Anti-racism / Coronavirus / Policing

Rights groups demand change to fix unfair policing of lockdown

Posted on 31 May 2020

  • Unclear rules and conflicting guidance lead to patchy approach to sweeping police powers
  • People of colour most at risk and have been left overpoliced and under-protected in the pandemic
  • Calls strengthened by report showing BAME people more than 56 per cent more likely to be fined than white people under lockdown powers

Liberty, StopWatch and 17 other organisations, have urged the Government to fix unfair lockdown police powers ahead of the next changes to lockdown rules.

Evidence shows the confused, broad powers given to police at the start of the pandemic have been disproportionately used against people of colour.

Recent events at the top of Government have created even more confusion and with lockdown soon to be eased the groups are calling for greater clarity.

In a letter sent on Friday, the coalition of human rights, racial equality, community, faith and health groups set out clear steps for Health Secretary Matt Hancock to follow to prevent continued discrimination in the use of police powers to enforce the lockdown.

The joint action follows reports from Liberty Investigates, working with the Guardian, which revealed BAME people are 56 percent more likely to be fined under new lockdown police powers than white people.

Continued confusion around the lockdown rules, combined with increased fines, could make the discriminatory impact of lockdown policing even worse, the groups warned.

Rosalind Comyn, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said: “Such broad police powers and vague Government guidance were bound to create a recipe for arbitrary policing and injustice. It’s only now becoming clear how uneven that enforcement has been.

“The Government may think it’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us, but this reflects the unjust reality that entire communities are subject to different levels of police hostility every day. The Government needs to pare back the powers and create a right to appeal, review every fine issued under these powers and start listening to people most affected by overbearing policing.”

Katrina Ffrench, Chief Executive StopWatch, said: “This pandemic provided an opportunity for the police to demonstrate that it serves all communities fairly. Unfortunately rather than adopt a public health approach to the issue, police forces across the country have displayed troubling over-zealousness in targeting BAME communities in an unjust and unsafe manner. We urge MPs to ensure that policing remains by consent and that officers are held accountable for discriminatory conduct.”

The Health Protection Regulations were introduced on 25 March and established broad new criminal offences, handing the police expansive powers to enforce the lockdown. This created, “a recipe for arbitrary use” and a pattern of discrimination that was “entirely foreseeable”, the letter says.

The groups emphasise that this discrimination is in the context of a public health crisis that has already had a disproportionate impact on communities of colour, both in terms of its health and economic impacts, leaving these communities “overpoliced and under-protected”.

The coalition of groups, many of whom provide frontline support services in minority communities, are demanding that the Government act ahead of the start of the next phase of easing the lockdown on 1 June.

The Government must pare back and fix the police powers to reduce arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and provide more detailed data, the groups say.

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