Léopold Lambert – Paris on September 23, 2019
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In the first week of December 2018, the students of many high schools in France joined the movement of refusal of the Macron government’s neoliberal policies initiated by the Gilets Jaunes. The police violence against the striking children was ruthless, but as always in France, the most extreme forms of violence are reserved to the youth of the banlieues in a perpetuation of colonial violence with which their grand parents were all too familiar. This is how, on December 6, 2018, 151 students of two high schools of Mantes-la-Jolie (distant Paris western banlieue) were arrested by the police and forced to stay for hours on their knees, their arms above their heads. One arrogant police officer filmed the scene, which ultimately allowed all in France to be a passive witness of this deeply humiliating and traumatizing event. In May 2019, the head of the police inspection services declared that there had been “no deviant behavior from the police officers present that day,” infuriating the parents of the 151 children, in particular their mothers who had formed the Collectif de Défense des Jeunes du Mantois the day after the arrest and have recently decided to organize a massive march to demand justice on December 8, 2019 in Paris. The Funambulist was present at the preliminary organizing meeting and we have translated the call into English to ask those who will be able to, to join us that day.

Mantes La Jolie Photo By Leopold Lambert
The site where the children were forcefully gathered by the police, a simple residential backyard like there are so many in France… / Photo by Léopold Lambert (2019).

Important note: The video of that day has been what allowed so many to support the movement so far, as many of us saw in them, not only infuriating images of subjugated children, but also a literal reiteration of colonial scenes. These images are however extremely distressing and triggering to many, the students shown on the video in particular. For this reason, we are not reproducing them here. If it is important for you to see them, we recommend versions where the faces of the children have been blurred like this one published by The Guardian.

Mothers’ March for Justice and Dignity ///
Translation by Léopold Lambert, edited by Carol Que

“We are at war!”

Former President Francois Hollande was right when he proclaimed this, the day after the dreadful attacks that struck Paris in November 2015. What he was not saying however, is that he also held responsibility for the way events unfolded – him, as well as all the left and right governments that preceded him.

Yes, they are at war.

They are at war as much inside as outside our borders.

They are at war against the segregated banlieues (suburbs) and against immigrant neighborhoods.

Didn’t they initiate the State of Emergency during the 2005 revolts, then again after the 2015 attacks specifically targeting Muslims – who were the ideal culprits of terrorist actions that find its causes in the disorder of a world they themselves had fabricated?

They are at war against the banlieue youth. Don’t they perpetuate police crimes, while abandoning families in mourning and despair?

They are at war against our children. Haven’t they humiliated them enough during the violent suppression against the Mantes-la-Jolie high schoolers who were mobilized in the Fall 2018? In doing so, they reinforced their feelings shared by so many others: that they are not legitimate in this country because of their economic background, but also because they are West or North Africans, Carribeans, Roma, Turkish, Muslims…

They are at war against undocumented people. Haven’t they violently expelled them from the Saint Bernard church in 1995 and then from the Pantheon this summer?

They are at war against migrants. Haven’t they multiplied the obstacles to freedom of movement despite the human rights convention? We know the consequences: the Mediterranean has become a large cemetery for these new wretched of the earth.

They are at war against the subaltern classes. Havent they systematically used so-called “non-lethal” weapons that nonetheless killed Mrs Rédouane in Marseille, Steve Maia Caniço in Nantes, and injured hundreds of Gilets Jaunes in their legitimate demonstration for greater economic justice?

They are at war against political activists. Don’t the legal justice system and the police persecute anti-fascist activists while closing their eyes to the actions of openly fascist organizations?

They are at war against the current French colonies (overseas territories), in the same way that they were against their former colonies. Hasn’t the French army deployed itself in numerous African countries, supposedly in the name of the “war on terror”, when what is really at stake are the profits of global French companies? Doesn’t France support directly or indirectly, since the very beginning, Israeli colonialism in its oppression of Palestinian people?

Yes, they are at war. At war against all that resists and contest the racist and neoliberal order that they want to forcefully impose on us.

Hollande and his predecessors have zealously declared this war and Macron is perpetuating it. Their war is capitalist, it is racist, it is imperialist.

We, mothers of the banlieues, mothers of the children who were brought to their knees in Mantes-la-Jolie, no longer accept this permanent state of injustice. We only wish for one thing: peace.

But we have one conviction: no peace can be sustained without the respect of our dignity, and not without the minimum of justice we are entitled to loudly claim.

Today, we are worried to know that our children are no longer protected.

Today, we are angry and we are humiliated by the judiciary system’s contempt.

More importantly, we are not naive. We soon will be in the middle of an electoral campaign and we know that various candidates running for mayor, whether they are from the left or the right, will come to us for our vote. We refuse to be merely seen as a tank of votes. We say it loud and will continue to do so throughout this campaign: not a single vote for any candidate who won’t support our fight.

Today, we are mobilized more than ever to be heard both at the local and national scale.

We demand that police inspection head Brigitte Julien and Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis reopen the investigation: 151 arrested high schoolers means 151 victims and 151 witnesses. Only four of them were heard by the judiciary system. We demand that our children be heard.

We say STOP to the exceptional treatment of our children who are discriminated by their ages, when they are on their way to school or in its vicinity. We no longer accept that their right to innocence is denied. We no longer accept “ghetto schools”.

We say STOP to racist police actions, to body searches, to the continuous assault on our children’s physical integrity.

We say STOP to the ubiquitous police state in our neighborhoods instead of the welfare state.

We say STOP to police violence that go beyond our neighborhoods and now affect social movements in general, the Gilets Jaunes in particular, or anyone who dare to oppose their resistance to those in power.

For the love of our children and to give strength to these demands, we are calling for a massive march for justice and dignity on December 8, 2019 in Barbès, Paris.

We call to all the committees against police violence, antiracist organizations, injured committees, Gilets Jaunes, the unions, and political parties to join us to demand “Justice for our children!”

If collectively we are not able to obtain justice for our children who live in the most precarious neighborhoods of France – when the events in Mantes-la-Jolie revealed a flagrant police crime to the entire world – then our youth is abandoned to themselves, and it will no longer be allowed for anyone to dream of a better world.