The Paris prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into allegations that Yellow Vest protesters assailed police over the weekend with taunts urging officers to kill themselves.
Yellow Vests took to the streets of Paris for a 23rd consecutive Saturday this weekend, facing off against police at the city’s historic Place de la République, where protesters chanted at officers to “commit suicide”.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner swiftly condemned the incident. "Shame on those who have given into such ignominy," he said in a tweet.
On Sunday, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an inquiry into “contempt of a person carrying out public authority at a rally”.
« Suicidez-vous ! », scandent certains manifestants aux forces de l’ordre place de la République pic.twitter.com/rqtFmnvuBO
Lucas Burel (@L_heguiaphal) April 20, 2019
The jeers have struck a nerve in France, where the number of police suicides are on the rise. Twenty-eight officers have taken their own lives so far this year, the Information and Communication Service of the National Police (SICoP) confirmed to FRANCE 24.
At that rate, there is around one police suicide every four days. The statistic is high in comparison with previous years, and is a growing source of concern for police unions.
A convulsion of hatred’
Over the last decade, there have been an average of 44 law enforcement suicides a year in France, according to official data. That figure spiked in 2014, when at least 55 officers took their own lives. Just four months into 2019, there have already been more than half that many deaths.
"We have reached a convulsion of hatred. These words are intolerable and unacceptable," Frédéric Lagache, director of France’s main police union, Alliance, told AFP. "It is an insult to all the police who have died, to their families and to the institution as a whole."
It is not the first time Yellow Vests have goaded police to commit suicide. Similar chants could be heard earlier this month during protests in the southern city of Toulouse, according to the ALTERNATIVE Police CFDT union.
Protesters accuse the police of heavy-handed tactics. At least 144 Yellow Vests have been seriously injured since the start of the movement in November, according to a tally by French newspaper Libération.
“These chants incite real hatred against the police, and the interior and justice ministries must demonstrate firmness by pursuing any legal action that may be brought,” ALTERNATIVE Police CFDT said in a statement on Saturday.
Although there is no clear single cause for the high rate of suicides, police unions have pointed to the relentless pressures of the job.
“Too often, the straw that breaks the camel’s back is working conditions, the strain and distress of which push some officers to the point of this irrevocable act,” ALTERNATIVE Police CFDT said in its statement.
In an effort to tackle the issue, former interior minister Gérard Collomb launched a police suicide prevention programme in May 2018 that promised to provide greater support to at-risk officers. The government’s initiative, however, has apparently failed to curb the suicide rate.
Just last week, national police chief Éric Morvan penned an emotional letter acknowledging the severity of the problem, after two officers took their own lives on the same day.
“We have to talk about it. Without fear of being judged. We have to confide in others, to convince ourselves that talking about anxiety is not a weakness,” he wrote.
The police suicide rate in France is 36 percent higher than that for the general population, according to a 2018 senate report. On average, there are an estimated 14 suicides per 100,000 residents in the country each year.