Policing under lockdown and why they must be held to account
By Sara Chitseko: This week, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has admitted that all of the 44 charges brought against people under the Coronavirus Act were wrong. The new legislation gives the police increased powers to detain anyone that they suspect may be infected. The CPS had to withdraw 31 of the charges during court proceedings but the other 13 wrongful convictions must be returned to court to be withdrawn. In all the cases, those charged were not suspected of being 'potentially infectious'. When the act was first introduced in March, campaign groups, including 4FRONT, raised concerns that it would further enable the police to abuse their powers. This is in no small part, because the act was drawn up very quickly and passed through parliament without adequate scrutiny. We also know that when police are given increased, vague and intrusive powers, it is Black and minoritised communities that disproportionately suffer. These wrongful convictions are just the tip of the iceberg. In the last few weeks, there have been multiple reports of police racism, harassment and brutality. As the Met police's own figures highlight that crime is down 35% since the lockdown began, we have to not only question their role during lockdown, but hold them to account for the violence they have been perpetrating. In one incident of harassment, Dwayne Francis, a school pastoral support worker, was detained while waiting in his car for a post office to open on his way to work. He was held in handcuffs and questioned, however the officers who stopped him refused to identify themselves. In an account of the incident on twitter, Dwayne wrote, "How much longer do ethnic minorities like myself have to be subject to such blatant racial stereotypes within society, but also from those whose duty is to serve and protect? If I didn't have the maturity to handle such a situation, how would things have played out?" Unfortunately Dwayne's experience is not unique. Even as a professional and a key worker, the police still saw him through a lens of criminality. He also raises an important point about knowing and feeling confident to assert rights, while keeping composure. Black people are frequently demonised as 'aggressive' and have insurmountable expectations to remain calm and collected, even in the face of persecution. In another recent incident which undeniably shows police brutality, a Black man was tasered in front of his child in Manchester. In a video of the incident which went viral, the man is shown being tasered, while his child repeatedly shouts "Daddy." The police then shout at him to put his hands behind his back, in full view of his screaming child, while he lays clearly incapacitated on the ground. This incident would have undoubtedly traumatised the victim and his child. In fact, when incidents like this reach the media, it is a wider Black community that share in grief and collective trauma. The experience of this is complex and layered and becomes more profoundly felt every time we hear of another member of our community who has been violated by the police. In a further incident of recent police violence, we have learnt that a young Black man has been left paralysed as a result of being tasered in Haringey. The 4Front Project Director, Temi Mwale, highlighted that "these are not isolated incidents - policing is an inherently violent institution". Community activist, Stafford Scott, also said in a statement to The Guardian, “No one appears able to hold the police to account for their use [of tasers]. We are angry but not surprised whatsoever, as it is our experience as a community that the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] is an institutionally racist organisation that shows no signs of, or willingness to change.” Stafford's comment speaks to the crux of the issue - that the police are absolutely unwilling to even begin accepting accountability, let alone moving towards change. During this period of lockdown, we know that the police are increasingly harassing Black communities; we know that they have been shamelessly violent towards Black communities (with devastating consequences) and they clearly aren't even attempting to pretend that their approach is supportive of public health. They are breaking social distancing measures while wrongfully criminalising others and there has been no sign of accountability for these failings. We must continue building infrastructures for accountability, care and support, both within our communities and within society more broadly. This will not only equip us to survive the harms that are inflicted by the criminal justice system at present, but more importantly, to move towards a future where our society does not rely on this system at all.