Sporadic clashes but low turnout in French ‘yellow vest’ protests

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Yellow vest protesters march in Paris, France, Saturday, May 11, 2019. Yellow vest protests are taking place for the 26th consecutive week to challenge President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies. (AP)
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A woman holds balloons representing the number 26 during a demonstration called by the “Yellow vest” (Gilets jaunes) movement on May 11, 2019 in Nantes, western France. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019

Sporadic clashes but low turnout in French ‘yellow vest’ protests

PARIS: “Yellow vest” protesters gathered in Paris and other French cities Saturday for the 26th straight week of rallies against President Emmanuel Macron, with scattered incidents of violence but overall a marked decline in the size of the crowds.
Several hundred people began marching near the Jussieu university in the center of the capital, chosen to show solidarity with teachers who went on strike this week against an education reform project.
“It’s going to be a day in support of parents, families and everyone in the education system,” Jean-Christophe Valentin, a city hall worker at the rally, told AFP.
With protests outlawed on the Champs-Elysees and a large part of central Paris, organizers had called for “national” rallies in the cities of Lyon and Nantes.
Around 2,000 to 3,000 people turned out in each city, AFP journalists estimated, confirming the decline in attendance since the protests began in November, when it hit a high of 282,000 across France.
The interior ministry said late Saturday that 18,600 people participated in protests across France, including 1,200 in Paris.
That was the lowest level yet recorded for the protests, though yellow vest organizers contested the figure, saying they had counted more than 37,000 protesters.
“I’m starting to think this isn’t doing anything,” said Christine Sawicki, a 51-year-old accountant at the rally in Paris.
Tensions flared in Nantes when police charged a group of people throwing rocks and other objects, with at least one person evacuated by “street medics” among the protesters.
Officials had said they had expected up to 500 far-left agitators in the city near France’s western Atlantic coast, rekindling fears of fresh violence by so-called “black blocs.”
A video reporter for CNews in Nantes was injured after being hit by a rubber bullet while filming the skirmish. “I’m fine because my support belt softened the impact,” Stephane Perrier told AFP.
In both Lyon and Nantes, police used tear gas to disperse crowds as some masked protesters attempted to build makeshift barricades.
Police officials said at least 10 officers were injured in the clashes, but the protesters were beginning to disperse toward 6:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).
The Saturday protests have often been marred by rioting and clashes with police, prompting a crackdown that critics say has led to a disproportionate use of violence by security forces.
Several videos taken by bystanders in recent weeks, including one showing an officer hurling a paving stone toward demonstrators at a May Day rally, have prompted inquiries by police investigators.
“There’s a bit of fatigue along with the fear of police violence,” said Thierry Boirivant, a 44-year-old accountant who traveled to Paris from the Lyon region.
“And then there’s the economic factor: it’s expensive to go protest in Paris or other cities,” he said.
Initially launched over fuel tax increases, the movement quickly snowballed into a widespread revolt against Macron, accused of ignoring the day-to-day struggles of low earners in small-town and rural France.
Several protesters are planning to run the European Parliament elections later this month, hoping to turn their movement into a sustained political force.
“I’m calling on Europeans to make an anti-Macron vote, even if he just finishes in second place, it would take him down a notch, bring him back down to earth so he can serve us instead of the rich,” Jerome Rodrigues said in Lyon.
Rodrigues has emerged as one of the government’s fiercest critics. He was already a well-known figure in the yellow vest movement when he was hit by a rubber bullet during one of the January protests and lost an eye.
“If he doesn’t want to listen to us, we will keep up until he hears us, even if it means ruining his term” as president,” he said.
In April, Macron unveiled nearly 17 billion euros ($19 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners to quell the protests, and vowed to better address voters’ grievances after months of town-hall debates.


Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

Updated 15 October 2019

Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

  • Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's attorney

FORT WORTH, TEXAS: A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.
Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail on a murder charge Monday afternoon. The police chief said earlier in the day that he acted without justification and would have been fired if he didn't quit.
Police bodycam video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her 8-year-old nephew early Saturday. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.
Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.
"Nobody looked at this video and said that there's any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately," Kraus said.
Earlier in the day, Jefferson's family had demanded that Dean, a member of the force for 1½ years, be fired and arrested.
"Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community," family attorney Lee Merritt said.
Police went to Jefferson's home about 2:25 a.m. after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report a door ajar. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after "perceiving a threat."
The video showed Dean shouting, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and immediately firing.
Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's attorney.
As for what, exactly, led Dean to open fire, the police chief said: "I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life." The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.
The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn't be considered unusual in Texas.
"We're homeowners in Texas," the police chief said. "Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn't be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting." Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was "a bad thing to do."
Mayor Betsy Price called the gun "irrelevant."
"Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew. She was a victim," Price said.
Texas has had a "castle doctrine" law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to "stand your ground" measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.
Fort Worth is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.
In that case, white Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson's home Sunday night for a vigil after demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.
The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.
Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.
Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department released footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.
Of the nine officer-involved shootings so far this year in Fort Worth, five targeted African Americans and six resulted in death, according to department data.
Nearly two-thirds of the department's 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black. The city of nearly 900,000 people is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.
Calling the shooting "a pivotal moment in our city," the mayor said she was ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police force and vowed to "rebuild a sense of trust within the city and with our police department."
Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor's degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going to medical school, according to the family's lawyer.