Riots in Paris The police underestimated the madness of the crowd

Riots in Paris: The police underestimated the madness of the crowd. By Claire Berlinski.

The Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Jackets … claim to be leaderless and unaffiliated with any party, politician, or unions. They are mostly working- and middle-class people from France’s abandoned rural provinces. …

I spent Saturday speaking to the Gilets Jaunes near the Bastille, where I figured I’d have a good vantage point on a traditional protest site. I walked with them as they slowly made their way to the city hall, or Hôtel de Ville. It was obvious from a single glance that these weren’t Parisians, but rural people who couldn’t afford to buy expensive Parisian clothes or get chic haircuts. I instantly understood why Macron rubs them the wrong way. They looked worn out; their hands and faces were lined; they were mainly in late middle-age. They seemed to be decent, respectable, weary people who had worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes, and played by the rules.

They couldn’t have seemed less disposed to violence, nor more apolitical. They were respectful of the police, and vice-versa. As cops drove by, relaxed, the Gilets Jaunes smiled at them, like kids excited about their first trip to the big city, waved at the officers, and gave them the thumbs-up. The cops reciprocated. The sentiment was fraternal. “We’re all weary, overtaxed working men,” they were saying to each other. “We’re on the same side.”

I concluded they were just what they were advertised to be: family men and women who couldn’t make ends meet and who were tired of Macron’s attitude. Why this protest, why now, I asked? The fuel tax was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, they said; it made the difference between “able to make ends meet, barely,” and “not able to make ends meet.” It had just been getting steadily worse every year since the economic crisis began. They had run out of hope. …

People at the Charles de Gaulle Étoile saw something else entirely. There, the police were physically overwhelmed by about 5,000 Gilets Jaunes who had come explicitly prepared to do violence. … The rioter demographics were surprising. They were mainly aged 30-40, the police reported — a bit old for rioting, you’d think. They were “socially well-inserted” into the movement, but unlike the majority of the protesters, they had come with the goal of breaking and smashing things, rejecting the authority of the state and its symbols as savagely as they could. Of the 378 people taken into custody on Saturday, only 33 were minors. Most were rural men.