To injured protesters, such arguments sound like insults.
“It’s supposed to be about protection, but it’s all about repression,” said David Deléarde, a stonemason who has lot his job and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a rubber ball fractured his jawbone at a Yellow Vest demonstration in Paris in early December. “The police shoot and also throw grenades to muzzle the people.”
The police tactics, which are harsher than those of many Western countries, baffle law enforcement experts.
“No matter the level of violence in front of you, you don’t have to go into this hunting, aggressive mode that the French use,” said Stuart Maslen, an honorary professor of law at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and the main author of a forthcoming United Nations report on the use of nonlethal weapons.
Other countries have learned to control protests by winning protesters’ cooperation, but not France, said Otto Adang, a cognitive scientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and an academic dean at the country’s Police Academy
“With the Yellow Vests, the idea that police could control these crowds by just pouring more people and repressing has reached its limits,” he said.
Mr. Michaud, the protester who lost an eye in Bordeaux, said he was unable to work, had migraines, speech and sleep difficulties, and nausea caused by pain medication. And he is angry.
“They’re putting gas on fire with this attitude,” he said of the government. “We’ve been asking to live more decently and we are instead treated like criminals.”
“Soon they’ll say that we’ve become even more radicalized,” he added. “But whose fault is it?”