'It's Like a Firing Squad': Video of School Students Forced to Kneel by French Riot Police Sparks Outrage

Hundreds of high school students have been arrested nationwide as French authorities battle unrest sparked by the "Gilets Jaunes" protests against President Emmanuel Macron.

Young Students have been striking alongside the anti-Macron demonstrators while also calling for the abandonment of contentious reforms to high school education. The student protests have occured as wider unrest spreads to towns and cities all over the country. On Friday, disturbing footage emerged of a mass arrest of students as police respond to the ongoing civil unrest sparked by a proposed carbon tax.

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Disturbing footage emerged Friday of a mass arrest at a school outside Paris. Posted by the Twitter channel Violences Policières, which documents police brutality in France, the video showed dozens of students—some reportedly as young as 12—kneeling silently in rows with their hands behind their heads, as heavily armed riot police told the group they all faced violent disorder charges, including "participation in an armed crowd."

The video of the arrest was shot in the town of Mantes-la-Jolie, which just outside Paris, according to Le Monde. The detained students were from two nearby schools—Saint-Exupéry and Jean-Rostand—where rioting students had reportedly been found with baseball bats and teargas canisters.

The footage outraged social media users, with some comparing the kneeling students to prisoners waiting for a firing squad.

D'autres images de l'interpellation de dizaines de lycéens, aujourd'hui à Mantes-la-Jolie. pic.twitter.com/ghv8K91e7l

— Violences Policières (@Obs_Violences) December 6, 2018

Huge protests led by the "Gilets Jaunes"—named for the Hi-Vis yellow vests they wear—began in Paris on November 17 in response to a new fuel tax proposed by Macron, which has now been postponed. The demonstrations have since morphed into a wider movement against the unpopular president and his pro-business economic policies.

More than 700 high school students have been arrested nationwide, Le Monde reported, citing figures from the Interior Ministry. Student groups have shut down almost 300 institutions and refuse to attend classes in defiance of reforms to the high school education system, which would also introduce stricter university entrance requirements, the Guardian explained.

Violence first broke out in Mantes-la-Jolie on Tuesday, with students burning bins and throwing rocks and bottles at police. Clashes continued Wednesday with hundreds of students taking charge of the street barricades and once again pelting police with projectiles.

A small group reportedly entered local homes to steal gas canisters, which were thrown into fires but did not explode. Five people were arrested, local officials said.

Unrest began once more at 9 a.m. Thursday, with two vehicles set on fire close to the school. A local resident told Le Monde that students attempted to block the entrance to their institution but were met by police who had been waiting for them.

They were soon cornered in front of the school and 153 were arrested, which was when the video was shot, the resident explained.

Though Macron capitulated and postponed his proposed fuel tax earlier this week, demonstrations continue across the country. Mass gatherings are expected once again this weekend, and police have prepared for a resurgence of the violence, which has already claimed at least four lives.

France High School protests arrests riot police
High school students demonstrate in front of riot police in Lyon, France, on December 7. JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images