PARIS – Tens of thousands of critics of a proposed security law that would restrict the filming of police officers protested across France on Saturday, and officers in Paris who were advised to behave responsibly during the demonstrations repeatedly fired tear gas to disperse rowdy protesters who set fire to France's central bank and threw paving stones.
The mood was largely peaceful, however, as dozens of rallies took place against a provision of the law that would make it a crime to publish photos or video of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity.”
Civil liberties groups, journalists, and people who have faced police abuse are concerned that the measure will stymie press freedoms and allow police brutality to go undiscovered and unpunished.
“We have to broaden the debate, and by doing that, we say that if there were no police violence, we wouldn’t have to film violent policemen," Assa Traore, a prominent anti-brutality activist whose brother died in police custody in 2016, told The Associated Press.
She was among at least 46,000 people who packed the sprawling Republique plaza and surrounding streets carrying red union flags, French tricolor flags and homemade signs denouncing police violence, demanding media freedom or calling for the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron or his tough-talking interior minister, Gerald Darmanin.
The crowd included journalists, journalism students, left-wing activists, migrants rights groups and citizens of varied political stripes expressing anger over what they perceive as hardening police tactics in recent years, especially since France’s yellow vest protest movement against economic hardship emerged in 2018.
Violence erupted near the end of the march as small groups of protesters pelted riot police with small rocks and paving stone. The officers retaliated with volleys of tear gas, prompting minor scuffles. Rioters then set fire to the facade of the central bank and to police barricades; in the melee fire trucks struggled to reach the site.
Macron's government says the law is needed to protect police amid threats and attacks by a violent fringe.