In December 1986, in France, high school students, soon joined by university students and teachers, mobilised against the "Devaquet law" which aimed to raise the price of university fees. The movement took a considerable extent and repression did did not take long to come facing such a legitimate democratic protest. Result: one dead, Malik Oussekine, and several were seriously injured, including François Rigal, Patrick Berthet, Jérôme Duval [the author of this piece] and many others. 30 years later, Maurice Duval, father, and Jérôme Duval, son, remember the events.
Maurice Duval, father: What memories do you have of the day of the 4th of December 1986?
Jérôme Duval, son: Organised to mobilise Maurice Ravel high school and also in coordination with other high schools in Paris, we went to the national event to protest, our main demand being a total repeal of the bill. There were so many people (organisers spoke of a million people) that we were rather confident about the victory of the movement. We were determined and peaceful, even when at the evening, on the Place des Invalides, the police started firing shots following the announcement of the failure of negotiations and the inflexible position of the government. At that time, we were forming a completely peaceful human chain with my best friend Anthony. And you, what are your memories?
MD: I was part of the process with my fellow teachers, the procession was calm and assertive. I knew you were a little further away with your classmates. In the evening, watching TV news, I learned that there were serious injuries following violent measures taken by police against our children. Moments later, I received a call from your friend, he told me that you were admitted to the hospital as an emergency: you had been hit in the face with a grenade...
"University: 1 dead, the selection starts"
JD: Yes, a direct shot, prohibited by law. Without having seen anything coming, the force of the impact threw me several meters back. They took me to the emergency room, where the ambulance staff had to slap me to ensure I didn't fall into a coma. I still had time to see my life pass in front of my eyes. The impact of the grenade had resulted in a broken upper jaw, a broken nose and a fractured skull. I underwent a delicate neurosurgical operation. Besides the physical impact in the short term, the psychological damage on a 18 year old in the middle of constructing their future is irremediable, and it became very difficult to resume a "normal" life after recovery. I was unable to continue my studies and I dealt with a long period of depression. We are generally unaware of the magnitude of the consequences that a police "blunder" can inflict upon a person's whole life, and this could have been avoided if orders had been issued previous to the demonstration, for the police to respect our right to demonstrate.
François Rigal, my roommate at the hospital, had lost an eye in the same conditions. On 6 December 1986, Malik Oussekine fell under the batons of brigades of "motorised voltigeurs" (tumblers) organised by the Interior Minister at the time, Charles Pasqua. These officers were clubbing all those who were in their way. Following this, you created a Committee for families in attempt for us to defend ourselves, is that right?
MD: Yes, I had created the Committee of Relatives of victims of police violence in December 1986, with friends and supporters, helped by the League of Human Rights. I wanted justice, to assist victims and to press for these practices to cease. At that time, many young people were murdered in the street, in the cities, even in bars, often they were Maghrebis, but not all of them. After the anti-racist 70s, it was the return of a pattern of discrimination that had hitherto been repressed.
JD: Since then, police violence has continued to increase and the criminalisation of social movements has taken unprecedented proportions. This fact is compounded by the impunity that reigns when only repression, which is distant from democratic principles, is the response to peaceful protests. We must forcefully denounce the policy of repression that struck the demonstrators, the disproportionate use of grenades and flash ball devices, which left hundreds of injured, some of them very seriously. These weapons should be prohibited and orders given to the police to respect the prohibition to launch tear gas in a direct shot, as the impact can be fatal. The latest report of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) shows that in France, the number of people killed by the police continues to grow to an average of 14 deaths per year in 2014, 6 more than a decade earlier. In 1986, were the police protecting a particular issue with this bill?
MD: It was a matter of one of the first liberal laws concerning education, that is to say regarding the tool that allows critical thinking, a potential enemy of liberalism. Once an event puts power in question a little too much, the latter uses disproportionate means of repression. Tell me, could this trauma have demobilised you and removed from you the urge to fight against injustice?
JD: Completely the opposite. Repression, as violent as it is, fortunately was never as strong as the struggle for justice, respect for human rights and the preservation of democracy. Finally, it is also the story of a victory, since the Devaquet draft law was withdrawn following the mobilisation.
MD: Yes, and it shows that large mobilisations, if they are unitary, can lead to victories. When we fight against injustice, one is never sure of winning, but when we do not mobilise one is sure to lose!
There was another death on the night of 5 to 6 December 1986, a kind of collateral damage: Abdelwahab Benyahia, 20 years old, shot in Aubervilliers by the weapon of detective Patrick Savrey, soaked in pastis after being held throughout the day with his colleagues in la Madeleine police station, due to the protest. Savrey was sentenced to 7 years in prison by the Criminal Court of Bobigny in November 1988. The two police officers responsible for the death of Oussekine, Jean Schmitt and Christophe Garcia, were given symbolic suspended sentences of 2 and 5 years imprisonment. This "moderate punishment" was deemed "balanced" by Georges Kiejman, the socialist lawyer for the Oussekine family. The Peloton des voltigeurs motoportés (PVM), a law enforcement brigade created by the Minister of the Interior Raymond Marcellin in 1969, was dissolved after the case of Malik Oussekine. (FG)