I’ve recently published a piece of creative non-fiction–part of my forthcoming book The Police Against Itself–as part of the blog Somatosphere’s series “Notes on Guns and Violence.” Below is an excerpt:
On the night of Thursday, September 30th 2004, some young police officers decided to hold a party in their apartment in the 18tharrondissement of Paris. The building, mainly occupied by the 20-something unmarried officers who make up the majority of the police force in the Île-de-France region, was located just down the street from the local station. For what it’s worth, it was also not far from where I would one day live, although that was a bit into the future.
The party was still going on, in some form, into the early hours of the morning on Friday. The news reports would later make special mention of the fact that the company was of mixed sex. Some time before 8am, Fabio, a 26 year-old gardien de la paix, shot his colleague Laurent, of the same age, in the chest with his service weapon. This was, by all accounts, a traumatic event. After seeing his friend lying on the ground shot, and most likely dead, Fabio pointed the gun at his own head and killed himself. All the witnesses present agreed that the initial shot was an accident. Including Laurent, who it turns out was not killed by the gunshot as Fabio so fatefully feared. Laurent tried to alert the paramedics as they carried him out of the building. His broken thorax refusing to vibrate the air with sufficient force to make an audible sound, he mouthed the words: “Accident. It was an accident.” This fact was also widely reported in the local newspapers; as was the insistence by those present, and the detectives in charge of the case, that, above-all, this was a “private affair” and not a police action
Afterwards, those same newspapers would have very few details of what that night meant for the rest of Laurent’s life, Fabio’s remaining family, or any of the other people present on scene. The incident did serve as a minor touchstone in a larger debate about the regulation of officer’s service arms; about how they should be regulated and surveilled, and above all over whether their possession should be limited to on-duty officers (who should duly check them into locked boxes in the station when going off duty, as per official regulation) or if, as some union representatives argued, that police were police “24/7,” with all the dangers and responsibilities the profession brought with it, and should therefore have access to the tools of their trade accordingly. If the particular issue has been resolved administratively, the broader tension remains. It’s there at the heart of what “police” means today in France; in negotiations over its role in the larger social fabric and, most especially about the regulation of its tools of violence in constructing that social fabric itself.
–From “Time, Regained” on Somatosphere: Science, Medicine, and Anthropology