s in this conjunction that the shipwreck of whatever could be called the ‘State of law’ reveals itself. In effect, in this shipwreck the State itself, under pressure, has recourse to its original fantasy that it is a monolith which destroys all internal differences to form one common front. There are of course national conditions which determine, in each case, the level of this de-differentiation. Intuition says that the French approach is in this regard completely mad. Were this monolithic State-bloc, in any case, to assume its essence again - to return to the matrix as a self-protecting reflex - its sovereignty would no longer make sense, except as an affirmation of its own arbitrary power. In this form, justice ceases to be a matter of justice, and becomes a matter of punishment. As ever, recourse to force is a striking emblem of weakness. But here we are. And everything is in place to nurture a performance of powerless power: the constitution of dossiers-on-steroids if necessary, the big bosses, there to intimidate, confusion over the hearing’s adjournment, a quick crushing of those who have been made enemies of the State. Putting such young people, some of them burdened with ill founded accusations in preventative detention for a long time is a sign of such an intention, one that has little to do with justice. But it is rather the fact that ‘it comes from the state’, and that fact in itself which apparently justifies everything in the eyes of state institutions, united in their common cause — the emphasis being on multiple senses of the word cause.


What makes The Children of Men by Cuaron rather good film of its genre, is that, by way of a simple, continuous, transformation, and, moreover, one of a modest size, it shows us both terrifying dystopia and one borne out of our present situation. In other words: there are only a few buttons to push, not many at all. When we realise this we may be truly afraid: and in a sense that is what this trial has already shown the observer, even if the observer hasn’t be able to observe much!


The paths of the abuses of power make their inroads starting on the margins. An abusive power begins to establish itself first over those who are most set apart, over immigrants, urban youth, over ‘extremists’ labelled as mad - and, alongside this, official discourses strive to mask the fact that the real extremists are more often counted among those who, completely within the law, devastate the planet, poison people, and are destroying humanity under every pretext, the most recent of these pretexts being for ‘growth’. Again: immigrants, then the urban youth, then ‘extremists’ are all words destined to become potential synonyms for plain and simple ‘youth’. Starting from the peripheries, this abuse begins its journey toward the centre. Abuse is generalised, in fact. Because it gets there as much from this politics of repression as from ‘social’ policies, which, category after category, we are all liable to pass through. And it’s exactly this extension of abuse that should concern all the ‘un-concerned’: all of those who think they are still on the right side, and who let the damage play out at a distance while being horrified by images on BFM. For it’s of this that we can no longer be at all mistaken: what the abusive state begins by doing to some, it finishes by doing to all.


Day 2

“Yeah I know that I have the video against me!” by Nathalie Quintane

—translation La Serveuse  


On the 19th September, the grand tribunal opened for the court case concerning the police car that was burnt on the quai de Valmy last May. To cover this event, and for a richer comprehension of what’s at stake in the process, lundimatin has asked different writers to report. Nathalie Quintane recounts the second day for us. 


Second day of the hearing. That’s to say the first, since the first day was cancelled because of the size of the courtroom. The size of the 16th (correctional chamber) is, it seems, a little bit less small than that of the 14th (forty or so places for the public). We seat ourselves in front of the police barriers. We await the accused and the lawyers, in that order. Above me (he stands three heads higher than me), is quite an old, very right-wing man, wearing a Lacoste bordered in blue-white-red piping, who can’t conceal his annoyance. He’s a bit on his own, surrounded by women and young people not wearing the same kind of clothes as him (in this trial, clothes are a capital question). A stirring - it seems that the accused are blocked at the entrance to the Palais de justice. We imagine the conversation: 


  • But let me through! as I’ve told you, and as you repeat, it’s my hearing!

  • no question of it young man! Orders not to let anyone who looks like you in!

  • But it’s precisely because I look like I do, that I must go to trial…  (etc)


Meanwhile, ten members of the police trade union Alliance greet us, rushing into the courtroom at the tail end of the press queue. Disquiet, then anger: how many places will be left if the police union take half?


  • Out! Out! 

Screams the crowd. 

At last, we enter.


Beginning of the hearing. Some questions, statements of rights and jurisprudence, which seem like appetisers, but are not, they will become important in relation to the rest of the day, which will centre on the question of images (here you have the tenor of the proceedings, since the afternoon was essentially a long video-projection with commentary). One of the lawyers raises the problem of the inequality in judicial treatment between those charged with violence against a Person of Public Authority (police) and those Persons of Public Authority charged with violence, and brings up the recent case of a lycéen (high school student) who was hit in the face by CRS. It shows us a kind of mirror-case, he explains, in so much as in that case the demand by high-school students’ parents that they could form a civil party was rejected (along with the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme), whereas in the present case the very same demand has been accepted for the police union, Alliance. The lawyer for Alliance responds that the constitution of a civil party is justified here as the collective interest of the (police) profession is at stake. She refers to jurisprudence, which in the case at hand is linked to a history of the illegal confinement of chief-executives, and the bitterness towards chief-executives, which existed just because they were chief-executives. But wasn’t the lycéen in question hit just because he was a lycéen? And don’t the people who go out and demonstrate do so exactly because of and not despite what their professions are? The disturbance around the qualification of ‘protesters’ - “protesters, I mean, vandals” says the prosecutor; these “protestor-vandals”, said a witness - has done nothing here but reinforce the feeling that underneath the purely intellectual understanding and the mechanical acceptance of the idea that, in democracy, we have the right to protest, since it’s the Constitution, that under this varnish there is the profound truth of a radical incomprehension, put simply: but why do you protest? That’s the question asked by the President of the Tribunal, and then of the prosecution, who doesn’t understand (or pretends not to understand, but it’s the same thing) that we could return to protest even if we can’t take the tear gas,


  • it didn’t bother you to go back?

says the President, and 

  • But why did you go there?

says the prosecution


because for them, without a doubt, the reasons for protesting are sufficiently light that they would go home should it cease to be a nice walk. It’s anyway in that, that the account of one of the accused, one of the most implicated, logically lodges. He says that at the end of March 2016, he went out for the first time of his life on a protest “to walk for his mother”, who had had a stroke. The protest-walk changed quickly into tear-gassing and beating, and there - as we say - epiphany. So, they’re like that, the police in France? Followed by a second revelation, when he was arrested and then incarcerated: So, it’s like that, prison in France? The political hole (even vacuum) was filled quickly when this computer scientist, in his 40s, keen to verify by way of a second demonstration that he was not mistaken in his revelation, confirmed “and once more, I was gassed!”. His version places the duel (in which the policeman gets out of his car, faces up to him, and begins to aim, with what the speaker describes as an iron bar, a rod, a stick, etc) - and the place - in parallel with or mirror-image to the version of the policeman - they both say, one after the other, that they were afraid they might die, afraid the other would bring out a weapon and aim, afraid the other would throw them on the ground and end it; fear against fear. 


  • He gets out, he’s facing me, he’s armed, I know he can kill me, says the computer scientist.


That is what we all know, and what he has recently learnt: no, the exercise of rights within a democracy is no longer a nice walk. 


Another thing that falls outside of the understanding of the prosecutor, is that one can go back to help other demonstrators trapped in a kettle when you yourself are not trapped: you were well out of the woods, you, in short, the only thing left for you to do was to run away! The moral standard of society is also discovered in the courts, and doesn't always emerge on the side we would expect.


The way in which images (videos, screenshots, photos) are exploited by the police and the justice would merit a fat book (which has perhaps already been written, and if not, should be). In the courtroom hearing, the situation is as follows: a screen the size of a big television is placed up high, to the right of the president of the tribunal, such that he can turn toward the images to comment on them, in emulation of Jean Douchet (a celebrated critic and theorist of cinema). Each image counts for one piece of evidence from the incident that must make it possible to determine the intentions of the accused – intentions which have been deduced from their appearances as described by the police. I copy here a few phrases that were spoken – most often by the president – in relation to these images (most of them available online plus some CCTV cameras which didn’t really add anything): 



  • With most precise and productive exploitation of these video resources, the police will ensure the rapid progress of the inquest. 

  • Here are photos that illustrate what is said in the tribunal

  • The policemen explain that they are seen from behind

  • We would see them completely masked so as not to be recognised

  • The police explain that this is the same person, that would be - you

  • We will see, under the red arrow designed to guide you, the first person, with a red baseball cap, and a second, wearing a stud

  • Here, another red arrow to identify you, since it’s very difficult to do so with a face hidden among 150 demonstrators

  • There, we would see you, close to the police baton

etc. etc.


Anyway, in pure Woody Allen style, the peak of this is reached when the president of the tribunal requests that we recognise a face on the screen as the defendant before us on the stand, and it is obviously not the same face….

  • So, you don’t recognise yourself in this photo? the President demands

  • It would seem evident that it’s not me, responds the accused amidst laughter in the courtroom. 

His lawyer interjects:

  • And it’s off the back of these photos that he’s accused of the attempted homicide of a police officer!

But the truth of these images and our relation to them is articulated by the youngest of the accused, who says:

  • Having seen these images, I confuse my vision of the facts with these videos. Of course this faith in the image - the image as an indubitable proof - is supported only by its interpretation: it only works when accompanied, or preferably preceded by the words of the police or of a judge (in short, the words of the justice). Now what that speech explains or declares of what is seen in the image, could just as well be defeated by a contrary or more fitting explanation: 

  • You have said: “I saw the car burning”

  • No! You are not reading the phrase completely, I said “I saw the car burning de loin [from afar]”

Here, everything plays on a word, that adverb “de loin”, since it can determine who was close to enough the car to fall under the charge that they’re all accused of: belonging to a group set up for violence and degradation. The desolate substitution of the image for reality can be defeated by words. 


Day 3

“We have seen the boxer shorts of justice”, by Serge Quadruppani

—translation La Serveuse  


Alain Alçufrom, vice-president of the Grand Tribunal of Paris, who is in charge of the disciplinary hearing for the ‘affair of the burning car’, in the beginning of 2017 expressed his wishes for the new year in the form of suggestions for a better Justice-system, in an article in the Express that’s well worth a read. Apart from that he is in favour of putting the French flag on display in court-hearings, in the article we discover two important points: that in the 90s before being a judge he worked in advertising in the States; and that he would like for lying under oath to become a criminal offence. This contradiction is manifested between two parts of his life: one part resting structurally on lying, the other aimed toward rendering truth obligatory - perhaps each side reveals the means of achieving the other. In a welcome change from his colleagues, Mr Alçufrom doesn’t show any belligerence toward the accused, he rarely cuts them off and never stops reminding us of the rights of the defence. But when we hear him invoke the interests of the accused when demanding that the room holds its fire at the moment that the prosecution launches the most ridiculous extrapolations from the blurred images, or again invokes the interests of the accused, in order to throw out a young woman of the audience provoked by a tricoloré-fascist defended by his colleagues of the Alliance, we understand what kind of truth he’s talking about: judicial truth. 


The fundamental lie that this judicial truth rests on is that, as announced over the speakers in the courtroom, everyone has to pretend that the accusers and the accused are on equal terms. This comedy is only made possible by occluding, from the discussion, the heavy and menacing presence of the forces of order, in and outside of these walls, and by repressing the presence of the very walls within which the accused find themselves. However, as that famous old horse responded to the friends of his client who were annoyed about the young woman being thrown out: “We have no power here, absolutely none”. Does truth under extreme pressure still bear any resemblance to truth? And, as with the Law, is judicial truth ever anything but the manifestation of power relations? It was this abyss that spilled out under our feet, while, outside below the windows, friends of the accused demonstrated, chucked out of the hall for having protested against being prevented entry for the sake of this provocateur-fascist, who had revealed himself as such the day before by insulting them. Between the walls of justice, one acts as if it were merely a question of debate, based solely on information and reasoning, to the exclusion of convictions, maintained by force, which nevertheless lead to the events they pretend to judge in the first place. The young woman was then expelled amidst impotence and confusion, two sentiments that dominated the entire hearing. The obsessional presence of images inevitably counted for a lot in this atmosphere of impotence and confusion.   


The main part of the hearing consists of looking at a screen, and in commenting on the images appearing there, with hypnotic obstinacy. It was long and laborious, the manipulation of scrolling through and of zooming in and out; the identification of the files side of things didn’t seem to be, particularly, the speciality of the specialist in charge of the machine.  Despite the punishing character of the thing,  a sign of a generalised tendency that has won over all of the trials, or otherwise the pathology reserved for this case, was that whenever it was about citing a passage of a text, neither the lawyer nor the defence would read it, as in the past when this always happened under the control of the president, but would ask to see it. Nobody in the room saw anything on that kaput screen, but in the end, there it was, like an article of faith on a smooth surface: the proof of the existence of firm reference points within a procedure as blurry as this one. That image says only what as we want to make it say, as was patently clear throughout the proceedings. The evidence against the accused resembles certain oeuvres of contemporary art, in that both exist only thanks to long accompanying commentaries. Red arrows, called in as reinforcement, indicate this or that hazy detail in the videos or photos; police pretend to identify Antonin with the balaclava who threw a bollard in the window of the car, driver-side. They even pretend to recognise him from the dark circles under his eyes! But his lawyer has no difficulty showing, with the help of photographs, that the description by the police could just as well be applied to a dozen of others who were near by to the attack. Is that a balaclava or a snood there? Are those stripes on the front or on the side of the shoes? And the shape of the phone in the pocket? Really, we lose ourselves in a fog which can assume neither meaning nor wholeness unless we speak of what’s missing or underneath: that the anonymous witness, in reality a cop working in the general intelligence services, that same department that over the years has launched no less than 12 procedures against Antonin, who in turn was released or had his charges dropped 11 times. Which adds a certain resentment to this encounter. The anonymous witness’s description is based on the glimpse he had of Antonin passing by the tinted window, so in other words, when he had a completely different outfit on to in the demonstration? He recounts that Antonin was masked up all the way, even though the videos prove the contrary. Never mind, the judges of the investigation chamber have decided that his status as a recognised policeman, rather than making his statement suspicious, only reinforces it, since it comes from a testifying official. We couldn’t have said it better, that, because he’s sworn in - that’s to say because of his profession - the words of a cop will always count for more than the words of any old Jane Doe. 


So the testifying officers have provided their interpretation, which the prosecution makes into his own: when Thomas, who admits to having kicked the car, lifts his arms, we see the equivalent of a “V” of victory, and when he gives his finger, he “riles up the crowd”: the aforementioned gestures were interpreted by the testifying officers as those of a “leader”. They also saw with their own eyes that the wisp of white hair that Ari, another defendant, had in a demonstration in front of the Fresnes prison, proved that it was this man who had the red quiff during the Valmy protest. The case of Ari is an absurd twist of the knife in the process, without doubt the effect of the American tropism of Monsieur Alçufrom, the president. Indeed, in the trials overseen by Mr. Alçufrom, everything rests on the interrogation of the defendants, done by the judge and prosecution first, and by the defence afterwards. Such that, when the lawyers want to attack the arguments in the case file, they are limited to harassing their clients with rhetorical questions, like: don’t you think that if we look at this, we could deduce that? That said, since the beginning, Ari has refused to respond to the questions of the police, of the judges, and even at the hearing, of his own lawyer. This courageous intransigence which seems to imprison him, obliging him to refuse to respond in his own defence even when his lawyer asks him questions about things that could prove his innocence (for example, about the fact that the cops had identified two other people, one after the other, in the video before deciding that it was him). It’s true, though, that the show justice puts on for him couldn’t convince him that any other truth could come out of this other than the juridical truth, that’s to say the truth of the testifying officials. Justice never produces anything but truth from the professionals of justice. 


Relying always on the very reliable video, a lot hung on the colour of Antonin’s underpants before and after his arrest, that some saw as pink, others purple, others red, without anyone thinking of asking him if he usually wore one-of-a-kind underwear, or if anyone else could have been wearing the same ones. This story of the underpants would provide us with an excellent metaphor for reconnecting the sentiments the day left us with: “today we’ve seen the underwear of the justice system’, said an assistant. In his interview, Mr Alçufrom affirms that “the duty of a judge is to contribute to ensuring that peace prevails within society”. Not sure that works when the judge shows its pants before eyes of those who know how to identify them.

Day 4

“The Man who Could no Longer be a Man”, by Alain Damasio

—translation La Serveuse  


19th September, the grand tribunal opened in Paris for the affair of the burnt police car on the quai de Valmy.  The things at stake legally, politically and for the police are numerous and of significant urgency. What legitimacy does anger have in the face of police and institutional violence? Is the anonymous testimony of a police officer working in intelligence sufficient to condemn young activists to time in prison? Can a court judge a movement by examining only a handful of individuals? Does the justice system represent merely the echo chamber of the methods of control and correction utilized by the police? 


We are sure that there will be countless reports which do not respond to any of these questions. For this reason Lundimatin has chosen to cover the process in an unusual way. Four well-known authors, each active in very different domains of literature, are in the courts with a view to telling us what they see and understand. Frédéric Lordon, Nathalie Quintane, Alain Damasio and Serge Quadruppani do us this honour. 


The fourth day is recounted by Alain Damasio.  



It’s 1720, Friday 22 September. Jérémie Assous, lawyer of Bryan Morio, one of the nine accused, has just taken the stand and already hits the nail on the head. “This process is extraordinary on many levels”. A comrade elbows me to ask if I’m going to write something sci-fi. I would rather like to respond “yes”. A little dystopia? A tribunal of artificial intelligence that would ramp up jurisprudence to the speed of light and pronounce automatic penalties, immediately applicable in the neuronal network of the accused. Mental punishments, ultra-rapid, where one month would be felt as ten years? Brains softly grilled, judicial control by triggering epilepsy? DNA mutations operated by cripsr-k9, disabled for life… No longer any need for incarceration, even: your own body a prison.

I digress. In front of me, in this heaving correctional chamber, it’s Paris 2017 with our State of Prey and our rules of Troy for twisting the bar (of the law), predictably enough in the direction of power. We’ve seen it all before then? No, and far from it, whatever you say. The battle goes on, and is conducted by the weapons of the right, as blunt, false, or warped as they are. This makes the malignant (Leclerc) or offensive (Assous) pleas by the defence lawyers only more admirable. 


Over the course of two hours, at the end of the morning, the two prosecutors hammered away without pity. They have buried the nine accused under something like three dozen years of incarceration. For the Swiss man who delicately put the smoke flare on the ridge at the back of the car: 8 years in prison. Closed prison. For the guy who did nothing except break the back right window of the car: 4 years!  5 years for the computer scientist who discovered police brutality at 40, the famous assailant at the blue barrier who attacked the kung fu police officer. 5 years also for Antonin whose alleged culpability is such a reddish-pinkish-purplish patchwork of inconsistent clues and all loose threads at the seams, a fraying legal fabric one would not want for a quilt in a squat. Leclerc, Bernanos’ lawyer, supreme elder among the men of law in the room, with one blow of his paws pinpoints the nature of the punishments: they are “incredibly excessive”. 


At 1720, Assous takes the stand. We sense that it might be a huge success. Better: it’s carnage. 45 minutes later, the little wall of arguments built up on the asphalt by the prosecution - badly sealed at the base, badly cemented between stones - is lego strewn across two square metres, as if shattered by water cannons (any resemblance to the demonstration in Nantes the day before, purely fortuitous…) There only just remains three breeze blocks on which the combative humour of the room is emblazoned in the tag: “Antifa’s not dead”.


These judiciary chronicles annoy you? Me too. Except here, it’s as exciting as it is vital for understanding. I’ll try and be simple. Open a beer. Done? Okay. Let’s go. 


The normal procedure of the law, Master Assous reminds us, runs from suspicion, through clues, through proof. Thus the inquiry is elaborated, thus judicial truth is constructed, thus the punishments or the pardons are established. Suspicion corresponds with garde-à-vue; clues correspond with indictment; and at the moment of proof, punishment is decided. 


In the case of Valmy, it is thoroughly the inverse. It’s the law, degraded, running in panic in the other direction under a colossal internal (police anger) and external (public outrage) pressure. This pressure is amplified at breakneck speed in social networks (videos gone viral) behind which run, panting, the old vampires of the traditional press. In other words, it’s a judicial machine torn between its base (the cops crying for revenge) and its summit (the parading politicians) who, from the day after, ventriloquising Manuel Valls, said that they would find and condemn the guilty. Still better, they had already found them!


Except that at this moment now, they have nothing. Nil. Zilch. Diddly squat. Wind and foam. The skin of a Lorax. Nothing, but a photogenic and narrativisable nothing: videos from riot tourists, the waste of the CCTV cameras. That’s not enough? That doesn’t prove anything? At this stage it’s clear. Because names are needed, and names are needed straight away, only a long inquiry, inevitably uncertain of its results, and conducted outside of the time-scale of the media, can provide them.


Valls didn’t have time: he does the politicom. He owes his clients, his electorate. The anger is too strong, too public already, too volatile. So, pressure from the top to the bottom. That they know how to do. Someone from the DRPP makes a phone call. Passes on 4 names. Names of activists who he's followed for a while and who he saw the day of the demonstration. And on that basis, legally without foundation - pure police denunciation, a sheer New-Age wax-sealed-letter crafted by the grubby hands of a clerk at the Central Directorate of General Intelligence - with neither suspicion nor proof, we’ll put four young people in garde-à-vue. Illegally. So much so that the next day, to give the procedure the foundation it is sorely lacking, we’ll get that anonymous snitch, a certain T142. He’s not a robot, ok? He’s a man. A funny man, as we’ll see. We’ll ask him nicely to come spit out a witness statement. That will serve retroactively as grounds for an arrest… 80 hours later. Hippedy hop, a three card trick! 


Where all the press falls down, continues Assous, very focused, with Le Monde in mind, is that it confounds this anonymous information of May the 19th with the official but secret witness statement of May the 20th. The second could have justified garde-à-vue. The first invalidates everything, the whole process, since it rests on nothing. Behind this, the police will pile up procedures and multiply raids, with the aim of adding these famous proofs on afterwards, which would have been needed at the beginning to start any real investigative work. 


T142 is a police witness. Why not? says Assous, his voice swelling and extinguishing with the phrase. At least, his job is to observe, at least he is sworn in, the foundation is solid. Except that, ‘normally’, for a witness to be accepted, he must be able to be interrogated both by the prosecution… and by the defence! We have to be able to corroborate the witness statement with the reality and the facts of the accused. If not, then under administrative pressure (he’s paid by the DRPP), his witness statement will be bent out of shape, if only because of fear of those above him, or out of solidarity for his other workers. A witness who remains ‘secret’ hinders the work of the defence and therefore of the law, which, in order to be deployed well, cannot be contradictory. 


But there’s worse to come for the defendants: the witness statement reveals itself to be erroneous. At many points it’s even completely false. It’s contradicted, without discussion, by the images. That’s a bit embarrassing for T142, but…! The judicial machine starts up. In the murky wake of the approximations of T142, an army of colleagues busy themselves with filtering through the videos, looking for scattered clues dispersed throughout the wardrobes of the demonstrators, with the hope of feverishly seizing upon the grail of some further evidence. 


Bryan’s charges are so slight they graze nothing and we ask how he could even be here, at this stand. For Antonin, they sculpt a golem-figure out of the dust - a flash of the eyes, shoes with a white tick, fitted boxers, a banal backpack, a jacket never found again and a double ring to top it all off. They have no DNA – not even a bit of face? Whatever, it’s him! It has to be him! Or else the witness statement of T142 will be thrown out. And everybody’s credibility is resting on T142-the-secret-witness.


The prosecutor’s bundle of clues, which he says at the beginning of his rant are “only clues” (excuse my zigzagging, I return to the morning), will become, through a pitiful and revealing magic trick, by the end of the indictment, a “bundle of evidence”. We’re hallucinating. 


Assous is near finished. It’s 18h00. He addresses himself now to the judges, in a tense face off. He says for Bryan - and of course for the other defendants too - ‘you are going to condemn him on the basis of a simple piece of information’. Not even an unsigned note. Just information off the back of a telephone call. 


And clearly he points to a historical responsibility. If the investigating chamber lets this pass, it allows for the end of the rule of law. It legitimises the fierce, backdoor entry of the police-state. A state where it would be enough for a policeman, without ever having to confront the defence, to make an anonymous accusation, in order to throw those who offended the powerful in a hole, should those in power wish it. And first in line, those enemies of the police, known as anti-fascists, more broadly the extreme left, and more broadly still any citizen who thinks the République is not about knocking to the ground the young who dream of a better world, and who have the dignity to fight for it.



You’ll tell me: you’re getting carried away Damasio! You saw the images like all of us. You saw them beating the policemen with the iron rod and fucking up the police car, no? Of course. It’s not about absolving all violence, even this response to the violence of the professionals of the Law, which is otherwise routine and injustifiable in my eyes. It’s not about legitimising the fire for the beauty of the flames, nor about excusing blind rage, founded and anchored politically in the spring of 2016, which saw an explosion of the use of excess-force by the Baq that continues indefinitely today. 


It’s about staying cool in the face of a film with a too evident and pulsing register so as not to short circuit all rigour and all thought. It’s about asking whether a reflex-identification with the police officer, resulting from the general empathy that he provokes as a victim, ought to prevent the slow and meticulous work of the legal investigation, since this identification guarantees that such cool-headedness will be flouted and disgraced to the extent that they put away in the joint, for five years, young people who, without any physical consequences, flipped out a bit.


Because behind the shame of a disgraceful procedure that humiliates even the law itself, surpassing even those methods that clearly belonging to the police state, there’s simply a short viral film with the effect of a bomb.


Everything starts from a video story that the state had neither foreseen nor mastered, but would master very quickly, within 24 hours, to reframe the storytelling in line with to the supposed expectations of the public: the very mainstream opinion that, as the police reassure the citizens, every attack on police would be paid for by implacable vengeance/unremitting punishment. Out of proportion. Or “Jupiterian!” if one buys in to the new newspeak. In fact it is less the police state that organises the reality of this procedure than the Spectacle-State, which supervises and instrumentalises it. It is the state in its storytelling function, in its function of assuring and securing socially-held stories that save and comfort it, that rehabilitate it in the eyes of those who have exchanged their freedom for security. The Myth-State.


In truth there’s no conspiracy, no propaganda. Nothing dark or hidden. There’s just the limpid production of a state discourse which must at the same time rewrite and finish off the script started equivocally by a riot video that finished too well (the police showing their dignity and heroism) and too badly (the car in flames and the guilty evaporated). The state is no longer credible unless it can avenge the victim who embodies, ideally, its regal function. And avenge them spectacularly, more spectacularly than the initial menace, finally quite small, which threatened the symbolic “forces of order”. 


It is against this narrative that the lawyers of the defence most admirably struggle. It is against this narrative that the law, which they activate and give energy, regains its nobility. Sequence by sequence the stages of the script, sewn together with pink thread, are decomposing and rendered invalid. At the end purple. Maybe red. The judges will judge. They are hoped to be lucid and icy, like truth.


T142, him, drinks a small glass of white in front of his flatscreen, feet on the coffee table. His cat miaows. He is tired but happy. Or he’s sad. We don’t know. One day later, T142 will be a robot. An artificial intelligence of ultra-precise images has rendered him blind. For the moment, he’s still a man, an anonymous man. A man who could have been a man. But who will stay a tool. A part. A part slid into the slot of a judicial jukebox to make us Manuel-waltz to an air of Collombe. 


I really have trouble writing at the moment, it’s weird. And with our justice system.



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