Prosecutors in France have arrested five cops over the death of a man linked to the use of a police weapon which fires ‘blast balls’. Cops using them in France is commonplace. However, just as the French man’s death has been revealed, in the UK we’ve found out that London cops have been using a similar weapon – but only at events led by Black people.
France: a summer of protest
As Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, French prosecutors arrested five of their own cops on Tuesday 8 August, over the death of a 27-year-old man in the southern city of Marseille in early July. This was during the nationwide protests over the police killing of 17-year old Nahel M. by during a traffic check.
As the Canary reported at the time:
The incident has sparked huge protests across France. Police initially reported that an officer had shot at the teenager because he was driving at him. However, this was contradicted by a video circulating on social media and authenticated by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The footage shows the two policemen standing by the side of a stationary car. One had a weapon pointed at the driver.
A voice says:
“You are going to get a bullet in the head”.
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The police officer then appears to fire as the car drives off.
Nahel’s killing resulted in protests across France. Cops arrested hundreds of people, and injured countless others. But so far, no-one had reportedly lost their life due to the cops – until now.
Cops investigating cops?
The five police officers, all members of the elite Raid unit, were detained in Marseille for questioning in the probe over the death of Mohamed Bendriss. Several civilians and police are also giving evidence as witnesses.
The incident took place during the night of 1-2 July, during protests in the centre of Marseille. Bendriss was a married father of one, whose widow is now expecting a second child. He lost his life after feeling unwell while riding a scooter. His autopsy showed traces on his chest of what could be the impact of a shot from a blast ball. These are commonly used by the country’s police. As Le Monde wrote:
Also known as rubber ball grenades, blast balls are sometimes used by police in riot situations.
The investigation is only the latest violent incident from Marseille police. In July, doctors had to amputate part of a 22-year-old man’s skull. This was after cops beat him up and fired a blast ball at him. Prosecutors charged four Marseille cops over the incident.
Back in the UK, and an investigation has found that the Met Police use a similar weapon – ‘baton rounds’ – exclusively at Black-led events.
The UK Met Police: more institutional racism
The only events for which Metropolitan police chiefs authorised the potential use of baton rounds in the past six years were black-led gatherings, documents show.
The weapons, intended to be a less lethal alternative to regular firearms, have been cleared for use at Notting Hill carnival since 2017 and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Known as plastic bullets, baton rounds have never been fired during public order incidents on the British mainland, but have been used in Northern Ireland, where earlier versions of the weapons led to deaths.
UK baton rounds are similar to French blast balls – they’re supposedly non-lethal rounds of either plastic or rubber projectiles, to be fire from guns. Moreover, the Guardian reported that cops didn’t bother deploying baton rounds at (white) far-right protests – where there was actual violence.
As many people pointed out on social media, this shows the Met’s institutional racism once more:
We should all be outraged that the @metpoliceuk have only authorised the use of plastic bullets at black-led events.
Just another example of institutional racism.
The Met have questions to answer once again.https://t.co/lfmz62ggGP
— Kate Osamor Labour & Co-op MP for Edmonton (@KateOsamor) August 7, 2023
The racist Metropolitan Police authorised the potential use of baton rounds for Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. The only other occasions this weapon was cleared for use in the last six years was for the Notting Hill Carnival https://t.co/JHFsY3aHQz #BlackLivesMatter
— Netpol (@netpol) August 6, 2023
Both the UK and French states actively work to aid police institutional racism and violence. However, in France at least the state attempts to give the impression of some sort of system of accountability when cops kill or injure people. In the UK, this literally doesn’t exist – as the many deaths of people at the hands of police, with near-zero repercussions for those officers responsible, show.Support us and go ad-free
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