For most people, the presence of the police and the military is a comforting sight. For me, on the other hand, it is disconcerting. My brain immediately jumps to: “Okay, great, you are watching over the people. Trying to keep us safe. That is wonderful. But why? Is there some threat that you are responding to by being here?” Instead of feeling reassured, I actually feel more afraid – the police and military can only do some much; if there is a high enough threat for them to be here, there is still a chance the threat will become a reality.
Lauren is still reeling from her concussion, so I set off this morning on my own to take a tour around Paris before our train to Munich. Along the way, I start to notice there are significantly more police out and about than there have been the past few days. Their presence was especially obvious near the Conciergerie (which initially makes sense, because the main police headquarters is located in the adjacent building, and the Conciergerie is currently used as a law court). But when I’m saying obvious, I’m meaning at least ten police vans parked on the side of the road, with their occupants standing near them in full riot gear. Shields, body armor, the whole nine yards. On multiple streets. At some points, there looked to be more police than tourists walking about.
I messaged my Parisian friend, Vincent, to see if maybe he knew of a protest that could be the cause for this level of protection; he did not. But he brought up a good point – if there were an important court case, such as one regarding terrorism, the city may have increased its law enforcement presence just in case. So for the time being, I just assumed that must be the reason. During the rest of my tour around Paris, I saw police groups here and there, but nothing as extreme as around the Conciergerie.
Fast forward to the afternoon. Lauren and I arrive at the station for our train to Munich. (Y’all, we have left Paris and Lauren is still alive! Paris was not successful in its attempts to kill her!) At first, it seems pretty chill. People coming and going; some with bags, some without; many in a hurry to get to their destinations. Then I start to notice – there are armed guards everywhere. In our 50 minutes waiting for the train (we arrived super early just in case our bad luck struck again), we passed at least five groups of four to six armed guards each. Two of the groups were clearly military, with assault riffles in their hands, ready to be utilized (I’m sorry but an assault riffle with never actually make me feel safe. No matter who is holding it). Two were police groups, decked out in body armor, but no assault riffles. The final group was armed guards with ‘SNCF’ vests – SNCF is the train company, so my conclusion is these are private security hired by the train company for their passenger’s protection.
The groups all are strolling casually around Gare de l’Est. No one is questioning it. Many of the groups are laughing among themselves. But me? My mind is going wild with what the possible reasoning for this is. And I do not feel safe. At all. I can walk down a dark ally by myself in the middle of the night, searching for my hostel in Nuremberg – no problem. But give me a large armed presence, and you’ve got me scared. Even more disconcerting – the SNCF guards boarded our train before it was set to leave, and walked down every carriage looking at the passengers.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy that Europe is so proactive and protective of it’s citizens. And I’m sure there is a valid reason for the military and the police to be present. Probably even a innocent one. Like Vincent also suggested, maybe they are just training. But for now, I’m just happy to be out of Paris and speeding towards Munich. Hopefully there will be less armed guards there.
P.S. Dad – still alive, and very well protected by all the police. Even if it does freak me out.