France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protesters Damage 60 Percent of Speed Cameras: Interior Minister

January 11, 2019 Updated: September 30, 2019

Almost 60 percent of France’s speed cameras have been destroyed or broken by members of the “yellow vests” movement, according to the country’s interior minister.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner said in a statement that the cameras had been “neutralized, attacked, or destroyed” by yellow vests members, the BBC reported.

Some protesters have said speed cameras are merely a way to generate revenue for the government, and it appears many have taken action accordingly. Castaner said the protesters’ damaging the cameras is putting people’s lives in danger.

Photos of compromised cameras across the country have appeared online, showing their lenses covered with tape or paint to prevent them from working.

According to the BBC’s Paris reporter, the damage is plainly evident to anyone driving around France.

A burnt speed camera covered with plastic and tape reading "under technical maintenance"
A burned speed camera covered with plastic and tape reading “under technical maintenance” in Noyal-Chatillon-sur-Seiche, western France, on Jan. 10, 2019. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

But the percentage of damaged cameras wasn’t known until Castaner’s statement on Jan. 10.

The movement started as a protest against a new fuel tax in mid-November when people across France organized traffic blockades.

A speed camera covered by tape and a plastic bag after being damaged to block its operation
A speed camera covered by tape and a plastic bag after being damaged to block its operation, in Bedee, western France, on Jan. 10, 2019. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

Expression of Discontent

The protesters have been dubbed the “gilets jaunes” or “yellow vests” because they don high-visibility vests mandated by French law to be carried in every vehicle.

Members of the movement cut across age, region, and social class. One thing they all initially seemed to have in common was a reliance on cars to get around, with many living away from the high-cost urban heartland. The protests have since morphed into a broader expression of discontent with government policies, seen as favoring the needs of “elites” over those of “ordinary citizens.”

On Jan. 8, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced plans to punish people who hold unauthorized protests.

“We need to preserve the right to demonstrate in France and we must sanction those who break the law,” Philippe told TF1 television. “That’s why the government favors updating the law in order to sanction those who do not respect this obligation to declare protests, those who take part in undeclared protests, those who arrive at protests with balaclavas.”

Philippe said 80,000 members of the security forces would be deployed for the next expected wave of protests, adding that “those who question our institutions will not have the last word.”

‘Great Debate’ Resignation

The same day Philippe made his announcement, the ex-minister who was to lead a “great debate” into the issues surrounding the movement resigned amid controversy over her salary.

The French government is planning to start the three months of debates on Jan. 15 and Chantal Jouanno, former sports and ecology minister, was to spearhead the commission.

“We want it to be rich, impartial and fruitful, to be able to take it into account in the period now beginning,” Philippe said, according to AP.

French ex-minister Chantal Jouanno
French ex-minister Chantal Jouanno in Paris on April 7, 2015. (Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

But on Jan. 8, Jouanno suddenly announced she had “decided to step down from running this debate” after it was revealed in the press that she was to be paid nearly $17,000 per month for the job. The amount is roughly the same as President Emmanuel Macron’s monthly salary and prompted some anger from yellow vests representatives.

Despite her resignation, the government said the debates would proceed as planned, although some in the yellow vests movement have already dismissed them as being limited in scope. They are restricted to four themes: green transition, citizenship, tax, and state organization.

Some yellow vests have called for an end to gay marriage and the reinstatement of the death penalty, but those issues won’t be debated. Also off the table is any debate about Macron’s reformist policies, which have been key points of complaint for some in the protest movement.

Another tactic being considered by the yellow vests is to cause a bank run by emptying their accounts simultaneously. The initiative has been promoted on social media by influential protester Maxime Nicolle.

“We are going to get our bread back … You’re making money with our dough, and we’re fed up,” Nicolle said in a video message posted on YouTube.

Follow John on Twitter: @jdsmithies