Examples of policing lockdown
I would like to start this blog by making it clear that I do not blame individual officers for the policing of Covid. The deliberate confusion caused by guidance being stricter than legislation caused huge grey areas.
Indeed human rights barrister Adam Wagner who has been invaluable in educating the public about the ever-changing regulations, asserted that from the point of introduction in March 2020-Jan 2021 the English Covid rules had changed 64 times, on average every 4 and a half days.
I am writing this post as a reminder of how lockdowns were policed/regulated.There seems to be a collective amnesia with many people exclaiming that we ‘never had a proper lockdown’ and we should have just ‘locked down earlier and harder’ etc.
Covid is an awful virus and presents terrible social harm and mass deaths. Lockdowns also present terrible social harm and contributes to many other deaths and facilitates abuse. Yet the competing and complex social harms have never been acknowledged by those pushing for LD (hat tip here to those modelers and advisers who make every effort to communicate with the public and who do identify these harms, I am so sorry you are spoken over).
The government have finally published their ‘Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020: equality analysis’ which shows that the most marginalized are disproportionately harmed by lockdowns.
Unsurprisingly, the left-wing columnists who enjoy screaming about ‘Tory genocide’ and how the government are corrupt (but we should hand them more power) are silent.
If we accept that austerity is violence then lockdowns which exacerbate those inequalities are also violence.
The problem is that middle-class people make the decisions that inform policy. They make assumptions that ignore informal economies of care, crowded multi-gen housing, inability to self-isolate etc etc.
Yet very very few social scientists have offered a meaningful class analysis during this period, instead preferring to moralize about ‘staying at home’ that has relied on the transference of risk to working class workers (those magic Amazon orders and food deliveries have elves apparently).
The cartoonist Max Gustafson summed up the classed divisions of covid restrictions here:
I have repeated for 22 months my great disappointment that there’s been such a lack of meaningful and nuanced critique, and whilst the number of sociologists and criminologists criticizing the classed and raced nature of covid regs is growing (and I thank each and every one of you) it is still far too few of us.
This post will hopefully remind us of the absurd nature in which this health disaster has been approached. We cannot police our way out of a pandemic.
In A Threat to Public Safety: Policing, Racism and the Covid-19 Pandemic the authors illustrate how ‘Emergency powers have only exacerbated unfair, excessive, and discriminatory policing, especially against racialised communities. (Deborah Coles, INQUEST, cited by Gidda, 2020a)’.
‘[W]e must evaluate the state’s overreliance on police systems to handle its non-criminal problems because what the pandemic has shown us is that using the police to address health concerns transforms citizens in need into criminals to be confronted. (Dewey, 2021: 68-69)’.
A further example is South Yorkshire Police having to issue an apology after a sergeant tweeted: “Tonight has seen us checking people’s reasons for being on the streets. Between essential saunter in jeans as exercise, an essential trip to the shops for egg custards and essential trip to the cash machine for £20 to use in the morning, we’ve offered a lot of advice”.
This meant you could not buy your child a pair of shoes whilst already in store getting your food shopping, but the magic warehouse labourers could deliver your magic parcels.
The cognitive dissonance of those staying at home who loved to moralise about other people is epitomized in this example ‘John Lewis delivery men caught on camera ‘urinating against van’ by horrified woman’. A woman buying her horse some supplies was horrified to see a delivery driver having to urinate against his van.
The dehumanization of workers during this period meant people were happy to have their services but unhappy to allow them into their home to go to the bathroom.The closing of public toilets during this period was a huge equality issue.
The closure of ‘non essential’ shops in Ireland meant a back-market emerging for children’s shoes. A paediatrician in Cork stated that he had seen a number of cases of children wearing shoes that were damaging their feet.
Yet I have not seen any Criminologists talk about the FPNs, the Single Justice Procedure used for covid fines, or the unsafe nature of covid prosecutions. If it were not for solicitors, barristers and civil liberties groups, and the excellent court reporter Tristan Kirk, then nobody would be aware.
Of course during all of this those in power have ignored the rules and had party upon party. They ate cheese and laughed in the garden of downing street as people were banned from visiting their dying loved ones. People said goodbye via Facetime if they were ‘lucky’.
At the same time people were calling the police on their neighbours for running twice a day. Intelligent people were working out 1 hour radius walks from their doors so they would not ‘break the rules’.
‘Nick Adderley, from Northamptonshire Police, told BBC news, “”We are getting calls from people who say ‘I think my neighbour is going out on a second run – I want you to come and arrest them’. We have had dozens and dozens of these calls’.
Cyclists became folk devils as those living in villages worried that those cycling through were vectors of disease. A farmer in Cornwall blocked a cycle and walking trail with hay bales and a van, claiming that he wanted to stop the spread of coronavirus. He claimed that people using the trail create a risk of spreading coronavirus, including through touching gate posts. Ironically, those preventing from commuting via this route were displaced onto the roads.
The farmer involved also told the BBC: “People are walking up and down this path that is not 2m wide. I needed to close the path off to stop coronavirus. It’s ludicrous with this virus and people supposed to keep 2 metres apart.”
This is the authoritarian state that citizens were complicit. It is perfectly acceptable to be concerned about Covid and to also be concerned about this massive overreach of powers.
Northamptonshire Police chief constable Nick Adderley prompted criticism after saying his force was “only a few days away” from “marshalling supermarkets and checking the items in baskets and trolleys to see whether it’s a legitimate, necessary item”.
And who can forget when Easter Eggs became the subject of controversy “Some convenience stores had been visited by police and health officers who told them that chocolate eggs were not deemed essential during the lockdown, according to the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)”.
When a Met Police officer spotted the woman’s work he accused her of vandalism and said there would be ‘anarchy’ if incidents like this went unpunished. He added: ‘I can’t help the law. We’re going to be ticketing soon to stop people congregating – is that wrong too?’.
As the government berated people for meeting up, they mocked us by having parties, holidays and doing whatever they wished. In the advert below the image shows friends meeting outdoors for coffee “don’t let a coffee cost lives”.
Targeting people from meeting outdoors safely means displacing people to much riskier indoor settings. Many people devised a mental health strategy so that they would not need to access A&E in a crisis, using informal economies of care and support.
The Health Secretary at the time Matt Hancock said he “absolutely backs the police” in relation to the above.
“The challenge here is that every flexibility can be fatal. You might look at the rules and think to yourself, well it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or I just do that”.
We were fining people for doing the responsible thing and meeting outside, whilst those who rule us allegedly had party after party, transgression after transgression.
The UK’s most senior civil servant Simon Case was tasked with investigating a series of parties at 10 Downing Street throughout 2020. He has stepped down from the investigation after he himself was accused of having two parties.
We socially isolated and punished the most vulnerable in our society, whilst those in power flounced about partying.
Indeed Tristan carefully details that since the alleged Downing street parties over 1.2 million pounds in covid fines have been issues in London alone: “All bundled through the Single Justice Procedure, not in open court, not publicised in any meaningful way to the public, dealt with by a magistrate sitting behind closed doors”.
Critical criminologists, sociologists and legal scholars should be acknowledging and interrogating these issues. Our democracy depends on it.