French officials on Tuesday condemned a fundraising drive that brought in more than 100,000 euros (more than $114,619) for a former boxer filmed punching police officers during the latest “yellow vest” anti-government protests in Paris over the weekend.
Christophe Dettinger, known as “The Gypsy From Massy” during his days in the ring, turned himself in to police on Monday after videos emerged of him assaulting shield-carrying officers during the demonstrations on Saturday.
As of Tuesday morning, over 7,000 people had pledged a total of 117,000 euros ($134,000) on Leetchi, a French website used to raise funds for individuals and causes, to help pay legal costs for Dettinger, who remains in custody.
In a video posted on YouTube on Sunday, he described himself as an “ordinary citizen” acting out of anger with what he called the repressive tactics of the police.
“I was tear-gassed, with my friend and my wife, and at a certain point the anger just rose up inside me,” said the 2007 and 2008 champion of France‘s light heavyweight division.
His case garnered many pledges of support on social media, with some calling him a hero for defending a movement that has accused police of using excessive force against demonstrators.
Some French social media users even claimed Dettinger should be cast in a spin-off of the Rocky franchise, a decades-old series of films about US boxing champion Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone.
Tournage du Spin-Off français de Rocky pendant l'#ActeVIII des #GiletsJaunes.
Localisation : passerelle Leopold-Sédar-Senghor, Paris (au-dessus de la Seine).
Rôle principal : Christophe Dettinger (Aka "Le Gitan de Massy"), ex champion de France de boxe 👊pic.twitter.com/cJIEW4myfi
— L'🕵 Tweeteur (@Jean_Vla_Jean) January 7, 2019
But government officials assailed the fundraising drive, with many calling for it to be shut down or for the pledged funds to be seized.
“To what level of hate have we sunk to in the public sphere that people fund gratuitous violence against someone charged with upholding public order?” Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa told France Info radio on Tuesday.
« @EPhilippePM a été ferme et calme hier soir, en un mot: solide. Le Premier ministre apporte des réponses claires pour maintenir l’ordre public, les réponses politiques ayant déjà été apportées via les mesures d’urgence et se poursuivent dans le #GrandDebatNational »#LCI pic.twitter.com/W1r5ow8szJ
— 🇫🇷 MarleneSchiappa (@MarleneSchiappa) January 8, 2019
“It’s outrageous, this kitty is shameful,” Schiappa said.
The SCSI-CFDT police union said the funds should be used to compensate the two officers targeted by Dettinger, who were removed from duty while recovering from their injuries.
Leetchi initially defended its hosting of the fundraising, saying it was simply a “neutral” online platform.
But on Tuesday it stopped displaying the amount pledged, before closing the kitty “in light of the amount raised” after more than 8,100 pledges.
Leetchi did not reveal how much was raised in total, but said that it would ensure the funds “will be used only to pay for legal costs” and that any money left over would be returned to donors.
It was the latest of weekly protests since November that have often spilled into running battles with police in Paris and other cities, with dozens of vehicles set ablaze and stores vandalised.
Many protesters claim they are simply responding to police violence, pointing to a video showing a police captain hitting protesters in the southern city of Toulon at the weekend, and their heavy use of tear gas and rubber bullets.
Journalists have also become targets for protesters, with many media outlets hiring bodyguards to protect their reporting teams.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in a TV interview late on Monday announced plans for legislation banning “troublemakers” from attending demonstrations.
Another major demonstration has been called for Saturday, this time in Bourges, central France, instead of the capital.
Concessions ‘not enough’
The yellow vest movement, originally against fuel tax hikes, has snowballed into a wide protest against the rising cost of living, which prompted Macron’s government to announce a minimum wage rise and other financial relief.
But many of the protesters say the measures are not enough and that rural France is paying the price for Macron’s policies, which they see as mainly profiting a wealthy Parisian elite.
Politician Chantal Jouanno had been due to lead a national debate organised by the government to discuss living standards and government policies.
On Tuesday, under criticism for the 14,666-euro monthly salary she was reportedly receiving, she stepped down from that role – but would stay on to head the national committee overseeing the debate.
The head of France’s employers federation, MEDEF International, warned on Tuesday that footage of the protests would scare off foreign tourists.
“When you are in the United States, you have the impression that France is in a civil war,” said Frederic Sanchez.