No, French police didn’t protest Covid lockdown by tossing their handcuffs to the ground

·3-min read

A video that started circulating on social media in the United States and Brazil, before appearing on French social media on April 7, shows French police officers tossing their handcuffs on the ground. Contrary to the rumours circulating online, these police officers did not carry out this action to protest lockdown measures.

This video shows two lines of police officers tossing their handcuffs to the ground. That was all a small group of social media users needed to start spreading the rumour that French police officers were mounting a revolt against lockdown measures imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Different video excerpts showing this same scene have been circulating online in Latin America since early April. This particular video was shared more than 300,000 times on Facebook along with a caption stating that French police decided to “stand with the population” and “not destroy the country’s constitutional rights” by rejecting lockdown.

On April 7, a similar post was published on a Facebook page called “MACRON or the grand illusion: when will the imposter be unveiled?” The post includes the video alongside a caption stating that the police will henceforth refuse to punish people for breaking lockdown.

If you zoom in on a screengrab of the video, then you can see that it is a repost of a video from TikTok. The person who posted the video describes himself as a “conservative dad”. The videos were being shared on social media by American accounts. This is apparent in a series of tweets, which each feature a short video clip originally posted by an American account. Each one is about a minute long and shows different excerpts of the same video. This suggests that the original video is several minutes long.

A video from 2020

The people in the videos are, indeed, French police, as evidenced by their uniforms and badges that state “national police”. You can hear one of them say, in French, “This shows how fed up we are!”

However, it isn’t clear from the video when it was filmed. Some of the police aren’t wearing masks, which makes it seem like it was likely filmed before August 20, 2020, when wearing masks became mandatory for the national police.

To find the original source of the video, we typed some keywords into the search bar on social media. For example, if you search “police France handcuffs” in French on Facebook, and then click on videos in the results, you’ll find a video from June 2020. The video, which is about 30 minutes long, is captioned “Angry police throw their handcuffs down in protest”.

Two minutes in, you can hear: “We are live on Brut, in front of the Bobigny police station” (Bobigny is a town in the Seine-Saint-Denis department). This makes it possible to identify the original video, which was posted on June 11 on Brut media’s Facebook page. The title reads, in French, “Angry police stage protest. Rémy Buisine direct from Bobigny.”

Video taken out of context

In his video, journalist Rémy Buisine explains why the police staged this event. His video shows “between 100 and 150 members of the police” filmed live as they “come to symbolically drop off their police badges and handcuffs to denounce statements made by Christophe Castaner [Editor’s note: then French minister of the Interior] earlier that week”. So it had nothing to do with a protest against lockdown.

On June 8, 2020, Christophe Castaner made several announcements about putting an end to the “misconduct” carried out by certain police officers, including the banning of several arrest techniques. Police unions came out angrily against Castaner’s statements. This occurred during a period of intense tension between citizens and the police after the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.

The police officers who gathered that day in Bobigny felt that the minister was “stigmatising the entire profession”, which is “what they wanted to denounce today with this display”, says the Brut journalist. Similar events were held on the same day in other French towns, including Lyon, Bordeaux and Toulouse.