In my last blog, I explored the ‘infodemic’ surrounding COVID-19, which sees citizens caught in a growing swirl of information about the pandemic, some of which is intentionally or unintentionally misleading. In the midst of a pandemic, such misinformation and disinformation can be deadly. It is clear that something needs to be done to help citizens navigate this infodemic but what does a good intervention look like? And who can be trusted to take it?
Policing the Lockdown Posts
The brutal deaths of a father-son duo in judicial custody in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district have sent shockwaves across the country and the globe. On June 18, Sathankulam police admonished J. Bennix (32) for keeping his small mobile phone and accessories shop open for 15 minutes beyond the state-government-imposed curfew of 8 pm the during the COVID-19. Bennix was alleged to have badmouthed the officers, and the angered police officers returned on June 19 to follow up.
Black Lives Matter protests have spread across the UK in recent weeks. These protests stand in solidarity with struggles in the US but they are also a cry for change here in the UK, where racism shapes all spheres of life, including the criminal justice system.
All too often, police violence and racism in the UK has been understated or ignored by those who do not encounter it. In the wake of BLM protests, a series of insightful media articles have been written that speak to these critical issues. Below, we highlight a few of these blogs and news articles, focusing predominantly on policing, violence, and anti-black racism in Britain.*
These pieces remind us that in order to understand the unjust policing of lockdown, we need to understand the system as a whole.
Another shift ends, and at one level Police Scotland have been dealing with the typical mix of incidents that would characterise policing in any urban centre: domestic incidents, ‘concern-for-person’ calls, and sudden deaths to name but a few. At another level, however, policing in Scotland has never felt more different. Since the Scottish government imposed a lockdown on the evening of Monday 23rd March 2020 in an attempt to restrict the transmission of Covid-19 and ensure that the NHS was not overwhelmed, Police Scotland have had to adapt to circumstances never seen before. Whilst the NHS’s task is clear if daunting, the police have had to carefully refine their role in ensuring that restrictive social distancing measures are adhered to in a country which is used to widespread social freedoms. Police Scotland’s ‘Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce’ strategy is designed to inspire compliance with government guidelines whilst maintaining public consent.
The United States has been convulsed by protests and riots following the death in police custody of George Floyd. Outrage was sparked by video footage clearly showing a white police officer kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds whilst he lay prostrate, pleading for his life and for air. The horrific nature of the footage is such that – unlike in similar events before – even Fox News and President Trump voiced condemnation, and the officers in question were fired (though not initially charged). As protests continued and rioting spread, however, even this minimal level of official sympathy was replaced with hard-line rhetoric that echoes discredited understandings of crowds and how to police them (influenced and inflected here by a racialised history of policing in the USA). In what follows, we outline Trump’s call for draconian policing, explore the social science of protest policing, and consider alternative approaches.
The uncertainties surrounding Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent oil price collapse have merged to create a truly perfect storm for the North East of Scotland. Once again, history repeats itself in a region where a heavy reliance on the oil and gas sector means that there are profound consequences which follow when crisis hits: places such as Aberdeen have not fully recovered from the last crash six years ago. Now, with the economic turmoil of lockdown, individuals, families and local businesses are facing an even greater struggle for survival. The unmet basic needs in Aberdeen are such that more than seventy local organisations are currently working to address the scale of food poverty here. These harrowing, painful realities are in stark contrast with Aberdeen’s reputation of “the oil rich capital of Europe.”
The news broke last week that about one hundred people in Hungary were under investigation for allegedly publishing false information on the Internet regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. The dire state of media freedom in Hungary is nothing new but the current crisis has possibly exacerbated it, with the Government assuming new emergency powers of unprecedented scale and evident illiberal nature. However, the example of Hungary is just one of many instances where the pandemic has offered a reason, or a pretext, to impose limitations to the free flow of information. These limitations have taken different shapes across the globe, and highlight the thorny political issues that surround the policing of information. Commentators are concerned that many government attempts to tackle ‘fake news’ are problematic on different fronts.
In light of the ongoing protests against police brutality in the USA following the police killing of George Floyd, some Kenyans have castigated their compatriots for caring about problems that are far away while ignoring the same issues in Kenya.
While it is true that many people do not take the problem of police violence in Kenya seriously, this blanket assumption that all Kenyans do not care is not only misguided, it also erases the work of many individuals and organisations have done to fight against police brutality in Kenya. There are many Kenyans who have dedicated their lives to addressing this challenge.
On 25 May, George Floyd – a handcuffed and unarmed Black man – was killed by white police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck. His death was yet more devastating evidence of the racism that continues to structure lethal police violence in the United States. In the wake of his death and amidst the protests that have followed, there have been a series of powerful commentaries that put this violence in context, highlighting the systemic nature of lethal police and civilian violence against Black people. Here, we highlight a few of these resources. They serve as a reminder that, in order to understand policing in lockdown, we have to understand the structure of society and practice of policing in which it is embedded.
On 26 March 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta invoked the Public Order Act, ordering a nationwide curfew from 7pm to 5am in an attempt to manage the spread of Covid-19. Management of the curfew by the police has been chaotic and brutal, with both the media and citizens recording and reporting many cases of human rights violations. By end of April, eleven people had died as a result of police violence during the curfew. This included thirteen-year-old Yassin Hussein Moyo from Nairobi’s Eastlands area, who was shot in the stomach on 31 March while standing on his third-floor balcony. Since their inception, measures that were supposed to curb a public health crisis, have only served to criminalize the vulnerable and increase their exposure to police brutality.