Police violence: Could France and Catalonia ban rubber bullet guns?
Both France and Spain have been the stage for violent protests in recent years, with protesters severely injured by police weapons such as rubber bullet guns.
The countries have had different responses to deal with their similar situations of rising police violence.
Last November, the Catalan parliament voted in favour of an obligation for police officers, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to wear their identification number during operations, which was rarely the case before.
This vote was deemed a step forward by rights groups fighting police violence, but some are saying it isn't enough.
Rubber bullet guns
The "Stop Bales de Goma" collective, or "Stop Rubber Bullet Guns", is calling for the total interdiction of the rubber bullet launcher guns such as the "LBD 40" or "flashball".
In France, rubber bullets are used regularly in LBD 40 guns for law enforcement, and have become symbolic of the loss of more than 20 protesters' eyes since the start of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement in November 2018.
Catalonia's Mossos d’Esquadra stopped using rubber bullets ("pelotas de goma" in Castilian or "bales de goma" in Catalan) in April 2014, following a vote in the local parliament after the loss of a protester's eye, in 2012.
Mossos now use "bales de foam", or foam bullets, which the police say are less lethal - but rights groups disagree. Meanwhile, the Spanish national police, the Unidades de Intervención Policial (UIP), including those operating in Catalan territories, continue to use rubber bullet guns.
In October 2019, a protester lost an eye after being targeted with a rubber bullet.
Will things change in France?
In France, politicians are slow to acknowledge facts of police violence. The topic is not taboo, exactly, but necessitates a great amount of semantic tip-toeing.
After months of silence on police violence, the French Interior minister Christophe Castaner recently called the armed forces to "demonstrate more exemplarity", while the French president Emmanuel Macron has asked Castaner for "clear propositions to ameliorate deontology" among the police.
Since Yellow Vests protests began, the topic of police violence has been heavily discussed in the French media. Before that point, it had mostly been the fight of independent activists and rights groups and had found little echo in public opinion.
But recent events have shed new light on the subject.
On the night between 4 and 5 January 2020, in Toulouse, southwestern France, a delivery man, Cédric Chouviat, was arrested by the police and died shortly after, of asphyxia and a crushed larynx - he had been violently tackled to the floor. His death caused outrage and has been
On 9 January, the video of a police officer causing a protester to trip on purpose also went viral.
Organisations such as Amnesty International, political parties and protesters - Yellow Vests and others - have called for the ban of weapons classified as "intermediary", including LBD 40 guns and explosive tear gas grenades.
French protesters also demand that police officers all wear their identification number, or RIO, so as to facilitate investigations in potential police violence cases.
It is mandatory for French police officers to wear their RIO number, but as this article's main illustration photo shows, many do not follow this rule.
Over 20 people have lost an eye and over a dozen have lost a hand to such police weapons in recent French protests, including the Yellow Vests movement and the pensions reform strike movement.
While the independent French journalist David Dufresne has kept a meticulous count of the injuries, it is difficult to find official figures from the government.
The only available data is from a June 2019 report from the IGPN, the body overlooking the French police. This report states that the French police has shot three times more rubber bullets in 2018 than it had in 2017, and four times more explosive grenades.
Several petitions have been launched to call for the ban of LBD 40 guns and explosive grenades in France. A neurosurgeon working in a Besançon hospital, Laurent Thines, has called for the interdiction of "less lethal" weapons.
His petition, which has gathered over 180,000 signatures, is warning the authorities about the "extreme danger" of such weapons, an allegation he bases on his medical expertise. He has written that he wants to prevent "mutilations that create a new group of "broken faces", a reference to the World War I soldiers who were disfigured by bombs.
Many French police officers have also been injured during law enforcement operations.
In March 2019, the High Commissioner to the UN, Michelle Bachelet, officially asked France to investigate its police's "excessive use of force".
The French government replied at the time that "at no time are LBD guns used against protesters, even vehement ones, if they do not commit physical violence, such as serious degradations or violence against the armed forces".
And it added: "If they do [commit such violence], they are no longer protesters. They are taking part in an illegal, violent gathering."
For the French authorities, it's all about semantics.