France mask police
© Twitter / @lemondefr
Screenshot
A shocking video of French police beating up a man who wasn't wearing a mask showed the authorities' iron-fist approach to enforcing regulations and suppressing protests. Will this be the new norm when the pandemic has passed?

A British shopper recently spotted by police failing to wear a face mask decided to heap abuse on the hapless copper patiently explaining the rules to her before she simply flung her basket to the ground and strolled off without a care in the world. All very British, and no one was hurt - but it illustrated the frustration normal people are feeling over this never-ending pandemic.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a young, black music producer leaving his studio without wearing a face mask was spied by three policemen who set upon him and forced him back into his studio, where they kicked, punched and beat him with a truncheon for five minutes before he managed, with the help of friends, to bundle them out the door.

mask handcuffs
© REUTERS / Eric Gaillard
A demonstrator holds a face mask as restaurants, cafes and bars owners protest against government closure measures during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Marseille, France, November 26, 2020.
That didn't deter the trio of plod as they tossed tear-gas grenades through the window to flush their prey from safety so he could be arrested.

The young chap, identified only as Michel, was later released without charge or having to pay the €135 fine for failing to comply with face-mask rules in Paris. The three policemen involved have been suspended from duty after it emerged that the entire incident was caught on a studio video camera.

And while it would be right to flag up clear concerns of racism surrounding this assault, looking at what prompted this inexplicable outburst of violence from law enforcement officers is even more disturbing.

It wasn't police on the lookout for yet another terrorist, or a bank robber or wanted fugitive. It was all about not wearing a face mask. This is what we have come to.

And it's not just France. In Berlin last week, police fired water cannon andwhich led to the year-long Yellow Vest protests and that pepper spray at a crowd of people, including children, protesting against Germany's coronavirus restrictions. In the aftermath, police justified the action saying people were refusing to wear face masks. So you blast them with water?

Spain, which suffered a particularly restrictive 100-day lockdown, has also seen trouble. On top of street protests by families missing their loved ones, there have been running battles with the police, barricades set on fire, and shops looted across the country.

Likewise in Italy, where even the Mafia is alleged to have joined in the looting and trashing of property, all in the guise of a coronavirus protest. Police there also used tear gas to disperse the crowds.


And it's not just these nations. Protests in the UK have attracted thousands, the USA has seen violence flare at street marches, there have been rallies across the globe - Argentina, Brazil, Nigeria, Serbia, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Mexico. Even in countries most of us would struggle to find on a map, like Malawi.

Everywhere, the riot police have steamed in to break up crowds, leading to countless clashes and arrests creating even further upset. Is this where we are now? This is what this infernal Covid-19 virus has driven us to? Police in riot gear using batons, shields, water cannon and tear gas on their fellow citizens who are venting their anger, having become simply tired of being cooped up indoors?

Back in Paris, the young music producer who had been assaulted told journalists outside police headquarters that "people who should have been protecting me attacked me. I did nothing to deserve this."

Anyone expecting some sort of climbdown from their government and public health officials has no doubt given up waiting by this point. Across the world, people are preparing for a crappy Christmas and grim warnings that breaching restrictions will mean a terrible price to be paid come the new year.

In France, the controversial new global security law has passed its first legislative stage, meaning anyone taking a photo or filming on-duty police that enables them to be identified faces a year in prison and a whopping €45,000 fine.

Prime Minister Jean Castex has suggested the government may backtrack on the controversial law but it's naive to believe there's any real honesty in that claim.

Meanwhile, French police will continue to pursue their thuggery, beating and teargassing innocent citizens, tipping people from their tents when clearing temporary camps of asylum seekers and trampling over protestors at will. Anyone caught filming them will simply be arrested and flung in jail.

No doubt this sort of behaviour will be repeated across the globe at organised protests against coronavirus restrictions wherever they may be. The lingering concern is that once this cursed pandemic passes, will things return to normal, where those we expect to protect us do just that?

Or has there been a subtle but sinister shift towards a more brutal state in many countries, where governments have been emboldened by newly tried and tested authoritarianism? Let's see what answer to that 2021 brings.
Damian Wilson is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.