The rate of suicide among police in France has hit a record high of 28 deaths within the first 3 months of 2019. This comes as police unions and the interior ministry have condemned protesters' calls for the police to "kill themselves" in reaction to accusations of excessive force used during demonstrations.
Earlier this week, in western France, graffiti calling on police to take their own lives was removed from the facade of a police station in the town of Landivisiau, Finistère.
“Kill yourselves” and “cops that kill themselves are hardly excused” were written on the walls of the commissariat and followed calls by protestors urging police to commit suicide during the Yellow Vest’s 23rd weekend of demonstrations across France last Saturday.
Following intitial investigations into the Finistère incident, the graffiti was accompanied by the English language acronym “ACAB”, usually attributed to Far-Left activists, meaning “All Cops Are Bastards”. The capitals “A” were encircled - a symbol widely used to denote anarchists.
This comes as Yellow Vests protestors yelled "kill yourselves" at police in Paris, who were firing tear gas and rubber projectiles and charging the crowd to contain the violence during this weekend's demonstrations.
Police unions denounced the protesters' call as an insult to the officers who have committed suicide and their suffering families.
Speaking to RFI, Brigadier Fabien Golfier called the actions "completely unacceptable and criminal. For us, they are no longer protesters but thugs who face the police now." He claims the Yellow Vest protests have been overrun by the so-called "Black Bloc" anarchist movement.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner described the actions as "a disgrace".
The Paris prosecutor's office said an investigation has been opened to identify those who might be prosecuted for "group offense toward a person exercising public authority."
Rise in suicide
Police unions say there have been 28 police suicides across France during the first three months this year compared to 32 overall for 2018.
According to Golfier, "generally the police have a higher suicide rate than the rest of the population. There is no explication for this ... but it is obvious that overwork, the increase in occupational and socio-economic risks and the image of our profession are all recurring factors."
And despite accusations of excessive use of force by the police against demonstrators, Golfier added: "We forget that police officers are fathers and mothers who have to face the same difficulties as the rest of the populationand who, at the same time, must protect and solve the problems of the population."
Condemnation across the spectrum
Jérôme Rodrigues, one of the leaders of the Yellow Vest movement, also condemned the protestors who engaged in these actions, saying that it taints whole the movement even if only a few people were responsible.
The leader of the National Rally (Rassemblement National), Marine Le Pen, said it was "shameful" and François-Xavier Bellamy from the oppostion Republican party said that the people responsible for the taunts should all be punished.
Situation is worsening
Ian Brossat, from the French Communist Party, told RFI that such actions couldn't be "tolerated" and the people calling for more suicides among the police force should be prosecuted.
Brossat said that situation is worsening because the government has been unable to bring a political solution to a problem which has been going on for the past five months.
"I am convinced that you cannot bring security measures to respond to a political issue," Brossat told RFI.
He added that changing the head of security in Paris did nothing to defuse tension and didn't bring any change at all.
The Yellow Vest effect
When asked about whether the Yellow Vest protests, which first began in November 2018, have had a direct impact on the morale of the French police, Golfier says "since the beginning of the Yellow Vest movement and over the past few months ... their views and those of street demonstrators have permeated the morale of police officers.
We have that negative image running essentially from social networks and the media. This time around the morale of the police is low."
However, there is a paradox, adds Golfier, "the paradox is that 75% of the population have confidence in the police."