governmentsEuropean historyReport

A look back at the 1986 demonstrations and the death of Malik Oussekine

(credit: INA)

(B2) It was thirty years ago... Malik Oussekine died on the night of December 6 in the Latin Quarter, after a severe beating by police officers who were not sparing with baton blows. For anyone who was a student at the time, it sounded like a turning point… For me in particular, it sounded like a question mark.

At the time, frankly, as a young student at Paris I Sorbonne, I had become responsible for the student health service. Basically, the service set up by the student coordination to provide internal relief. We were quite discreet.

Several dozen students in different faculties

We managed to bring together several dozen students (first aiders, nursing or doctor students), often from medical schools. Teams scattered across the four corners of the striking faculties and processions, which made it possible to supervise the demonstrations, provide first aid... and pass on information. This was quite improvised, in a few minutes on a corner of the table, between the three Parisian universities (Sorbonne, Jussieu, Tolbiac) at the forefront of the movement. But it worked pretty well. It was also a real observation post of the political life of this small student coordination as well as the excesses on both sides.

Paired teams

These teams (in pairs on foot, or even motorbikes or vehicles) had three essential roles:

1) in the normal rhythm of events, treat the essential little ailments of a gathering of people - from discomfort to blister -;

2) in a “confrontation” rhythm, provide assistance to people injured or shocked in the “battle”: discomfort in the crowd, tear gas shots, etc.

3) be able to provide testimonies on the situation on the spot, the possible police violence (a questionnaire had even been developed).

They were structured into teams of level 1 (small care), level 2 (+ medications) and level 3 (at the central level, with heavier evacuation equipment: flexible stretcher, O2, etc.). We also managed to get some small radio transmission equipment (walkie talkies at the time).

At the central level, we had several tasks during the demonstrations: it was a matter of locating the different forces present in order to be able to evacuate as quickly as possible, not only on the firefighters/Samu/Red Cross side but also the forces from police. We had achieved a fairly detailed knowledge of the different companies (CRS, mobile gendarmes, district companies).

After the demonstrations, the task was less cheerful: counting the number of injured, light or more serious, locating where they had been evacuated, reassuring or guiding families or even looking for a lost child or (less cheerful) going to the morgue to check that A person reported missing did not end up in the Seine or on the table of the IML (the Forensic Institute). This census allowed us to say that the results on the student side were much higher than what had been officially indicated (see box). Many students were often treated on site and then went to see a doctor or their local hospital in their province.

“Plastic” operation

Each worked with their procession, their university, so as to know who was there. There was no central coordination of the health service per se, with everyone acting — according to defined instructions — and the specific situation on site. There were a few of us who liaised with the student Security Services (SO), the traditional emergency services (SAMU, Fire Brigade) or exceptional ones mobilized for the occasion (Red Cross, Civil Protection, Army), as well as with the authorities (Police Prefecture) (1).

This intervention has sometimes gone a little beyond the very notion of relief, acting both as permanent observers (see box), and even as prevention in the event of increasing tension (2). This system was somewhat shattered during the confrontations; the “health” pairs are sometimes separated from their procession. But it continued to work nonetheless. The plasticity of the system - with fairly simple and clear directives but freedom of application and improvisation according to the circumstances - made it possible to deal with all situations.

The green cross device — chosen to avoid any confusion with other acronyms — made it possible to distinguish the numbers. He was recognized by the security personnel, even at the height of the clashes, except for the outfielders who, in fact, bludgeoned everyone, including passers-by.

A method of extraction and care

The rescue method put in place differed completely from the ordinary method usually followed in the Paris region: it was 1° to extract the person as quickly as possible from the “troubled” zone or the crowd zone, 2° to an assessment and take a few quick actions (bandages, etc.) as soon as we were in a calm area and 3° as quickly as possible to evacuate either to the first available ambulance (mainly Red Cross, firefighters, even military ambulance), or even an on-call pharmacy (for a little injury), or directly to the nearest hospital. Basically, we did “take and run” (3), according to the Anglo-Saxon method rather than the French method of on-site care.

This method had an advantage: segmenting the interventions, using each of the tools wisely - the pairs in the crowd, the ambulances in the neighboring streets to be able to clear out more quickly from the sides - so that they could very quickly reintegrate their system. The rapid evacuation of the injured/discomfort also had another advantage: avoiding any crowds, any irritation which would have added more to the anxiety – or anger – of the students.

We had listed the evacuation methodology for all our pairs (download the distributed doc) like the material a map of emergency hospital structures (notably intended for provincial students, who were numerous during the demonstrations). And we had a close connection (by radio) with the ambulances present on site (Red Cross, Samu, etc.). If necessary, we even carried out “motorcycle evacuations” (which is rather heterodox in French rescue doctrine) for lightly injured people (4).

The night of December 6

On the evening of December 5, after a long demonstration, although calmer than that of December 4, most of the leaders of the Student Coordination had deserted the field, gone to meetings, meetings or elsewhere. I was then alone in the field with responsibility. And we took stock with the rescue teams, where the Red Cross mobile PC was located, along Boulevard St Michel.

The question was nagging: are we maintaining the system? For how long ? Around 23 p.m., the situation was clear to me: the student demonstration was over, the last elements were dispersed. If there were still small groups around Odéon playing hide and seek with the police, that no longer concerned the demonstration.

We decided to give the order to break camp in the words: “the demonstration is closed. The last elements have returned home. From now on, it is no longer about manifestation. But of individual elements. We no longer have any use as an exceptional structure. This comes from the “ordinary” relief forces and no longer from the “demonstration” system. So we agreed to break camp.

I walked back along the Boul'Mich. There was nothing to indicate a change in assessment. Then half on foot, half by hitchhiking to my house (by chance, not far from Meudon, where Malik and his family lived). Early the next morning, I learned of the student's death despite the intervention of the Samu. The first declarations from the Ministers of the Interior calling into question the fragile health of the student to clear any fault of the police - "if I had a son on dialysis, I would prevent him from acting like an idiot in the night" said R. Pandraud — had a devastating effect, provoking anger and amazement.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)


Back to the demonstration of December 4

We can thus identify two elements which complete the official hagiography of the events. To complete the student security services, a decision was taken within the Student Coordination to call on far-left groups (LCR and others) and not the union security services (more accustomed to this). type of event). Not all of them really played the game of order, preferring to sow trouble.

The murky role of a certain student security service

Some of them took a deliberately offensive, provocative attitude towards the police, particularly during the demonstration on December 4, which saw more than half a million students beaten the Parisian pavement (according to our own estimates). They ran forward, detaching themselves more and more from the procession. They “let it pass” or “received” the reinforcement of various “autonomous” groups (from the level of Montparnasse station). There was nothing peaceful about these. They were organized in small units, very mobile, armed with bats, iron bars and others, and were located well in front of the first elements of the demonstration. The intention was clear: to fight… These different elements (several hundred) were already in position at Place des Invalides, engaging in several clashes with the police forces, while the bulk of the demonstration was still far away. When the first contingents of demonstrators, totally peaceful and good-natured, arrived on the square, the situation was already more than tense...

An inevitable confrontation

The confrontation was inevitable. A few hundred students and others wanted to enter in the direction of the Palais Bourbon. The police had received orders to prevent them, using traditional methods (tear gas grenades, advanced in shield format). The rain of paving stones, stones and objects of all kinds (bottles) on the police was quite notable. The small, organized units made “charges” at a running pace then withdrew; they completely disappeared at the time of the police charges. The (official) student security service did everything they could to avoid a confrontation, forming a chain to avoid contact. But he was quickly overwhelmed and received few reinforcements or instructions. Some of them were injured by the projectiles thrown by the students.

A battlefield atmosphere

The climate is full of shouts and insults of all kinds, on one side; tear gas and advances - which were intended to be dissuasive but only added to the tension - played as much a role as objective elements in making the Place des Invalides a scene of battle where it should have been a peaceful demonstration. After several hours of presence, the public desire was to “clean” the place, unceremoniously, to avoid any “cyst” demonstrators. The death toll from the demonstration in terms of injuries is much higher than the official toll: at least 300 injured (5).

The troubled role of “neighborhood companies”

If the lines of mobile gendarmes waited stoically for the order to intervene - then set in motion inexorably - the neighborhood companies (based in police stations and little trained in a semi-insurrectional situation) reacted in a much more epidermal, more anticipatory, more disordered way, with the use of their weapons in an unconventional way. Wearing the same insignia as the CRS, they were often confused with them (6), but did not present the same qualities of training or order... According to our locations, these are their ranks - sometimes placed in the second line , behind the mobile gendarmes - where a number of serious incidents occurred, in particular tense shootings.


(1) Preference was given to “white” services, not attached to the police headquarters (Samu, Red Cross) rather than others (Firefighters, Civil Protection), except in a vital emergency or impossibility of reaching quickly.

(2) This method was used in particular at the beginning of the demonstration, after the (unfortunate) beating of a somewhat vindictive passerby by the SO (security service) of the demonstration. As it turns out, the little strikes weren't just on one side...

(3) Nothing very original about this, a method from war medicine, but not very commonly used at the time, when the principle was to provide treatment on site (see the 1986 attacks). This method was used during recent attacks.

(4) Certain police forces had – even after December 6 – the unfortunate posture of putting themselves forward, as close as possible to the demonstration. Which didn't really have the effect of calming the situation, on the contrary. On several occasions, we managed to get these security cords released. Which had an immediate effect: pacifying the parade (without denying the police an inch).

(5) For the big demonstration of December 4, civil protection carried out 172 interventions: 146 on-site treatments + 26 evacuations, 50% of which were CRS, and 2 hospitalizations for serious care. The Red Cross carried out more than 200 interventions: 130 on-site treatments + 85 evacuations and 26 discharges (treatments that would have required evacuation but refused by the beneficiaries). 24 hours later, 12 people remained hospitalized in more or less serious care in Laennec, Ambroise Paré, La Pitié, Boucicaut and Hotel Dieu.

(6) These companies (called intervention companies) wear the same badges and equipment with two small exceptions: the badge sewn on their uniform does not bear the mention of the CRS but of the National Police (but the colors and the arrangement are almost identical) ; they do not have the yellow line on the typical CRS helmet.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).