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Illustration by Security Management

Peaceful Security Law Protests Hijacked in France

Protests escalated sharply this weekend in France as hooded anarchists and protesters threw projectiles at police, smashed shopfronts, and burned barricades and cars during a demonstration against police violence and a controversial draft security law.

On Saturday, thousands of people marched peacefully in Paris, but according to police, around 500 rioters infiltrated the protest, clashing with police and wreaking havoc, Reuters reported. The protest-crashers—known as “black blocs”—formed a barricade along a section of the march route, temporarily halting the planned march and clashing with police, U.S. News & World Report said. One group of rioters ransacked a bank branch, setting fire to piles of paperwork outside.

This is far from France’s first street protest in response to police violence and a newly introduced security bill, which is aimed at increasing the government’s surveillance tools and restricting the right to circulate images of police officers in the media and online. Originally, an article of the draft law would have forbidden the publication of images of police officers with intent to cause them harm. Advocates say the article would protect police from harassment, but some critics feared it could impinge on press freedom and make it more difficult to film and expose police brutality, according to the BBC.

The furor was exacerbated by video circulated online of the beating of a Black music producer, Michel Zecler, by police officers in late November. After the release of the footage, four of the officers were placed under investigation and two were jailed.

French President Emmanuel Macron made a U-turn on that article last week, promising to rewrite the article, but opponents were not satisfied. Macron acknowledged late last week that people of color are more likely to be stopped by police for ID checks than Caucasians, and an online platform would be created to let citizens log unwarranted searches.

According to the Interior Ministry, around 52,000 people demonstrated around France this weekend, including 5,000 in Paris. At least 64 people were arrested, and eight police officers were injured.